A Broad View | Issue 4
A Refreshing Breath of Freedom
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Hours before sitting down to write this column, I was not quite sure of a theme for the piece. But, over dinner, my kiwi host asked me what aspect of New Zealand culture shocked me the most. I had to think for a while — much of how I learned to behave growing up in the United States holds true here in New Zealand.
“The bluntness,” I finally told him.
The word sounds harsh, but I meant it in an absolutely positive sense. My university experience stateside is, quite possibly, the one true polar opposite of the “Scarfie” experience. I attend a small — 2,000 students — liberal arts school in a vast city — Los Angeles. Of course, the University of Otago is a large school in a small city.
More important than the demographics, however, is the attitude of the students. My college prides itself on the progressive nature of its students. And while that is certainly the case — they stage protests, ignore social convention and question authority — there is a strange pressure among the student body to mute yourself as well. On many occasions, people are afraid to speak their mind because they don’t want to be the reason for one of those protests. Therefore, the opinions and, more noticeably, the humour of the student body end up trapped in a paradoxical container labelled “political correctness”. (Or, at least, what the majority deems “political correctness”.)
Here, the situation is quite different. Students use cruder language and are less sensitive. When they feel a certain way about something, they let it be heard. This is not to say that bigotry is part of the bluntness that I hear amidst conversations between Kiwis. In fact, I have seen less of it here than anywhere I have lived in the States. Instead, with that bluntness comes a refreshing breath of freedom of opinion. People can develop a dialogue without the fear of having their words woefully misinterpreted because they contradict a certain expectation of appropriateness.
When one party is not immediately offended by the differences in opinion of another (or, dare I say it, a joke), real progress and change can happen. So, the first lesson I have learned in my short time here — don’t get so offended, have a laugh, lighten up.