A friend of mine and I got talking today, and we ended up on the topic of diversity and cultural identity. I had made a point that Singapore is more ‘regionally diverse’ than ‘globally diverse’, whereas I would consider Toronto to be more of a ‘globally diverse’ city. She brought up a point that Singapore is actually trying to control it’s growth into a diverse city center, as Singapore, unlike many other countries, has no rural areas which can maintain the traditional culture of the country.
Culturally, Singapore is in a very interesting situation. First, Singapore sits right at the center of SouthEast Asia, and it’s population is a mix of predominantly Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Philippino. I think Singapore attracts a wide range of people in the area, with many of the promises of an industrialized state. In addition, Singapore is a massive business and trade hub, which sees a lot of ex-pats through it’s doors.
So when you have such a mix of cultural backgrounds, there are two important things to tackle. One, developing and maintaining an environment where the individual cultures can maintain their values, while learning to co-exist with others and be mutually respectful. Two, Creating a sense of national pride and identity amidst such a diverse population.
She made it evident that the government takes this quite seriously, and there’s significant strategy behind what their efforts. A few points were brought up, such as how there are four official languages, and holidays of many different denominations are recognized, if not celebrated. I also had never really thought of how the mandatory 2 years of military service would help emphasize a sense of national identity and national pride.
I mused that they really shouldn’t be expecting too much in terms of national identity at the moment. It’s last gaining of independence was 1975, and determining a national identity takes time. Yes, it has been populated for a few hundred years prior, but I think establishing and unifying a sense of cultural togetherness takes a lot of time. The significant diversity means you can’t simply just latch on to the uniform cultural perspectives, because there aren’t uniform. Not to mention the fact that Singapore is a commuter city, where many people are here temporarily for work or school or business, and don’t plan on making Singapore their home.
So Singapore is diverse, and they try to make the most of it, but from the perspective of a national identity, they might be struggling.
I couldn’t help but draw linearities between this situation at that of the uWaterloo. To sum up, the University of Waterloo is a young (Est. 1957) university with a very culturally diverse student population whose time on campus and being integrated into it’s roots is fragmented due to their heavy co-op program. Like Singapore, the different cultures get along, but the school pride is lacking. I find that students dont have that overwhelming feeling of ‘this is where I belong’, and alumni ties are not that strong.
So it appears that Singapore has a plan, but what is uWaterloo’s? I think it’s clear that this is indeed something the university must tackle. They need to be actively involved in either developing or supporting the development of a sense of school identity. Like that of national identities, I believe it takes time. But if you don’t work at it, it will take forever.