Tuesday, July 24, 2012

On assimilating and accomodating

A key concept in cross-cultural connections and diversity management is the continuum of assimilation to accommodation.  To what extent does one assimilate into an 'other' culture versus wanting or expecting others to accommodate?  This seesaw is evident here in Winston-Salem, for example, with the growing number of business signs and official sources of information written out in Spanish (an accommodation) along with provision of English as Second Language (ESL) classes to help Spanish-speaking folks assimilate to the dominant culture.  I teach and observe this concept in action regularly and yet it was brought to the forefront of my thinking this past week.

I had the opportunity to home-host two high school students who were part of the Ben Franklin Transatlantic Fellows program based at Wake Forest University.  The program brought together 68 young people from Europe and the US to focus on international relationships.  These students, who are among the best and brightest from their respective countries, spent 4 weeks together learning, discussing, and acting on aspects of constitutional law, nature of democracy, human rights, educational systems, etc.  For ten days I hosted Fatima from Azerbaijan and Roma from Charlotte NC.  Fatima is passionate about sharing information about her country and customs and is equally enthusiastic to learn about America.  Roma is a first-generation American and ethnically Indian.  We had great discussions on religion (representing as we did Islam, Hinduism, and Unitarian-Universalism), food preferences (one who ate no pork; one who ate no beef, and one vegetarian who ate no meat at all), educational systems, and concerns about the future.  I was reminded in a very close way how easy it is to take some practices and beliefs for granted and how difficult it is at times to put one's beliefs or practices into words.  Why do Americans have so many choices, for example?  I did my best to accommodate to some of their preferences and they did their best to assimilate to many of mine.  I enjoyed learning from them and they seemed to enjoy learning from me.  There is so much I could say about the experience, but I will leave it with this thought:  I am renewed in my own awareness of being in learning mode when I move to Bucharest.  I am newly excited about the prospects!

 I have now confirmed my flight arrangments!  Amanda, her dog, Ralph, and I depart on Thursday September 6.  We will pass through Munich on our way to Bucharest.  Finding a flight that minimized travel time for all of us, but especially keeping the dog in mind, took some doing!

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