A Thought about Culture

At the risk of sounding cliche, here’s one thought I have about culture. When you travel to a foreign country you are an ambassador of your home culture to your host culture. It is your responsibility to represent your country while remaining respectful of the host culture’s norms. As an example, if I happen to be the first American that someone meets, they may think all Americans are like me (in whatever way they choose to define that). Of course that’s not true, but that’s the impression that travellers have the power of giving. I really think it’s something people need to be way more aware of.

There is a reason for this thought. Today I attended an orientation as a required part of my teaching program. Most of it was in Spanish so there was an added level of difficulty to the day for most of us in the room. I happened to sit next to a group of individuals who were irate that they’re orientation was not conducted in their language. Alas, we are in Spain. Hearing Spanish shouldn’t be shocking. They were annoyed, whispering amongst themselves (loudly), and one even said she wanted to throw her water bottle at the kind woman informing us about our new jobs. “Are you kidding me?!” I thought to myself. There’s no need to throw a tantrum. If you have a question, politely raise your hand. Don’t pretend like this woman cannot understand you just because you cannot understand her. And in fact she could, and she was not happy. The interculturalist in me was furious.

The aforementioned female is going to be teaching elementary aged children for the next 10 months. She is going to be sharing her culture with these young people and teaching them about life in the US. If she starts throwing things at them when she’s upset, this class may think Americans are… (you can fill in the blank). I’m sure she will not actually throw things, but sometimes words are just as powerful as actions.

It makes me feel sad for her class. Unless she quickly understands that the way she presents herself to the people she meets has a ripple effect, these students may acquire a false impression of all Americans. This is exactly the opposite objective to the reason she was hired for her job in Spain. 

I’m not saying she was wrong to feel a certain way in that situation – it was stressful, I get it. My point is that you cannot travel internationally and expect things to be handed to you in the same way they are where you’re from. The way in which cultures differ is what makes this world such an amazing place to explore. Part of me wishes I had asked her “if you’re not into it, why are you here?”.

2 thoughts on “A Thought about Culture

  1. I’d be interested to know if this is her first experience abroad and as a result she is a fish out of water and feeling vulnerable… and some must lash out when they feel that way. Do you do any group dynamics stuff as part of your training? Are you able to share what you said here with your class? W/o the part about her specifically? You may enlighten many of them…

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    • It’s hard to know what her story is, but the majority of the people in this program have studied abroad (most of them in Spain). But I don’t know for sure. Culture shock does happen so I’m sure that’s a play here as well.

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