Our venture in Port Elizabeth took us into three (3) major townships:
- New Brighton – W. B. Tshume and Charles Duna Primary Schools;
- Kwanoxolo – Emmanuel Advice Care Center;
- Kwazakhele – Jerusalem Home and the Shebeen.
During these experiences, there were a great number of life lessons that surfaced for me.
Studying abroad is one of the biggest steps you can take outside of your comfort zone. I have traveled abroad in a diverse group from different cultures and we have been challenged with culture shock. Although culture is variously defined, it is an integrated system of learned behavior patterns, which includes ways of living together, value systems, traditions, behaviors and beliefs. The group’s adjustment process intensified during our transition and our social space clashed with each other. Our study abroad experience should have been empirically observed as an opportunity to develop ways of managing and building social relationships, especially among ourselves.
As we became connected in South Africa, multi-cultural collaboration was increasingly needed. The cultural differences among our group existed and became part of our relationships, became barriers to working together and challenged the collaboration. As people from different cultures working together, values conflicted and individuals sometimes reacted in ways that made the partnership ineffective.
In order to promote a unified effort, we needed to overcome differences and understand one person was not going to know everything. It was important that everyone understood and agreed to the purpose of the collaboration, the degree of commitment required and the expectation of the people involved in the effort. An effective multicultural collaboration would have allowed us to learn from each other, inspires a sense of community, to greater productivity and a happier environment.
Culture can be different for each individual and therefore affected by it differently. In order to work with people from different cultural groups effectively, I personally feel it necessary to build sturdy and caring relationships based on trust, understanding, and shared goals. Because trusting relationships are the glue that holds people together as they work on a common problem, they will need to support each other in order to stay with the effort, even when it feels discouraging. People need to resist the efforts of those who use divide-and-conquer techniques–pitting one group against another.
Each situation is different and may require a different solution. Part of the process of becoming culturally aware is knowing that you don’t know everything, situations may not make sense and that your assumptions may be wrong. Assume differences, not similarities. It is important to take the appropriate amount of time to evaluate situations, for the unique situation it is, before you act.
The more complicated and uncertain life is, the more we tend to seek control. Sometimes good intentions to solve problems can get out of control. Planting seeds has power. The growth of the seeds is out of our control and we should avoid the temptation to check on them. When we have sown the seeds, we have done all we can do. We should go about our business and leave the seeds to do what they do. We tend to want to help the seeds grow. The seed will sprout; it may take a minute, an hour, a month or maybe even years.
Ultimately, this experience has shown me the value of the Golden Rule; “Do unto others as you will have them do unto you.” Though, this rule is widely stated and used, I think it is interpreted in many ways. My interpretation of this rule means, “Don’t expect what you are unwilling or unable to give.” For example, don’t expect kindness, if you cannot be kind; don’t expect friendliness, if you cannot be friendly; don’t expect trust, if you cannot be trusting; don’t expect to be respected, if you cannot give respect. When you expect what you are unable or unwilling to give, you are a user who takes advantage of givers in life.
In order to gain insight into a different culture, you must be able to understand the state of mind, beliefs, desires and particularly emotions of others. In order to understand another person, we need to try standing in their shoes. Through empathy we learn of how other people would like to be treated by us.
This journey and hopefully more life lessons continue as we move to Cinsta East…