Culture: Dispelling the Myth

Let’s take a moment to dispel the myth that culture begins and ends with our ethnicity, or that culture shock is only a thing that we experience when we move to a completely new country.  Truth is, moving from the 60s to 104th is as much of a life-changing cultural exchange as living abroad in Paris for a semester.

Too often as interculturalist we speak of cross-cultural relations with such sophistication and elitism that it doesn’t connect with young Anthony who left Compton to go to Howard University. Too often we miss the opportunity to make a true impact. It’s time that we made a difference in the lives of people like Anthony. it’s time we brought intercultural relations to the people.

In the last three months, I left a job that had become home and moved from a city that in essence raised me. After almost ten years of beating the Washington, D.C. concrete I decided to start my company, the Glass Ladder Group, and move to Los Angeles, all at the same time.  In those three months I did not write anything; no blog posts, online articles or published works. I felt uninspired.

What could I write about that would resonate with the readers? How could I impress you all? I wasn’t in Northern Nigeria studying its religious and cultural complexity. I was in my apartment in Mid-city, Los Angeles unpacking and desperately trying to make a friend. Every time I thought of this blog, I would sigh and think, “ugh, I have nothing to write about.” Boy, was I wrong.

I’d gotten so caught up in the grandiose perception of cross-cultural experiences that I’d forgotten that it’s really about a simple change of environment that affects your values, beliefs, and behaviors. Moving from the 60s to 104th impacted me in the same way as spending a semester abroad in Paris and I couldn’t see it because I was only tuned to acknowledge the impact that is impressive and exclusive.

Because of that elitist-perspective, I didn’t realize that what I was feeling were symptoms of the four phases of culture shock. These included the honeymoon, negotiation, adjustment and mastery phases. I was experiencing information overload, homesickness and boredom among other things, and even with my knowledge and skills, I couldn’t figure out how to overcome these overwhelming emotions. I’d forgotten to employ all my strategies for dealing with culture shock because the circumstances just didn’t seem grand enough.

After working with large organizations, government officials and company executives it’s easy to forget about the everyday cross-cultural experiences that come from just living.  

It’s time we dispel the myth that culture begins and ends with our ethnicity; or that our cultural experiences are only valid when they involve a trip overseas.  It’s time that we help the everyday citizen turn glass ceilings into Glass Ladders. Let’s teach Anthony to recognize Compton’s unique culture and leverage what it taught him at Howard University. Let’s teach him to overcome and succeed.  

Sabrina GarbaComment