During my sophomore year in college, I found out that my roommate was gay. While this revelation may not seem significant for people from the US, it was a huge deal for me—I had a particularly conservative upbringing in a predominantly Catholic country. This meant that since I was young, my family elders taught me that gay people deserved to go to hell, and that homosexuality is contagious. Hence, when I told my family the news, my conservative parents would of course instruct me to change rooms. However, part of the reason why I chose Berkeley was that I wanted a ‘real’ education—one that reflected the world’s reality. As uncomfortable as I was with that situation, I also knew that being able to interact well with people who are different is critical in order to achieve success in the global business environment.
As these two beliefs clashed internally, I knew that I had to be rational. I started out by staying in my original room, and observing my roommate’s behavior: what his daily schedule was like, and what his motivations might be. Would he show signs of the extreme actions that my family imagined gay people to do? To an American, the answer might be obviously no. But for me to go against years of inculcation to find the truth for myself was an enormous step.
As it turned out, we actually had many shared interests: from fitness related recreational activities, to the pressure associated with trying to please Asian parents who were never satisfied, we had many commonalities that made conversation effortless. As the first semester progressed, we became each other’s motivation to study harder in the mid-term season. In short, we became very good friends. I realized this when my roommate came in late one night crying, because he had broken up with his boyfriend. It felt a little strange, because this was a situation that I felt ill-equipped to give advice on. But nonetheless, I had come to care for him, and reassured him that there is a silver lining to every rejection. I gained a real friend that day, at the loss of some ridiculous notions that my family had cultivated in me.
Living, learning, and becoming friends with my gay roommate was one of the biggest life lessons I have experienced, not only because it helped me debunk many biases that I had coming in, but also because it trained me to develop the emotional intelligence I need to handle foreign situations in the future. With people you find unfamiliar, you should try to find common ground in order to come to understand them, instead of trusting blindly in stereotypes or ideals placed upon me, especially ones from my youth. It is critical to come to the right conclusions by evaluating things for yourself. I realized that many of the challenges we have are psychological ones, and that for me, it only takes an open mind and a can-do attitude to overcome them.