07 November 2012

Staying Culturally Relevant

So, while I've been walking through this journey of finding a job, I've been thinking a lot about what I should/could be doing with my time in addition to looking for and applying to [library jobs]. Options so far include: random part-time job at Starbucks or Target, watching movies all day, reading novels, volunteering, and/or waiting it out.

At any rate, I recently decided that I really needed something to do with my time besides job search. And I've been looking at volunteering with a couple organizations in the area that have some sort of international focus. I want to stay connected, somehow, to people from other countries and cultures. I just feel like I have so much to learn from them and building relationships with people who are different than me is incredibly rewarding [even if wading through language barriers takes loads of patience].

Last week I went to visit an organization that helps newly arrived refugees, asylees, and immigrants. The organization helps them get acclimated to American life in various ways. One way is through teaching basic computer, English, and job search skills. I contacted the organization expressing my interest in possibly helping with that component. I loved teaching computers in Uganda and I figured this might be similar. At the very least it would be a chance to meet some people and keep up my teaching skills while I look for a job.

So, I went last week and observed and helped teach a class on computers. And, it was great to meet people from other countries and to help a bit with some basic questions. But I suddenly realized that although I might still be working with people from other countries, the context is totally different.

I know. It's sort of obvious. I even had a little 'Oh, yeah...duh!' moment in my head. But it's still a reversal and a different way of thinking.

For example, one of the things I often dealt with in Uganda was the African view on time. In general, things happen when they happen. And despite the fact that we were on a college campus, things often ran a bit 'late'. I generally didn't mind too much and tried to find the balance between African time and the more regulated college time. But here students pretty much have to be on time for class...even if they come from a culture that views time differently. Because they now live in a very time-driven culture.

And what struck me last week was that in Uganda I was trying to help give students skills that would help them in their African context (i.e. basic search and email skills). And here students need skills for their American context. Again, obvious. But a different way of thinking about what to teach and important skills to know or learn.

Obviously many of skills are the same: email, using the internet, typing, etc. But there are the things like teaching people the importance of being on time here in America. Typing and basic computer skills are almost expected here but in some parts of the world they're simply an added bonus to your skill set.

Anyway, this post is not particularly profound but just some of my random thoughts about switching between cultures. And teaching in different cultures. And reminding myself to stay culturally relevant no matter what culture I am working in.

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