A s someone who has lived in the suburbs of Ohio for most of my life, I cannot fully describe the joy I felt at being left at McGill by my parents in August. The beauty of the skyscrapers’ towering shadows and the sinful nature of certain side streets are proof that the city of Montreal is indeed a living, breathing organism. The sheer amount of activity and people in this city is simultaneously gratifying and overwhelming. I feel like I can’t sleep because something more interesting is going on somewhere else in the city, outside of my cluttered, trash-strewn dorm room. At times, it seems as if the only problem on earth consists of figuring out what bar to go to on Friday night. Obviously, this is not the case.
I’ve lived among kids with moderate amounts of money for all of my 18 years on this planet, and I always thought that I knew what the term “diversity” meant because I had friends who were into obscure authors and underground hip-hop. Of course, this was not the case. I am not going to pretend that I’m wise. I know very little about real diversity. And I suppose this is why McGill is the place for someone such as myself – someone who does not yet know the realities of life.
McGill University, in case you missed the “we’re super international!” sentiment of its brochure, is pretty goddamned diverse. We have Muslims, Christians, students of both rich and poor backgrounds, and everything and everyone else not mentioned here. Unfortunately, we also have ignorance. Ignorance – my own included – runs rampant in residence. The sheer number of semi-racist, crudely misinformed comments one hears during pub crawls and meals is enough to make a stomach turn. This is not to say this year’s entering class at McGill is a bunch of racist douchebags. In fact, quite the opposite. The people here are amazing; there are kids from France, from Canada, from Kenya. From broken homes, from gated communities. From everywhere you could imagine.
The thing is, sometimes we don’t realize that many people are unlike ourselves. Call it narcissism, naiveté, or something less negative, but a crucial part of attending university is the process of becoming more experienced in more important areas of life – like interactions with street people or navigating the maze-like collection of cultures at McGill. It’s nice to learn about political science and Italian and such, but perhaps it’s more important to learn how to look a homeless person in the eye, for example. In short, it’s important to make (and correct) mistakes while it is still acceptable to do so.
Of course, becoming more open-minded is not something that occurs overnight. However, in four years, perhaps this place can change all of us for the better. If not, I don’t know what can. After all, I – and many others – came to McGill to get an education not only in the Faculty of Arts, but also in the art of growing up.
Adam Banks is a U1 Arts student. Share your first-year experiences with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.