Jane is a young african lady who got her scholarship to study at a famous western University. During a class discussion, she was asked how she managed to travel from Africa to the country.
She replied she walked by feet from her house till she reached the sea border, and then took a boat that dropped her on one of the port. After that, she walked by feet again and reached the University and Register for her classes.
They all replied: That’s awesome! Great! And where did you learn English?
The lady answered: I came here with no knowledge of English and I learned English when I landed in the country.
Wonderful! Said the classmates with big smiles on their faces and with a certain satisfaction they learned something new about her.
But they could not understand why Jane was answering their questions with an ironic smile.
The type of smile that says: “They believed me! How in the 21st century these people don’t know there are scholarship programs that enable countries to exchange and transfer knowledge?”
Jane, who was narrating the story with some people, said she did it purposely to show them how stupid their questions were and to help them understand they need to be more open minded.
The above story is a fraction of what some immigrants or foreigners face every day in western countries. Such questions arise mostly from western people when they encounter someone coming from a third world country.
But the reality is different from what social media portray about third world countries. People are also different. As we travel outside our native country, we notice how different we are from others but also, we are amazed of what they know and could provide us in term of services, knowledge, and information.
In this article, I would like to share with you how to smartly discover other cultures for development purposes*. Whether in our neighborhood, workplaces or social groups, there is an increasing probability to encounter someone of another cultural background. That’s the direct effect of a globalizing world.
Some few tips could avoid you being seen as an authentic ignorant when you meet people from other countries.
We could also learn how to put aside prejudices and stereotypes that could lead to harmful discriminations.
- Ask the right questions. By asking the right questions, we can discover more about others. Two powerful types of questions could help us do that: Why and How.
“Why” questions generate motivation speeches. One could be amazed at people’s motives for being where they are.
“How” questions provide a process to move from point “A” to point “B”.
Below is a typical example of a conversation with “why” and “how” questions.
Question: Why did you come to America?
Answer: Because it’s the country of opportunities where I could become the best version of what God wants me to be.
Question: How did you come here? Which means of transportation did you use?
Answer: I came by plane. The flight was 16 hours .
The conversation could continue for an hour and nobody will feel like a new product being studied to know if it could be consumed or not.
- Make some research based on the answers
We should really be humble and make some researches on the person’s country, travel opportunities, and socio-economic status.
When working for the US Peace corps, I was amazed at the number of things I learned on Cameroon through Volunteers.
The same thing happened to me when I landed in America. In my discussions, I demonstrated so much knowledge about America that many did not believe I have been in the country for less than a year.
It’s simply because of the advantage of new technologies.
Google provides you almost all the knowledge of cultures around the globe.
Hollywood gives a certain view of societies with true story based movies (Not fiction please!).
Discovery World, Planet, National Geographic and many other channels disseminate all kind of reliable information about other cultures.
You could watch a foreign channel right in bed and learn about others.
Due to globalization, we may have relatives, friends or friends of friends almost everywhere who could provide some knowledge about other cultures.
In libraries, you find amazing books of people who traveled and discovered the world.
Make good use of all those resources to understand foreigners around you with non-suspicious eyes.
- Share life. It’s important to have common activities with a common interest and learn why and how people from other cultures understand things.
Understanding others could be possible through genuine and natural interaction because people do not “behave” as expected.
Going to a pique-nique, discussing on life topics like marriage perception, society challenges, football business, language differences and much other life related domain could help discover how others perceive and analyse the world from their cultural background.
To know more about this topic, read my article on Taping The Power Of Diversity in 21St Century Organisations: Principles and Practices.
- Avoid the Superman Syndrom. The Superman Syndrom is manifested by asking questions as if we have the answers but deeply we no nothing.
To identify “supermen”, they simply never share in return their views on questions they ask you. They could actually ask you question but the day you reply and ask them: “What about you?” You could perceive on their face the embarrassment of being ignorant.
The Superman Syndrom is due to the difference between social media and reality. It could be shocking in positive or negative ways but there is always a: “It’s not exactly what I saw on TV!”
When I left Cameroon to Uganda, my mother almost cried because she taught I was moving into a country where war is raging. She knew famine and HIV are devastating the country.
The only thing I knew about Uganda when I was still in Cameroon was the former leader Amin Dada through the movie “The king of Scotland”. When I reached there, I was amazed by the positive changes that occurred since.
While in Uganda, I also encountered a lot of western natives among my students who gave me a certain view of how the western world looks like. They were impressed by the difference between what they heard about Africa and the reality they were experiencing.
Their views added more knowledge to what I knew already (through the ways mentioned above and through my years of experience with Peace Corps in Cameroon) and prepared me mentally to live in America.
For sure, reality could be far different from what you heard or learned but at least to avoid the Superman syndrom, you may have to communicate with people by acknowledging that you are learning from real facts, not theories.
If the above 4 ways of discovering other cultures seem too simple to you, then it means you perfectly understood the goal of my article.
Life could be easier than we think and people could be less complicated as we thought.
There are surely many ways to discover and understand other cultures. I would like to hear from your own experience.
If you liked this article and you think it could be helpful to people around you, share it with your network. You’ll be contributing to making our diverse world a better place to live in.
Hervé-Boris Ngaté, Cross-Cultural Psychologist/Communications Specialist
- This article (drafted since October 2017) has no political purposes and in no way is related to any political view.
- This content aims to contribute to a better understanding of cultural groups for a better interaction. (The author)