Realise the beauty of unity in diversity

diversity 2019__

(Unsplash, 2019)

This article was exclusively written for the The European Sting by Mr. Kapil Narain, a fourth year medical student at the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine. He is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


In this hyper-paced 21st century, we reside in shrinking spaces. Due to the advent of technology such as Skype or commercial planes, this has ushered a wave of unparalleled communication opportunities – giving rise to the idea of a global village.

Whether it is communication or travel between Europe and Africa, America and the Far East or Australia and South America – anything is possible. Hence, I have entitled this article Pangea in light of the supercontinent – which serves as a powerful metaphor for our interconnectedness and global unity as a people.

Whilst such ease of connectivity and accessibility enables networking or collaboration on many initiatives – along with the fact that most people in their lifetime will visit another country for work or holiday – this is not without its challenges. Often a key concept is to understand other cultures which may be wildly different to that of yours, and the culture shock that ensue as part of this process.

The latter refers to the phenomenon whereby an individual may experience a sense of disorientation or anxiety when moving to another cultural environment that may be vastly different to his or her own. I am sure many readers can easily relate – be it in the form of intense language barriers, unusual cuisine (in some cases you would consider inedible), or dressing (that to your standards may be utterly ludicrous).

Often there are 4 well known phases of this culture shock phenomenon: honeymoon (where differences are romanticised but this eventually ends), negotiation (stark difference are noted between your own culture and this current one which creates anxiety), adjustment (where you acclimate to the new cultural environment), and adaption (where you finally feel comfortable).

It is becoming increasingly important to realise cultural differences and respect them. For me as a medical student and future doctor, who speaks and examines patients of various ethnic and cultural backgrounds daily, this translates to understanding who our patients are – beyond the biomedical perspectives. Patients are not simply coughs, chest pains or tumours.

It is delving and advocating for the bio-psycho-social model of health and understanding how a patient’s culture is a critical component of social determinants of health which may influence a particular patients feeling or attitude towards a disease or treatment.

It is paramount we minimise such cultural shock. Most importantly, we must do so by engaging with someone who possesses a different skin colour, wears different clothes, speaks differently and looks different to us. We must welcome and possess an interest in understanding one another.

As we left 2018 behind and we commemorate the centenary of legendary activist Nelson Mandela, let us champion the ideals of a “rainbow globe”.  Realise the beauty of unity in diversity.

Play our part in “Ubuntu” (an isiZulu word for humanity) and celebrate the dazzling array of cultures on our planet. Whilst we may all be different we are bound by the common thread of the human condition and the triumph of the human spirit! Lest us never forget.

About the author

Kapil Narain is a fourth year medical student at the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine. He is the current President of SAMSA (IFMSA –South Africa). He is passionate about understanding where patients come from and believes in the beauty of inter-religious groups. He has worked with Churches, Mosques and Temples through many of his community initiatives – one which included a march for gender equality.

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