What do you get when you invite a Mexican, a white American, a black American, and a Chinese-Canadian to lunch? You make new friends and find a simple solution to cultural strife. That’s what happened recently when Kasandra, Daniel, Dionco, and Dorian went to lunch with me in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah. All four are attending LDS Business College, where students come from all 50 U.S. states and 60 foreign countries.
A background of diversity
“I was born in Taiwan and have Chinese blood and black hair,” said Dorian Huang. “But I grew up in Canada, so I already have natural diversity. In my community, over ninety percent of the people were Asians. I didn’t have a problem fitting in there, but when I came to Utah, suddenly there weren’t as many Asians. People would say, ‘Hey, you’re not Taiwanese’ or ‘You don’t look Canadian,’ so it was hard for me at first to find where I fit in.”
Kasandra Matus grew up deep in the heart of Mexico. Race wasn’t a challenge, but religion was. “When I was in middle school, my world started to get rough,” she said. “Sometimes my classmates were nice to me, but usually they were just mean. I wondered if I could ever have a true friend. I felt a need to be somewhere else and look for something better.”
Daniel Carter had a different problem. He is white and from a mainstream Mormon community in Utah, but he was, as they say, “less active.” “Unless you knew my story, you would assume I would not struggle to fit in at college,” he said. “But I came shortly after I became active again, and I had no confidence in my knowledge of the Church. I wasn’t used to the very spiritual atmosphere here.”
“I came here straight from my mission in Alabama,” said Dionco Evans, a student from Detroit, Michigan. “In Alabama, I experienced prejudice from those of my same ethnicity. They were amazed to see a black Mormon. That was more difficult for me than any racial slurs ever blurted out.”
The stories of these four students testify that each of us journeys through life with our own unique and often challenging circumstances. But LDS Business College provided a fertile environment for students to excel regardless.
A nurturing common ground
“I have always wanted to do something with my life,” said Kasandra. That’s quite a bold statement for a girl with few friends. But her attitude helped her find new friends from all over the world. “I enjoy meeting people from different cultures and backgrounds,” she said. “I’ve learned that even though we are different, we have something in common—the gospel.”
“It’s not as much a race thing as more of a culture thing,” said Dorian. “What I may think is funny might not be funny in another culture. But that’s what the gospel does—if an awkward joke comes up I can just laugh and say, ’Oh, I love Jesus, too,’ and everything’s whole again.”
“I immediately felt at home because I’ve always been interested in learning other cultures, particularly languages and food,” said Dionco. “I was blown away by how well rounded the College was in these areas.”
LDS Business College has programs and activities to help people from all walks of life feel welcome, but it’s the students who make the difference.
“Americans are really welcoming,” said Kasandra. “They help us get used to the culture and living downtown. I took an English class just for international students. It helped me become more comfortable with the American culture.”
“In the New Testament, Christ teaches the allegory of the seed planted in fertile ground to be nurtured,” said Daniel. “That describes the experience here. The College provides an environment where we can all feel like a community. We learn from others and they learn from us, and we make some great friends along the way.”
A life-changing approach
The learning pattern taught at LDSBC changes lives. “Preparing for class, teaching one another from different perspectives, proving, and pondering—the pattern is a great opportunity for interaction,” said Dionco. “It’s helped me realize I have a purpose here.”
“The College is great for international students,” said Dorian. “We get mentoring and free tutoring, and we can pray in class in our native language. I started the multicultural club, and it’s been super fun. The College also has international career fairs to find opportunities for international students who graduate and return home.”
A desire to reach out
LDSBC offers winning programs and welcoming students, but above-and-beyond service also sets these students apart.
“I like to reach out and help others,” said Dionco. “Sometimes I think, ‘What’s in it for me?’ But it’s really about what I am willing to give. It’s amazing what the gentlest act of kindness can do.” Dorian feels the same way. “There is so much I want to learn about others,” he said. “That desire overcomes the fear of starting an awkward conversation.”
“People walk into this building and feel a different spirit,” said Daniel. “They feel a little more peace and togetherness. I try to help others feel accepted.”
“I know what it feels like,” said Kasandra, “so I volunteer to mentor new students where English is their second language. I make sure they are doing OK with their classes and understand their assignments. If they are struggling, I refer them to tutors. I check on their health insurance and help them apply for jobs.”
A place of peace and kindness
As the world experiences considerable racial tension throughout, at LDSBC such tension is almost non-existent. Following gospel principles, the students themselves have found the solutions needed.
“I don’t allow differences to become racial issues,” said Dionco. “I saw too much of that on my mission—even from Church members who couldn’t see past race. For me, it’s a question of why we are put in the lives of others. Each person has something to offer. We can each learn from each other.”
“International students struggle mostly with emotions,” said Kasandra. “When someone reaches out to be kind, act Christ-like and explain things, they really appreciate that. Having a friend is what most of us need.”
Finding similarities can help. “It’s understanding that we’re all from planet Earth,” said Dionco. “We all cry when we’re sad, bleed when we’re hurt, and smile when we’re happy. Making those connections can help us discover how much we are actually alike.”
“We can also embrace diversity,” said Dorian. “I picked up Korean here, and some Koreans say I’m almost fluent! You don’t have to be stuck in your own little shell just because you happen to be a certain race.”
Advice for new students
Dionco, Kasandra, Daniel, and Dorian have each helped others fit in. But they feel newcomers have responsibilities, too.
“Each of us needs to acknowledge that we need help from others,” said Dionco. “We can’t do it alone. When I first came here, I realized I needed to open my mouth and ask, ‘Hey, can you show me how?’ or ‘Where do I go for this?’ Be willing to move forward and make changes so you can become who you were meant to become.”
“I recently saw something amazing in the multicultural club meeting,” said Dorian. “Koreans, Americans, Chinese, Hispanic and other nationalities were there. We talked about Colombia, and Carlos taught us how to salsa. All of a sudden, people didn’t focus on where they came from—they were just laughing and having fun.”
Kasandra encourages students to look for new experiences. “Join a club,” she said, “as LDSBC offers many. The multicultural club helps you learn about different cultures. DECA challenges you to compete locally and nationally according to your major. The Latino dance club teaches new dances. The service club offers a variety of opportunities. Any will help you make new friends.”
“For some people that’s hard,” said Daniel. “But I found the simplest thing you can do is smile. People will ask you questions or invite you to join in. It really is as simple as that.”
“I served my mission in Arcadia, California,” said Dorian, “so I’ve spent my whole life with people who are Chinese. But when I walked into my first class, I was the only Chinese person there. I smiled and asked questions like, ‘How are you?’ or ‘Where did you get that shirt?’ The questions were a little random, but they built connections.”
Diversity can feel daunting, but it is also part of God’s plan. LDSBC students have found that smiling, getting involved and volunteering can help diffuse any challenge. Daniel summed it up perfectly. “God is the author of diversity,” he said. “He has purposely placed us in different circumstances and environments. He then brings us together so we can learn from each other.”