30 August 2011

The World Is Closer Than You Think

Our second semester at RTC is now in full swing. Wow. I keep seeing friends' Facebook statuses in the US about 'back to school' and we've been back for more than a month and are getting ready for mid-semester break. Funny how far away 'the world' feels sometimes. And yet, I am reminded daily that 'the world' is right here.

The world surrounds me each day at RTC...the college is a very international community. Students and staff come from: Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, South Sudan, Rwanda, Congo, Burundi, Korea...hopefully I'm not forgetting anywhere. :) I have found that working in this environment is both challenging and incredibly rewarding. I have said it before but I absolutely love working with students from around the world. In the process I'm also learning a lot...a lot about other countries and cultures and also a lot about how to work with people from different places.

Here are a few things I've come up with when working with students from other cultures/countries:

  • Speak slowly. Not louder, just slowly. Just because classes are taught in English doesn't mean people necessarily understand your American accent. And don't be cocky enough to think that just because English is your native language that people know or understand what you're saying. 
  • Try to research about the cultures students come from to understand their context. Understanding a student's culture can help you understand why they respond to you in certain ways. 
  • Alternatively, don't generalize. Just because someone comes from a certain culture doesn't mean they will always respond in a certain way. 
  • Learn a bit about their native language(s). It helps so much to understand about the students' native languages! Even little things. For example: knowing that some languages here don't necessarily have a word for please helps so much to understand why students' don't necessarily say please when asking for things in the library. 
  • Ask questions! By asking students about their home, culture, and family you show an interest in who they are as people and not just a potential patron in the library. Another example: ask how to greet in their language and use the greeting when you see them. (Ok, so this works best in a small school/library where you see the students regularly...but still! :)) 
  • Be patient...with yourself and with others. It's easy to get frustrated when you're working through language barriers. Cross cultural communication can be tricky. Give grace. 
  • Ultimately, remember people are people. It's too easy to think of people as 'different' because they eat different food or speak a different language. Deep down, we're all the same. We have dreams, hopes, fears...don't get caught up in differences but rather look for commonalities. 
Are any of these things life-changing ideas? Probably not. And am I a perfect communicator? No. Do I follow these things all the time? Also, no. But the longer I'm here the more I'm reminded of these basic cross-cultural communication principles. And the more I'm learning to love the world around me and remember we are living in a global village.

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