Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Cultural Bridge

I want to tell you about a very special bridge I have been fortunate to stand on. It is a bridge between two different cultures a person had a chance to get to know to such extent that he/she actually understands it, accepts it fully and respects it. You look left and right and you can connect to both the cultures in a special way and it becomes crystal clear that making any comparisons is beyond unfair.

First time it happened to me was when I went to USA as an exchange student to spend my senior year of high school submerged in the culture I knew nothing of.  I started off as any greenhorn on this field. USA was a “wow”! From neatest lawns I have ever seen, to widest roads, to stores opened 24/7, to drive through ATMs, friendly people - you name it!  I was absolutely overwhelmed with everything and beyond impressed. Few months passed and surprisingly the admiration and awe turned into something more negative. I all of a sudden thought Americans are shallow and superficial and everything that amazed me before turned into over done facades I no longer appreciated. I was frantically comparing everything to my country and due to sever home sick phase nothing could compare to my precious homeland.  I call this a stage two of the submerging into a new culture. Stage one being the “wow” stage! As I learned later in life this “wow” stage can also be in a different context all together. Like a “holy cow!” type of a wow stage.

Few more months passed in my USA experience, nearing a year in fact, when for the first time this magnificent bridge appeared out of nowhere. I was standing on it with a whole different look on the newly discovered culture. I no longer had anything bad to say about any American or their culture. Even the jokes about the dumb Americans, and their lack of geographical knowledge weren’t so funny anymore. This rather special bridge made me see and feel the culture. I saw clearly why comparing is impossible, why passing judgment about any aspect of a different culture, custom or religion is a useless, unproductive task. In fact, it can be rather harmful because it does not promote openness to cultural diversity.

Later on in life I met face to face with India! The stages might have been a bit different - the “wow” phase was not so impressive - but eventually the bridge appeared. It took a lot of ups and downs to reach it. A lot of positive and intensely negative experiences as well. India challenged me like no other country before.

So, how do you know you are on the bridge? It becomes clear when you are no longer able to explain to the other side why a certain seemingly weird and shocking aspect of a culture is actually quite normal and interesting. They don’t get it! They think you are weird all of a sudden. “You have changed!”

Yes, getting to know a new culture changes you forever. It makes you stronger, richer, widens your horizons and like my grandfather put it before I left for my first longer stay in a foreigner country: “Remember, each culture you get to know for more than a year – equals to a university degree from the most reputable institution.” I couldn’t agree more. Maybe the graduation ceremony is when you find yourself standing on the bridge!

Urska A.

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