Beyond Kumbaya

Bridging cultures on the surface may sound very sweet and reminiscent of sitting around a campfire in a cheap wine-induced fog singing kumbaya and swaying to the music, arms linked together. I don’t think it’s possible to truly begin to understand another culture, much less embrace it, without a significant amount of consternation, frustration, and a great deal of hard work and time. There are some key elements that must be present for successful bridging to take place because it does not just happen on its own. It takes effort.

It’s important to love one’s own culture and appreciate that. I’ve seen people who raced to inculcate themselves in a host culture in part because they rejected their own. They may adapt quickly, but that is not really the same as bridging. In bridging, you are able to appreciate your own culture as well as another, learn from both, and use that learning to make your own life better as well as help others.

Being vulnerable to people from the host culture….truly vulnerable is important. You have to be able to give of yourself and to be very open. Openness requires a certain amount of vulnerability and it also implies a willingness to change and to let oneself be changed by experience, by relationships, by a new understanding and view of life. It’s key to make friendships….friendships that incorporate what it means to be a friend, both from your own culture and that of the host culture. Cultures may vary a great deal in how they approach friendship.

All of this means that you will also experience pain- pain when you don’t understand something that happens, a conversation, an interaction, as well as the pain of homesickness for one’s own culture. Often there comes a point when what seemed very quaint and attractive when you first arrived now feels downright annoying.

What many people find very surprising, however, is that when one comes back home, home is no longer the same place. It does not feel the same. And even more surprising is that a person often finds that he misses the host culture. Once you truly adapt and  bridge a culture, you realize that you are not completely comfortable at home or away. Probably the most comfortable places are those where there are reminders of and people from both cultures.

About Helen Akinc

Writer: The Praeger Handbook for College Parents, Praeger Publishing, Dec. 31, 2009; Inter-cultural coach: Teaching Intercultural Competency Program for International Studies, Wake Forest University; speak Turkish, Cook: Very interested in ethnic cooking and am working on a Turkish cookbook;
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