Anyone who’s not been living in a cave has, at one time or another, come across narrow-mindedness.
Many of us are familiar with that relative who says fair skin is desirable – to our face when we’ve been blessed with some extra sun-protective melanin. Everyone has a classmate who refuses to see our point of view (they don’t have to agree!) or even listen to what we have to say at a discussion for a group project. Or that professor – sadly, yes – who won’t accept questions from students during class.
Such people have convinced their way of thinking is the best way. They’re not even willing to consider they could be wrong.
Narrow-mindedness can be frustrating when you have to deal with it to get work done. It stops people from growing and leading successful lives. But the trouble with narrow thinking is you’re in the box whether you know it or not.
Now one of the novelties of being an international student abroad is that you get to meet people who are very different from you. They come from different backgrounds and have different customs and ways of thinking.
To add to that, you’re already in a new country with ways of life that are very different from yours.
You may see things you’re uncomfortable with. You may come across ideas that make you uneasy in the classroom or outside it. How do you avoid becoming narrow-minded under the circumstances?
Channel Ben Franklin
Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States, was a smart man who knew he couldn’t be right about everything. He was also a diplomat, and diplomats have to deal with people in conflict all the time. How did he do it?
He would begin his arguments by saying, “I may be wrong, but…” and putting people at ease. The other person is a lot more likely to be open to new ideas when you present your views this way without asserting your belief strongly.
When you’re expressing your opinion in a discussion or making an argument, make sure that you respect the other person’s views or the possibility that you could be wrong.
Travel for New Experiences
When you’re travelling – whether it’s close to your university town or further away – you’re opening yourself up to different ways of living. The more you travel, the better your brain will get at accepting new ideas and paradigms. Science has proven that travelling makes you more open-minded and creative.
But there are many kinds of travel. I’m not speaking of the kind where you spend a week on a private beach or a hotel suite. You need travel that lets you meet new people, see new ways of living and helps you let go of your control over things.
Get together a group of your new (hopefully multicultural) friends from college and go somewhere together. It doesn’t have to be far. If you’re an introvert and afraid of travelling in a group, there are ways to recharge yourself in a group (only when it’s absolutely necessary.)
Travel alone too. And while you do it, go up to strangers to talk to them. Try to speak another language, and if a new friend asks you to their country at your next semester break, be spontaneous and take them up on their offer. You’ll thank yourself for it later.
Read a Lot
What’s the next best thing to travel? Reading. Go beyond your coursework and pick up literature on other topics to find out what other people have to say. As you read more, your brain will learn to be curious about the opinions of others and their experiences.
Read both fiction and non-fiction. British writer China Mieville says he enjoys picking up books by subject experts and learning new things, and this shows in his wildly different and intelligent books.
If you’re learning the local language, pick up books and magazines in that language. (Although an even better way to acquire a language is to find language trades or language exchanges with locals. That way, you get to make new friends while you learn!)
The very practice of mindfulness is about fully accepting what the present has to offer. It’s about being more aware of your thoughts and not having any kind of objective while you meditate. Mindfulness can open your mind to new ideas and help you let go of ideas that are holding you back from success.
Go Out of Your Comfort Zone
When you’re only used to seeing the people you like being around and who think like you, you close your mind to the variety and richness of the world. Get out of your comfort zone once in a while to broaden your horizons as you study abroad.
This means going to a hip hop concert with a new friend even if you prefer classical music. Or trying some adventurous kind of food you’ve never tried before. Or taking a page off physicist Richard Feynman’s book and sitting in with students from other departments at lunch. You’ll be amazed by how much you learn and how flexible you become when you’ve gone out of your comfort zone.
It’s always a good idea to expand your circle of friends and people it with individuals who have wildly different political views, who come from different racial and cultural backgrounds and even have different age gaps.
Open-mindedness comes when you’re free from prejudices. Narrow-mindedness comes from past experiences that you can’t get over.
Have you had unpleasant experiences in the past that has prejudiced you against something – a skin colour, a behaviour, a custom, etc. – and it’s getting in the way of your student life on campus? Do you want to safeguard yourself against such prejudices, and approach your student life with wonder and the willingness to learn?
Take charge of how you think with the tips above. You’ll find your life is fuller, richer and more rewarding in the end, even after you’ve graduated and about to enter the new and competitive workforce of a difficult world.