“How can there be peace without people understanding each other, and how can this be if they don't know each other?”
Lester Bowles Pearson, Nobel Prize 1957.
From Nobel Lecture The Four Faces of Peace, 1957.
In August 1985 I was sixteen going on seventeen. It was the end of summer vacation when I received one of the most important gifts in my life: After a hard selection process, in which more than 300 students between 16 and 19 years from all over the country had taken part, I had been awarded a full scholarship to attend the Lester B. Pearson College, where I was to spend the next two years studying under the International Baccalaureate Program and living together with 200 students from 60 different countries.
Coming from Trujillo, a small Venezuelan rural city in the outskirts of the Andes, which at the time had less than 25.000 inhabitants, going to Pearson College was not just a life changing experience, but an opportunity to learn another language, immerse in a different culture and become familiar with a concept that would from then on be part of my life: multiculturalism.
The college, located in Victoria Island, British Columbia, Canada, is part of the United World Colleges, an organization that today has 12 schools and colleges over the world and is represented in 150 countries. More than 50.000 students from 180 countries have studied at UWC schools and colleges since the opening of the first UWC College in 1962.
Thus, in September 1985, after a more than 12 hours journey –from Trujillo to Caracas and from there to Miami, Seattle and finally Victoria– I arrived at Victoria Airport where my two years adventure began.
In my first year I shared room with a British, a Canadian and a Finnish girl. During my second year, my roommates were from Scotland, Canada and Israel. Living together was not always easy, but we had to learn to share our views, to negotiate in order to get solutions, and, in short, to become more tolerant with each other to warrant peace in that little space that was our room.
I made friends with people from such distant places for me such as India, Nigeria, Turkey, Yugoslavia or Palestine. Also with other more close to my own culture, such as Mexicans, Argentinians, or Latin Americans in general. I started going out with an Indian-South African who was a vegetarian, which was a shock for my parents, used as they were to eat meat in almost every meal. I also learned to avoid prejudice, to open my mind to different points view other than my own, and to value people over ideas, religion or nationality.
Being exposed to a multicultural environment at that early age, made me understand how important it is to comprehend why people act the way they do, which are the cultural drives that lay behind their behavior and how one's own beliefs and acts may suppose a cultural shock for someone raised under different paradigms.
That knowledge helped me through life. Not only in my performance as a journalist, which I became in later years, but on a day to day basis. It gave me the tools to exercise empathy, to look for the underlying motives> that drive human actions and offered me the possibility to look from a different perspective every task to be undertaken.