Theresa received this and passed it on to me. She shared a good bit about what makes her a citizen of the world and I must say her credentials far outweigh mine. Even so, I am rather tickled that she passed it on to me. It's a little indication that I am meeting one of my goals for my blog. In addition to having the blog as a creative outlet I've always wanted to have a chance to mingle with people from divergent backgrounds so I could learn about their world and share about mine. It's really nice to know I am doing that to a noticeable extent.
From the time I was very young I have been interested in cultures other than my own. I think part of it was an awareness that I was different from all the fair skinned blondes who surrounded me. Part of it was my grandfather sharing his interest in Native American culture. Part of it was hearing about when my parents were stationed overseas in the military. Part of it was loving to hear folklore from other countries.
I always gravitated toward folks who were different. In college I spent most of my free time with the exchange students. I really considered that an important part of my education. I learned things from those friends that I never would have learned from a book or a formal class. I was frequently mistaken for being an exchange student myself. Admittedly, I took a certain twisted pleasure in messing with gullible minds when an especially dense or patronizing person complimented me on how well I spoke English. Apparently I still have a certain foreign look or demeanor or something because just this weekend a lady in a store approached me and asked, "Excuse me, do you speak English?" Oh the temptation...
When I went to Trinidad the first time it was part of a work team. We stayed at a camp in the mountains and were unfortunately somewhat isolated from the local culture. There was a Jamaican team there at the same time. During free time I'd head over to their rooms instead of hanging out with my American teammates. When they asked me why, I said I had all the time in the world to spend with Americans but not so much time to spent with Trinis or Jamaicans so I was looking to make the most of the opportunity. I wanted to learn.
When I lived in Trinidad I became a student of the culture and the history. I loved learning everything I could. I am by no means an expert on Trinidad but I think the year and a half of Trini Tuesday posts indicates I was paying attention during my time there. I truly did not understand the mindset of the other Americans I met who had lived there so much longer than I had and yet seemed to know so little. I found even a little bit of interest in learning goes such a long way in building bridges. It didn't matter if it was being aware of local current events, or asking someone to teach me how to cook local food, or learning about customs, or using the slang, it all worked together to communicate respect. And who doesn't respond to being respected?
When I came back to the USA I had a very rough re-entry. I did NOT want to be here. At that time I met a couple from Kenya. The wife didn't want to be here anymore than I did. Her husband had more or less dragged her here for school with the promise that they'd return to Kenya upon graduation. She came knowing he had no intention of ever going back and was mourning the loss of family connections back home. I walked her through a lot of initial culture shock because she knew she was safe to complain to me, that I wasn't going to take it as a slam on my homeland for her to express sadness over being away from her own. As odd as it may sound to a lot of you, her 'foreignness' provided a comforting familiarity to me that soothed my own re-entry. Because she didn't have American notions about how affection between friends could and could not be expressed and because I was very comfortable with the more demonstrative expressions in Trinidad we were both free to discard some of the more buttoned up restrictions that American culture can impose. It was a nurturing and healing thing for both of us. Of course, the friendship stoked my natural curiosity in Kenyan culture specifically and I learned a good bit from her (recipes included). I considered it the greatest compliment when she told me I was really more Kenyan at heart than American and I was the one American she would be proud to take back to her home village because she knew I would not judge anything there as weird or beneath me. I was quite humbled by that.
Actually, I've heard a variation on that sort of statement from Trinis, Jamaicans, Ghanaians, Indians, Bolivians, Argentinians, and Chinese. I don't say that to boast but I hope it at least indicates I can adapt and make people feel respected and welcome. I've seen so many stereotypical 'Ugly Americans' even in my limited experience abroad and it makes me cringe. I just want to avoid giving any justification for that label, satiate my natural curiosity, and hopefully do my part to build respect for my own culture in the way I conduct myself.
So now I am to pass this on. Here are the folks I think are world citizens who build bridges across cultures. I know so many of you live in different cultures or have wide cross cultural experience, but for the sake of brevity I will focus on those folks who specifically cover cultural topics regularly in their blogs.
Renny BA: He calls himself a network evangelist and his blog focuses on the seasons and culture of Norway. I have learned so much from him and have loved every minute spent at his blog discovering Scandinavia. He's a dear friend.
Susie: She's an American who is in love with India. I remember her first trip several years ago and she is headed there again the end of this week. Wish her safe travels! She is sure to have some amazing posts in the next few weeks if the reports during her trip last year were any indication.
Cosima: She is a German woman living in Hong Kong. She has shared quite a bit on both German and Chinese culture, customs, and arts. She has offered original translations of German poetry. She is incredibly intelligent and her insights are always deep and thought provoking.
Toraa: He is a wonderfully crazy viking! You never know what he might come up with but it will always be done with a real zest for life and great humor. He has shared about visits to his daughter in Miami, trips in Europe. He has a real affection for South America as well.
Mona: She is an Indian woman who has frequently written about issues specific to her culture in a way which educates the rest of us. I don't know what experience she may or may not have with cultures other than her own but her efforts to share about both the good and the bad of life in India are a benefit to those who read her and who want an insider's view.