Don’t stop reading this article after your read this maybe too abstract headline! This headline used to be too abstract for me even though as a mathematician, I like abstract things! What are the first things that come to your mind when you read the statement “Differences challenge assumptions”?
The Erasmus+ training course organizers want to conduct a super successful training on cultural relativism, intercultural sensitivity, critical thinking, WAIT WAIT WAIT – I will stop here. Instead of trying to squeeze a week of workshops on those topics (conveyed in complex terms), I will do something different. I mean, before you get bored to infinity…
I decided to interview the participants in the training course project after the training had finished. I wanted to ask simple open questions and hoped that they will answer as thorough and as honest as possible. So it happened! They answers proved the high quality of the project, but even more they proved the high quality of people who were gathered for it.
Where are you from?
I hate this question! It puts labels on people! I very much prefer “Where do you come from?” in the sense of what was your last location before you get here (where the conversation actually takes place). I hate to be labeled as Bulgarian, just because I have Bulgarian passport. I DO MIND to be labeled Eastern European when it comes to anything different to geography of the place I originate from. I don’t allow people to define me by my color, origin, nationality, race, religion, ethnicity. I am defined by my own achievements and not the achievements of someone else (be it politician, warrior, king, whatever)!
Still we get asked this question way to often, we do it unconsciously for small talks, when we meet someone for the first time, etc.
I consciously asked this question to my interviewees to check if something changed, expanded, vanished in the perception for “coming from somewhere” after the training. Hope the summary of the results will make you THINK next time you just label someone. And by the way, I come from Suhata reka. Translated to English it means “the dry river” and it’s the coolest neighborhood in the Solar System! 😃
- The answer could be put simple: Bulgaria, Spain, Turkey, etc. and probably those who answered with just one name of a country were not challenged by this question at all.
- How about you were born and raised somewhere, and then you also a significant amount of time in different place. Can you be from Colombia and Germany at the same time, or from Greece and Albania at the same time?
- As much as I love my neighborhood, some people love their towns. So I guess my next two on the travel bucket list would be Patras, Greece and Porto, Portugal.
- When you answer to the fullest, this is how it goes: “Passport says Croatian, I feel Dalmatian (my region), Mediterranean & European. Also I feel proud of my Balcanic, Slavic roots.” – Adriana.
Observation: If you want to visit someone, first make sure you are aware of their current location, their current “come from”! 😃 Actually that’s all that matters IMHO.
So, where do you come from, and where do you really come from?
Do you still wonder what “intercultural experience” means? I do, but as everything could be defined as good or bad, right or wrong, black and white (do you sense the challenge in this statement?), I decided to explain it for myself by asking people what their worst and best intercultural experiences are. This is a trap-question – they had to swim through not-so-dear memories of negative experiences and remember things they may have wanted to forget. On the other hand, they got the opportunity to remind themselves they had amazing lives full of amazing experiences and potential to gain even more.
Thank you, my dear interviewees! That was the toughest part of it all!
The worst experiences consist of:
- sexual harassment when visiting foreign countries and cultures
- improper / offensive language
- painful arguments with people from different cultures
- rejection because of gender or religion
- being isolated and alone, forced to stay silent in conversations in foreign country
Do you notice the pattern? People got bad experiences just because they were somehow different and they were perceived inferior by the offenders! Do you think your culture is superior to any other culture? If yes, please close the door behind you.
The best experiences consist of:
- studying abroad
- conference with people from different cultures
- volunteering abroad
- ‘Differences challenge assumptions’ project itself
It was positive experience because the interviewees:
- felt accepted
- felt included
- learned that words matter
- learned about other ways of living
- learned about different cultural backgrounds
- enjoy traditions and custom from different parts of the world
- took advantage of non-formal education methods
- met different people
- had tons of fun
Spot something? Yep, all the experiences include people feeling good and learning. I believe positive environment and education empower you!
So, what are your worst and best intercultural experiences? Have you had intercultural experiences you want to repeat or you want to forget?
I wanted to finish with something positive (read good, right 😃) so I asked my training-mates to recap once more on the training experience in UK. I wanted to know what their key takeaways, insight gained, inspiration are. That’s because I’m cool and I come from Suhata reka.
Interestingly, some dark thoughts appeared in my planned “happy ending” but I guess that was okay. We still need to think what our next steps are instead of going to sleep after the funny movie.
Well, there are definitely things we need to keep working on, like we should go beyond polarizing our opinions on everything. Life is not black and white, right and wrong. We should continue learning about ourselves too, so our emotions don’t create an image for us that we don’t like. And maybe we can focus on training our empathy and not only the critical thinking.
“Differences challenge assumption” training was an opportunity to question every assumption, even what we considered the “reality”. To go out of the comfort zone and stay curious and motivated to learn more others and think what harm assuming stereotypes does. To question every “fact” and learn that we are responsible for reinforcing or breaking stereotypes and images.
Some were inspired to continue their research on the matter, either academically or in a socially-responsible manner.
Some doubt the past, some doubt the future. Some shifted cognitive framework (I have no idea how, Ufuk).
Some were inspired by the people they met on the course.
But we all proved one thing – we may be different, but we’re not indifferent! And in the spirit of acceptance, we accept the challenge to challenge our assumptions!
So do you consider yourself a citizen of the world? If yes, why? If no, why?
What is your level of intercultural sensitivity? (from 1 to 10, mathematics rulezzz!)
Special thanks to Adriana, Sven Ivanov, Ana Belén Jiménez Campoy, Nick, Ufuk Akdemir, Ana Santos, Zoi-Getmira Ymai, Carolina Cortes Cruz for their cooperation and their stamina to answer those nasty questions of mine!
Wine’s on me next time (by the way, what color do you prefer? 😃)!