Euro Vision

first_imgWe are forever told, through government initiatives, race equality organisations and indeed much mainstream liberal media, that an acceptance of ethnic and cultural diversity is the foundation of a tolerant and modern British society. However, there remains, and perhaps there always will, a deep-rooted distrust of ‘foreign’ influences in social organisations and foundations. To some extent this must, of course, be blamed upon archaic notions of superiority in civil vocations but this is often accompanied by a fear that our own citizens are unable to reach the skill required; the nagging question of why do we need foreign nurses and teachers? Many a debate could indeed ensue from such points but there is a simple question that is rarely asked in such national institutions as the NHS and state school system: is cultural and national diversity a benefit in itself? Although there are many examples of foreign citizens in British institutions there are few instances of British citizens in foreign institutions in the UK. Founded in the early 1970s while enthusiasm for the maturing European Union was at its peak, however, was a series of schools across the continent that fostered precisely this situation. Often associated with major science research centres that required multi-national staff these schools provided education for their children with the explicit aim of both maintaining independent national identity while at the same time experimenting with cultural fusion from an early age. Having left a traditional prep school aged eight, I was unprepared for this novel institution. At such an age we are supposed to be receptive spongelike figures, ready to absorb whatever is thrown at us, but I was already baffled. Separated in language sections that we would stay in for the rest of our school careers there was no option of changing classes and in fact I was to stay in the same class with several friends for eleven years. Large English, French and German sections dominated the year group while smaller Italian and Dutch sections also existed and the children in these ‘sections’ were taught everything in their native languages alongside a second language of their choice. Now obviously such a culturally diverse and unique education clearly bred a generation of liberal Europhiles, multi-national but lacking in distinct roots who would sooner jet off and work in Swiss banks than study for a job in the NHS. Bollocks it did. In many ways the sectarian system of language groups caused strife and for my first years there all my friends were in the English section. However, this is only partially true: none of my friends were ‘English’, none had two British parents and it was this type of set-up that the school thrived on. In individual families there was cultural diversity and I was soon friends with people from over twenty countries without even leaving my own classroom. And there was certainly no lack of national pride or spirit. World Cups and European Championships (the killer) would regularly degenerate into slanging matches while lessons were often cancelled depending on the nationality of the teacher and whether their team was playing. All the usual stereotypes and associated judgements existed too: special directions were pinned to doors at parents’ meetings ready for the arrival of the Italian parents, always half an hour late; rules had to govern German mothers who would park across three spaces in the car park (saving them for friends) ignoring the beach towel jibes from others; and Dutch students always knew the best people to get dope from (often their dad). These widespread national rivalries had the effect, however, of resigning us all to the fact that we were different and would always be so while at the same time forcing us to accept it and indeed enjoy it. Visits to friends’ houses were like trips abroad: one friend had no English food in the house and only German TV, a little bit of Hamburg we used to call his home, and an Italian I knew had cured hams and sausages hanging above the dining- room table and even vines in the garden. What these schools display so eloquently is that a fusion of nationalities and culture need not destroy individual nationalities or cultures, and that actually people can gain and grow from interaction with their fellows without loosing their own identity. Frightened of foreign influences, people are losing a crucial opportunity to absorb and adapt; a necessary step in even basic evolution. Such a display of weakness shows a lack national pride, not a defence of it, by fearing the effects of foreign cultures individuals stall a natural process, not of destruction, but fusion.ARCHIVE: 4th week TT 2004last_img read more

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