One of the most interesting things about living so far away from home is living and working with people from completely different cultures. And with Australia being one of the most multi-cultural countries in the world, it's not hard to imagine how even my relatively limited circle of acquaintances is like a casting call for a United Colors of Benetton ad.
It's been an interesting experience.
Even the small hospital I work with is a virtual melting pot of cultures - with patients and medical staff literally coming from all over the world. As a case in point, in just my current medical team, our big boss is originally from England, one of our rotating consultants is from the Middle East, one is from Scotland. On the junior medical staff, two are from Sri Lanka, one is from India, one from Eastern Europe, and then there's the dyed-in-the-wool conservative Pinay - me!
I don't even have to stray from home to have an intelligent multi-cultural exchange - because I currently share a house with someone from Holland and another who is a genuine Aussie. This diverse mix of people has made for many interesting conversations - and has been quite an education in itself.
I guess I've always known in theory how race and culture shape who we are; but it's still an eye-opener when ideas are exchanged and I see the differences between us in a more concrete way. The food we eat, the way we think about ourselves, our jobs, the world, literally the way we approach life is under the influence of where we come from and how we have been raised.
Living and working with such a diverse group of people, it's inevitable for some ideas to clash every now and then. Negotiating the multicultural minefield can be a bit tricky. As a shallow example, something as simple as what to bring to a potluck lunch becomes a challenge when you have to consider that in the group you're feeding, some can't eat beef and some can't eat pork or anything not halal. In the context of the hospital, it's not difficult to imagine how carefully one must tread when dealing with complex issues like patient care and end-of-life scenarios.
I'm fast coming to learn that to navigate this kind of environment one needs a good dose of sensitivity. It also helps to have a tolerant nature and a sense of humor about the misconceptions and misguided notions others may have about you, your culture, and your race. But for me, the most important lesson of all is cultivating my willingness to learn from what is other and realizing that I am all the richer from being around people who are so different from me and what I have been used to all my life.
But apart from literally having my world opened up by all these new perspectives, what I find even more amazing is how much all of us actually have in common - in what we all value, what we dream, and what we love. It serves to remind me of what I often forget - that all of us are all part of the big, wonderful family called the human race sharing this little island in the Universe called Planet Earth.