According to bestselling author Paulo Coehlo, “Culture makes people understand each other better. And if they understand each other better in their soul, it is easier to overcome the economic and political barriers. But first they have to understand that their neighbor is, in the end, just like them, with the same problems, the same questions.” Culture is a centerpiece of American life, but we often define American culture as a mixture of various world culture brought together in the “melting pot.”
Culture Links, a database of ethnic and multicultural organizations in the St. Louis area, recognizes the need for international culture in our city. Hundreds of active community groups comprise Culture Links, with ties ranging from the Congo to Indonesia, Argentina to Turkey, and everything in between. These organizations promote diversity in the St. Louis area and create a distinct environment of cultural acceptance in the broader community.
The International Institute’s annual Festival of Nations further develops multicultural relations in the metro region. As an intern, I am in charge of organizing the World Sports and Games Meadow for the festival. My goal for the meadow is to create a diverse atmosphere that represents various unique cultures and demonstrates how all of these cultures are united in us as St. Louisans. Perhaps this is a lofty goal, especially for a section of the festival which focuses on intriguing sports and distinctive board games from around the world, but I believe my goal is attainable since sharing and respecting one another’s culture is the first step to understanding your neighbor.
Through programs like Culture Links and events like the Festival of Nations, the International Institute attempts to develop St. Louis as a beacon of international class. I am interning at the Institute this summer through the Bank of America Student Leaders Program. During leadership training for student leaders last week, I was given a downtown St. Louis walking tour which highlighted the economic redevelopment of the city in the past ten years. I had not been downtown during the day in several years and was pleasantly surprised how bustling the city was on this random Wednesday afternoon. St. Louis has desirable features as a city, and a diverse cultural heritage is one aspect that we can use to distinguish ourselves as a truly global player in the economy. Recognizing our differences and deciding that those differences do not make us all that different has the ability to create an unstoppable St. Louis. The future of our city is bright, and organizations like the International Institute only make it brighter.
Check The i next week for my report on meeting with International Institute employee’s in charge of refugee and immigration resettlement programs.