I forgot to wash my hands on the way to class: a big no-no since we were learning to roll sushi that day. I along with my fellow Japanese language and culture students all crammed into a small room set-up with tables in the shape of a U. Laid out on the table were sushi mats, rice, nori (seaweed paper), avocados, imitation crab, cucumber, jalapeno peppers (my professor was feeling adventurous), wasabi, and soy sauce. We were learning to make California rolls, and we were using our bare hands, precisely the reason that I was supposed to wash them.

Sushi making: I wish I looked half as cool as this guy.

Oh, and did I mention that it was 9:30 in the morning, and I had skipped breakfast, making sushi my first meal of the day?

For most people (including most of my classmates) that situation was a setup for disaster and misery. Most of them made it pretty clear that they hated fish, new food, mornings, etc., but only when the professor wasn’t listening.

I, on the other hand, was on cloud nine.

I’ve always been interested in new cultures and new places. I don’t know where I got the excitement from, especially since I’ve never left the U.S. Maybe it was looking through my mom’s college photo albums from when she studied abroad in the Middle East. Maybe it was from listening to the missionaries that would come to my church from Mongolia, Thailand, and England to talk about their experiences and their work. Maybe it was from watching a large number of National Geographic documentaries with my dad (nerd alert!).

Making chai tea, I think.

As I mentioned before, my campus is tiny. But even here, I have been exposed to a plethora of different cultures. I took an Indian cultures class that taught me how to make authentic chai tea. (It is seriously awesome; it’s like the best parts of coffee, tea, and hot chocolate got together and had a baby.) The teacher for that class is originally from India and told us stories about growing up in New Delhi and what it was like to move to America. She allowed us to write and research many different topics and ideas in that class, allowing my perceptions and ideas to morph and expand.

My Japanese class has not only taught about sushi rolling, but also about the language, culture, and art. The professor often tells us about what it’s like to be an American in Japan and what we should expect if we ever travel there. After teaching us to roll sushi (which, by the way, is one of the most relaxing and rewarding things to do), he asked our class if we would be willing to assist him in teaching people at a cultural festival that weekend. I got to teach many people how to roll basic sushi, just from taking one class.

Another thing that’s pretty spectacular about college is the various different people I’ve had the opportunity to meet. College campuses are a melting pot of people from almost everywhere under the sun. This allows you to meet new people. Add to that new classes every four months with new professors and fellow-students and you have a great opportunity for meeting new and exciting people on a regular basis. I know people from China, Gambia, Togo, Australia, Ukraine, Mexico, and Germany. And each person has their own story, outlook on life, and adds a little bit to my knowledge of the world.

Even in this tiny, frozen corner of Pennsylvania, I’ve been exposed to many different cultures, all because I’m on a college campus. That’s one of the greatest strengths of colleges and universities: they bring people together with the sole purpose of expanding knowledge. And when you mash all that together, something amazing is bound to happen.