Shivam Punj, The Circle

I was born in Punjab, India. I grew up there until the age of 17 when I moved to Canada as an international student pursuing my undergraduate studies. I feel like, I have a special connection with Lord Shiva, and I am named after them as well.

My grandfather is an astrologer. He always teaches me about the different paths of spirituality and I used all his teachings to make my presentation on spirituality as well. In India, there are many languages. Hindi is the mother tongue of India, but I speak Punjabi at home, as I belong from Punjab. As I was born in a Hindu religious family, I started chanting mantras at a very small age and I still do, I believe that everything we have is just because of the almighty God. My parents have always taught my younger sister and me that we are the kids of God and we should be thankful for everything. My father taught me to thank God even if I fail at some point as everything happens for a reason
and if you are hurt, thank God as you might have saved yourself from a big accident. I think that this thinking has made me a positive human.

I identify myself as a Hindu, though I believe the main goal of all religions is the same and we should respect all religions as God is one and is taking care of all of us in different faces. I have known everything about my religion through my parents. Talking about my life, I started schooling in a Catholic School, and then went to a Sikh school, so I think I have had a lot of diversity in my life and this has made me respect all religions. My neighborhood consisted of all different cultures and I got an opportunity to attend all the cultural events. I remember one a memory when I was in a Convent school, I was helping out clean the church and one of my non-Christian friends came up to me and asked me that why am I doing this, this is not my God. That was really hard for me to imagine, so I came home and asked my Father about this and he basically explained to me that I should worship God and not a religion as God is one, that was really touching for me as a child and I think that is one of the reasons why I am so religious today and why I respect all religions.

I feel that there are a lot of cultural differences in this world, but they would all disappear once you start discovering new religions and start learning about other religions. I think that we all pray to one God but in different forms and we are all the kids of God. Once, people start figuring out that how beautiful other cultures are, all the cultural differences would disappear. My family values and beliefs are strong, and I believe that God is taking care of all of us and we should respect all religions and should be thankful to the almighty for everything. I feel that everyone has different views on each other’s’ religions which is totally fine. This could be something that was taught by their elders or by priests, but I strongly encourage people to learn about different cultures and I am saying this through my personal experience.

Talking about my own socio-cultural environment, as I said, I went to a Convent school when I started schooling, and then I went to school that supports the Sikh community and at last, ended up coming to Canada. I feel like I have really handled that diversity around me which has made me such a diverse human. The location that I was born in had all kinds of religions, I used to go to all the functions from different religions as I was always a kid that was confused between religion and spirituality and I had so many questions in my mind that I used to ask the priests. I think that it is important that you have the knowledge about all the religions; it makes a whole human with respect for all cultures in it. Both of my best friends are non-Hindus and I have never made friends based on religion as I think religion is something that is not given by birth, it is given to you as a person, depends on what family you are born in and I could be a non-Hindu as well if I wasn’t born in a Hindu family, and this makes me think broadly while making friends without any doubt in my mind as this helps in an individual’s personal growth as well.

Personally, I had a lot of questions regarding religions, like why Hindus don’t pray to Jesus Christ or vice versa. I am thankful for my family who has been so open-minded in this case and has always taught me good things about all religions that I am such an open-minded person today. I used to go to Church sometimes with my Father when I was not at school because I used to miss
going to the school Church. I think if all of us have that guidance and thinking, we all can make this world free to riots based on religion. I totally agree that there are some extremists in all religions but if we all come together as once, we can defeat the fight of religion as well. Again, this is totally my personal thinking as people may think differently. I remember doing a reading
in the class where it said that we need to do the study of different cultures to understand them and respect them. I totally agree with the author, it may be hard, as it was for me, all the questions as a child but it is definitely helpful when you grow up with a broad mindset.

I think the location where you are born really matters. For example, if you are born in a location where there are no Sikhs and no Gurudwaras, then you won’t even know that Sikhism exists, except reading it in the books or the television. But, I was lucky in that case, I was born in a Hindu family on the land of the Sikh Gurus, Punjab. Being a secular state, you really get to experience a lot as I did. I feel really bad when someone calls them a minority in India as I think we all are equal and we all are Indians, there shouldn’t be a division based on caste, gender or religion and this is totally my thinking. I know some people may think differently, but if you think it with a lot of respect and love for different cultures in your mind, you can definitely overcome that thinking and become an open-minded person. Therefore, this was the diversity in the country I lived in, where we all were Indians. This thinking encouraged me to come to Canada and live a more diverse life as I knew, going to a university in Canada, I would get to learn a lot from people from different countries and way more cultures than in India. I knew that if I come to Canada with an eagerness to learn about different cultures in Canada, I would be successful in promoting multiculturalism in myself.

Talking about Canada, I think it is a really multicultural place and Waterloo has all kinds of cultures and races. I think this was one of the best decisions of my life as this really helped to broaden my mindset and think out of the box of cultures and religions. In general, I think Kitchener-Waterloo is really diverse and it has made me learn a lot. I have made a lot of friends from different cultures. One of the best and newest experiences I had was going to a mosque with a Muslim friend as I had never been to a mosque in my life. I think that was one of the best experiences of my life as everyone was so helpful and loving even after knowing that I was not a Muslim. I think everyone should get such experiences in their life as it is important for your growth as an individual. In general, KW as a whole has a wide range of cultures and religions that you can learn from.

As an international student at Wilfrid Laurier University, I decided to run a student-based club called International Students Association by being the President for it. I then hired students from different cultures as my executives so that I can promote multiculturalism on campus as I think it is really important to make our campus multicultural so that everyone feels safe and everyone feels the same kind of diversity. In my club, I organize various different events related to various different cultures, for example, Diwali, Chinese New Year, International Day, etc. I do all those events just to learn more about cultures and to promote diversity on campus for other international students. We sometimes collaborate with Laurier International to help them out
with various events that promote internationalization on campus.

Another perk of being an international student is living with the people you don’t know and are from different cultures that you don’t know. I currently live with 4 other people, and they are all from different races and different religions, so I get to eat a lot of food from different religions and cultures and they get to eat Indian food as well. I think it has been a great experience so far as you get to know about different cultures a lot and you get to see the world from their perspective and a different viewpoint. It has influenced me a lot and has made me more interested in learning more about their cultures, so I ask them many questions and even ask them how they pray and whom they define God as.

The biggest challenge that I face living in a diverse place is that I cannot find many temples nearby to go to worship to as being a multicultural place, there are all kinds of religious places and it’s hard to find a religious place that belongs to your religion nearby. I think if we all need to live a better inter-cultural life, we need to understand that all cultures are important, and we need to respect all the cultures and have an eager in ourselves to learn about different cultures. I think, just to learn from ‘the others’ in our community, we should learn their perspective on religion and culture as I mentioned in my essay that we also need to learn about their point of view on their religion and their sense of God to understand them carefully and respect their religion.

Briefly, I believe that we all should get a chance to experience diversity in our lives so that we can broaden our horizons and expand our knowledge of various cultures. This way, we can learn to respect all the different cultures. In addition, I think we should all be open-minded about various cultures and make sure that we have enough knowledge about every religion so that we can respect it. It has always been a pleasure being in a multicultural society and starting your higher studies in a country that welcomes all religions; this makes you a great individual and helps you in your growth as an individual.