In my last blog, I began explaining my pursuit of cultural intelligence. I shared the humbling realization that apart from news that affects me personally, I am ignorant of issues outside the US. In fact, during my study abroad preparation at Hope, Amy Quincey mentioned the stereotype that Americans are globally unaware. In my case, I was sad to realize it was true. At times the problems in America alone seem too many and too overwhelming to address. I’d like to make the excuse that in the midst of familial, friendship, and personal conflicts, I often forget to look outside of myself, but doing so is a personal goal. Likewise, as I am exposed to different beliefs, I am challenged to reflect on my own. For me, this journey also relates to my faith. God calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and Jesus modeled that by being with the people. Finally, in the diversity around me, I see the vastness of God’s creation.
I am grateful for the program at IES as it has encouraged my curiosity and provided unique learning opportunities. My courses include, “Social and Political Role of the Arts in Chile and Latin America” which explores history through an artist’s lens. Human Rights, a focus on issues and movements throughout Latin America, and Native Cultures, exploring indigenous groups and their role in society. My final class, Spanish, teaches grammar and cultural content to improve conversation and comprehension skills. Additionally, I volunteer twice a week at a public school for vulnerable populations. I love the wide variety of information and each course inspires me to investigate global issues from a justice-based perspective. Additionally, with my classmates, I had the privilege of touring La Moneda, the presidential building with the other governmental offices. We learned about the different governmental positions and their responsibilities and although we didn’t get to meet President Boric, I was fascinated to see where he works.
But my learning goes further than historical and political context. As an international student, I’ve been challenged socially. For the birthday of an IES classmate, we went to a fancy restaurant with a group of international students from our hall. I was eager to hear about their experience so far in Chile and what they found important from their home. A while after being seated, I asked one of them what she wished people knew about her country, the Netherlands.
Without hesitation, she answered, “We’re more than just Amsterdam and Weed.”
I was intrigued by this answer as I honestly don’t know much about the Netherlands.
“What is it about the Netherlands that you are most proud of?” I continued, eager to hear her opinion.
She gave me a confused look but proceeded to answer, “I don’t know if there is anything I’m proud of.”
Feeling a bit confused myself, I turned to her roommate from Germany and asked the same question, “What are you proud of Germany for?”
She too hesitated. “If you are, proud of Germany, you are kind of viewed as a Nazi.”
In this very uncomfortable moment, all my lessons about cultural intelligence came flooding back. Although her classmate graciously pointed out my mistake, I felt foolish. From her point of view, Americans are encouraged to have pride in our country and express our patriotism, sometimes excessively. For other countries, pride isn’t always the most important value. I sat digesting her observation and wondered silently, what does patriotism look like in another country? I was embarrassed by my assumption and desperately wanted to escape this uncomfortable conversation. Instead, I swallowed my pride, “What do you think would be a better way to ask?”
“What do you like most about where you live?” She suggested. This time they were quick to answer.
On the surface, both questions seem to ask the same thing. But with deeper examination, I could see the different interpretations of patriotism and nationalism. When I asked the question about pride, I was thinking they’d share their favorite aspect of their culture or familial tradition. However, their understanding of pride meant the expression of nationalism. Interactions like this remind me of the importance of being a global citizen. After this conversation, I’m interested in exploring language and more specifically communication cross-culturally.
Later that night, the German student asked me, “How does it feel to know you can go to almost any country and be sure most people will understand you?”
She was referring to the fact that although we were in a Spanish-speaking country, I had the privilege of speaking English when I couldn’t communicate in Spanish. Her question made sense but it still felt like a slap in the face. As one might react to a personal attack, my defenses went up. I was offended and it took me a moment to realize why. Her question blatantly called me out on my privilege. But she wasn’t hostile. Rather she inquired with the same curiosity I had shown earlier. I pondered her statement and was reminded of my experience at the airport, in my apartment building, and in interactions with my professors. For each, I could fall back on my English if I couldn’t express myself in Spanish. And although I avoided this as much as possible, it was an undeniable crutch. But for my friends, whose first languages were neither English nor Spanish, it’s something they are always conscious of. I had assumed that they were comfortable speaking English but was saddened to hear how frustrating and difficult it was for them both. In fact, up until that point I had taken that for granted for most of the night we had spoken in English. I hadn’t even considered that they were constantly thinking in not one but two foreign languages. The debate for bilingualism and multilingualism has always fascinated me. While most other countries seem to prioritize teaching at least one other language, I wonder why isn’t it as common in the US. Perhaps it’s because English is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. Anyhow, my time in Chile has reaffirmed my interest in learning new languages.
But my privilege doesn’t stop with language. On a few occasions, the internet and water have been cut to my apartment building. While this presented issues with completing homework and boredom, it forced me to evaluate and prioritize my time. I knew how valuable technology was but when I couldn’t even send an update to my family letting them know what was going on, I felt helpless. In the midst of my frustration, I was reminded of the situation in Puerto Rico. On September 18th, Hurricane Fiona blew through Puerto Rico leaving “roughly 950,000 of Puerto Rico’s 1.5 million business and residential customers without power.” According to NPR, “Hundreds of Thousands” also lost access to clean water and are still experiencing blackouts. If I felt disoriented and worried for my family after just a few days without power, I can’t imagine how I would feel after a few weeks.
As I’m confronted with my privilege, I am trying to learn from an attitude of curiosity and love rather than being motivated by guilt. At the same time, I’m learning to think critically. Just like my passion for social work, I hope to educated myself and empower others.
Thanks to the Phelps Scholars Program and Professor Afrik, I can offer book recommendations if you’re interested in learning more about cultural intelligence. I also recommend these news sources if you´re interested in becoming globally educated.
The Big Project: Worldwide News in English
Leave a Reply