Many of you may not know that I have a graduate degree in culture-based communication, global marketing and anthropology. My doctoral dissertation work uses anthropological tools. Culture invigorates me. Yes, I am culture-curious.
As a product of two countries (India and the US) with different cultural traditions, I am conscious of how I weave my identity together to fit well in both cultures. In the last 15 years here in this great country, I have met people from all walks of life and from different parts of the world. I have learned about how they live, what they believe and why. Years ago, I questioned certain rituals and beliefs and today, while I may continue to question, I have also learned to respect them. To each, their own.
Knowing, acknowledging and learning about cultures, mores, countries and religions is a gift of experience that most people are not lucky enough to get. Hanging out with Pakistanis at Wayne State where I went to graduate school helped me realise that they are just like the Indians and that the conflict that the two countries – India and Pakistan – have had over the last 50+ years is merely political. In fact, the same game of cricket that divided the two countries in the Indian sub-continent helped them come together in the USA. That, my friends, is extraordinary.
Spending time with a Caucasian girlfriend-turned-roommate gave me a chance to clarify that just because Indian men travel in groups, hold hands and hang out with a lesser sense of personal space, it does not mean that they are gay. It means that what is culturally acceptable in one country may not be acceptable in others.
Some things I learned the hard way . Attending class with a classmate from Guyana who looked South Asian and had a South Asian last name did not necessarily mean that she would identify as Indian or speak my language. Imagine my shock when she said her father was African American?
I now know that Americans are way more sensitive to body odor than folks in other countries. After 15 years in this country, my nose is more sensitive and alert to BO too.
I also know that African-Americans do not necessarily identify with African countries – And if they do, they do not always talk about it – And some, have never really been to their native country in Africa.
And oh yes. Lets not automatically assume that folks from Ghana would love Ethiopian food – because you know what, they may belong to the continent of Africa, but they are countries on practically two different coasts, 7000 miles away from each other. I should have known that. But I didn’t. I didn’t know that each African country has its own authentic food.
Or that Brazilians do not speak Spanish. They speak Portuguese in a predominantly Spanish-speaking South America. I should have known that too.
But I didn’t know that either.
I didn’t because while I was taught Geography in my school in India, I wasn’t taught culture. I wasn’t taught to be world-culture aware. So, when I went to graduate school in the USA, I took special interest in culture and specialized in it.
Because our world is getting smaller and our ideas global. Being culturally curious is a good thing. Perhaps, in the long run – for our next generation, it is necessary.
I am taking this upon me to teach my daughter. Won’t you do it too?
Come join me on my adventure to raise a culturally-curious and globally-aware 7-year old. It will be a journey with successes and failures and a whole bunch of learning. I promise it will be fun.