Redeemer University is a school built strongly on the values of community and Christ-like living. Though small, the number of international students attending Redeemer is slowly growing, making Redeemer more culturally diverse than it has ever been before. But what does this mean? What is Redeemer’s culture, and how is it being affected by the growing number of international students?
When asked what culture meant to him, Aidan Maxwell, a fourth year student at Redeemer, described culture as “a worldview; how people understand themself in the context of the world and the reality they inhabit.”
Christelle Darla, a third year student, explained it “as the way people are used to doing things or specifically groups of people are used to doing things.”
Isaiah Deboer, a first year student, described it as “a system of shared beliefs within a community or large group.”
Culture is a concept that encompasses the social normative behaviours and beliefs of a group, and it can look extremely different in every community. When talking of international students, culture is a very important concept to understand. What might be familiar or normative for one group of people could be entirely foreign to another. Self-awareness, and most importantly, willingness to learn, is essential in creating a safe and comfortable environment for those entering a new culture and experiencing culture shock.
So in the case of Redeemer, what is this “culture” that new students are getting themselves into? Some words used to describe Redeemer’s culture by Diego Antonez, Maxwell, Darla, and Deboer were “bright,” “faithful,” “lively,” “encompassing,” “fun-loving,” “friendly,” “warm,” “inviting,” “accepting,” “respectful,” “intentional,” and “selfless.”
Though there are aspects of Redeemer’s culture formed from its demographic, such as its Dutch-Reformed history and southern-Ontarian environment, the images that come to mind when discussing Redeemer’s culture are inevitably centered around its love-focused community.
Maxwell said, “One thing I noticed immediately when I got here was how much the professors and the students cared about the things they are learning, and the ways they are engaging with culture, with reality, and their understanding of the world in terms of Scripture and each other…learning for the sake of learning and for God.”
Darla similarly said that “The culture of Redeemer is the love of Christ.”
Unique to other Canadian universities, the Christ-centered education of Redeemer has created a community built on love and eagerness to learn. When asked to describe what the culture of Redeemer is, Maxwell said, “It’s just like a feeling that you get walking into a place…I just feel loved when I’m here.”
Though many would be quick to attribute this strong sense of love and community to the small nature of the community, little to no other Canadian Christian universities, including small ones, seem to be as community-focused as Redeemer.
As Darla pointed out, “The way they’re so strict and intentional…like no eight people are gonna live together for the first three years of schooling…I don’t know if other Christian universities have rules like that installed.” From the prayers professors make before every class to the system of housing, Redeemer University definitely has love and community coded into every aspect of its culture.
However, despite Redeemer’s heavy focus on love and community, there are still things to be learned. As the number of international students increases, a need for a better understanding of culture, culture shock, and its effects are needed.
“It’s hard to bring in other cultures when you don’t know how to do that,” said Darla. The love Redeemer builds itself on needs to be the same driving force that allows for a better understanding and acceptance of cultural diversity.
As Darla pointed out, “It’s not like [Redeemer’s] not a welcoming space, but it takes certain intentional steps to make it one.”
As Redeemer strives to be a culture planted in the love of Christ, it is essential for it to take necessary steps to learn and embrace the members who bring new cultures into its community, making them feel as loved and accepted as those who are familiar with the cultural bubble.
Redeemer is more than just a Christian university, Dutch community, and place of education. Redeemer is a home for anyone and everyone, and needs to continue to put the love of Christ before all else if it wishes to maintain a culture willing to embrace diversity. It takes active intentionality to ask the right questions and listen to the answers in order to create a safe space for Redeemer’s unique new blend of cultures.