Bridging across cultures

Written by: Nghi Dang
I normally don’t follow politics closely. I run into headline news now and then, via social media. Recently, with my effort of not being much ignorant, I know news via other channels, rather than social media. Earlier today, I came across this article: “After Brexit, I feel like a foreigner in my own country”, written by Yosola Olorunshola—a Communications Officer for Global Citizen. She talked about how her own country had turned to be a strange place, in which people are divided and violence is being inflicted on innocent people. The only “crime” those innocent ones seem to be committing that causes them to be victims of violence, is not looking like a native English person: “You are not really from here”. I shared this on my own Facebook page, with a status line “this is a mess”. I quoted those words from an email discussion I read earlier today as well; they were used by an interculturalist from Ireland. Because I could not find better words than his – it is a mess!
In my last years in college, my interest started to lean towards Intercultural studies. I moved across the globe to be on my own and this decision paid off. I noticed day by day, month by month, and year by year, the differences I encountered with people. Those differences made me annoyed at first and puzzled (even until today sometimes) me as to how and why this or that person did what they did. Things they did can be anything:, in the way they are working, how they communicate or how they seem to look at friendship, etc. I couldn’t understand why, since they seemed so different to me. But, and of course there is a “but” here, noticing the differences has allowed me to feel relieved. I do not have to follow what others do, as no one is just like anyone else. And if I try to be patient a little bit more, listen a little bit closer to people around me before trying to make them behave like I do, I actually learn so much more. The most important thing I learn is, life would be so boring if everyone acted the same. You are always told to “make a difference”, but at this point, I see that “embracing the difference” is in fact, truly hard work. I would never be able to learn this by staying in my own country. Even so, my journey abroad is not perfect. To be honest with you, most of the challenges I face with difference are related to my own struggle with cultural identity.
In his book review of The Bridge: Dialogues across Cultures, Dr. George Simons wrote:
The struggle for identity and belonging is a part of experiences as disparate as surviving the Holocaust, being a victim of HIV or finding motivation for one’s studies. It may be about dealing with immigration and social change or with the generational differences between mothers and daughters in a new land or a new age. Often in these situations individualism puts people at cultural risk and the return to wholeness lies in reconnection with others.
I sometimes think that my acculturation process might work in an opposite direction. However, I know I am not alone with the struggle for identity. The book’s editor herself also describes her own struggle and that of her clients to illustrate “the uncertainties, pains and joys of steering ones identity through cultural storms” (Simons, 2006). So if is difficult, and there are struggles and “pains” to deal with, why do there seem to be more and more people embracing cultural difference, and in fact many of them are steering their careers, their lives towards it?
Because there are also joys.
The joy is seen through the message of the book’s editor:
Gestalt views and observes differences, takes an interest in the way each culture configures the field, and strives to create enough common ground for bridges to be stretched across them.
The joy is in Simons’ writing:
Here the play of figure and ground in Gestalt help us to understand how cultural difference in the ground may make all the difference to the meaning of the symbols we exchange and actions our well-intended actions toward each other. Factors that have formed us, though not unrelated to the color of our skin, can run much deeper and make up a far greater part of our self-construct than we are likely to imagine.
The joy is my reason for heading towards the Intercultural field. Cultural difference does not have to be threatening, as it does not make your “identity” fade away. Cultural differences should remind us of our common ground. Due to this common ground, no one among us deserves to be treated badly for being born with a different appearance.

Bloated patriotism destroys the community it was meant to sustain.

I wrote this piece of writing to express my sadness after reading the article quoted at the beginning. I used references from one of Dr. George Simons’s book reviews. I mentioned the book’s title earlier. To read a rich-full review of this book, you can click here.

Simons wrote more of his opinions about the final essays under with its topic of “bridging in therapy”. He also wrote wise words about the editor’s epilogue:
“Experience trumps theory”. This highlights the dilemma that the reader, especially if not a therapist but otherwise engaged in intercultural work must address and resolve in every practice. Experience is messy, and frequently interculturalists whose work may have healing potential but who don’t see them selves as therapists would themselves avoid the messiness. Much of the time, we are brought to work in situations because our clients fear the messiness and expect us to clean it up or at least help them clean it up […]
As always, I look forward to hearing your sharing thoughts on the matter. After all, diversophy® is a tool for enhancing cultural awareness and competence, and our discussion can spark inspiration for new products updates to make your work and your mission more successful.

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