CCE? Anyone? It's Dinner!
Cross Cultural Engagement
An Essay on Engagement
For many the idea of “cross cultural engagement” is an exercise in forced possibilities. For me cross cultural engagement is my reality, my Life’s experience. Since I was child I have realized that my own cultural identity defines my perspectives and is the goggles through which I see the world.
I feel it is necessary to build up for you what my cultural identity is, in order for you to better understand my thoughts and comments on a different culture. Any account of my cultural identity must start with my parents. My father is a Dutchman from Grandville Michigan and my mother a Mayan from small Corozal Town Belize. They are an odd couple. But in terms of the daily clash of cultures in my home throughout my life they (both my parents and culture clashes) are an instrumental influence on my hybrid culture. My parents’ occupation as missionaries also plays an active role in my “culture.”
I was born in Oaxaca, Mexico a fact which most times causes some amount of resentment of the fact. Being seen as Mexican (even though I am a US and Belize dual citizen, and not at all Mexican) in this (American) culture most times is not a good thing. There is a lot of association of place of birth with roles in society, a sort of caste system of ignorance. But I only existed in Oaxaca for a short time. By the age of two my parents had relocated to Belize, my mother’s country.
Being a hybrid in a country of hybrids like Belize has forever influenced my perspectives on stereotypes and racism. In Belize it is possible to be a simultaneous victor and victim of a culture which acknowledges and glorifies differences while simultaneously absorbing an American-style mindset which sees aliens as “immoral” or “terrorist”.
Later, my parents relocated to Costa Rica, England, and finally Kenya. Each country played a role in the development of my cultural identity, or as I at times profess, the lack thereof. Costa Rica seems more like a blurred memory at this point than anything I would like to discuss in terms of culture. But England played a more memorable role. In England I witnessed the culture of the “Projects.” England was interesting in this way because I clearly remember not understanding the children from the neighborhood despite the fact that they were speaking English. England and Belize seem not to share anything in common but a little better understanding illuminates the verity that Belize being a former colony of England, does indeed share much in common culturally.
My sophomore year in high school my parents once again moved my family. To another British colony we went. Kenya is another very culturally curious place. Existing together are the remnants of the British colonials (or Kenya Cowboys), abject poverty, political corruption and natural beauty (tourists) as well as the cultural heritage of the dozens of people groups (tribes) all unified by a lingua franca (Kiswahili). All of this existing while it is possible (though not my experience) to be hermetically sealed on a high school campus, featuring for your cultural enrichment three distinct groups: Mennonites, Southern Baptists, and Assemblies of God.
Finally, was my arrival in the city of Grand Rapids. This place has been my home for longer than any other country, save Belize. But in terms of my purpose here, the culture here was not shocking nor was it vastly different than I had imagined before actually living here. By in reality I think living here has as much to do with my own cultural identity as living in Kenya and Belize.
This somewhat disjointed retelling of my life is all in the hopes that I might reach a point where I can explain and explore my perspectives on being in Spain, and why I think that this essay should be a more than adequate reason for exemption or fulfillment of Calvin’s CCE credit.
Therefore, I shall here continue with a retelling of my experience in Spain. I will begin by saying Spain is really not at all culturally different from America. Depending on how you define culture difference. I am not a sociologist, but in terms of the overall purpose for existence capitalism is the Spanish way. But really it is unfair to say they are the same as Americans, since I am not really an “American”. I think that if there is a recurrent theme it is that this whole idea of cross-cultural examination, and interpretation of experience etc. as presented in the documents supporting the CCE requirement are based on a limited cultural experience. I mean I could write several pages on how Spaniards (in Madrid, since Spain like any other country cannot be generalized by a limited experience in the capital city) don’t eat breakfast anymore because there used to be a midmorning break, breakfast time, which in industrial Spain has been lost to efficiency. Or how Spaniards eat a late lunch then still honor siestas, and then work late, then eat supper at 9 or 10 PM. This sort of difference really is nothing more than cultural curiosity. I could also describe how young Spaniards live at home well into their mid twenties to early thirties, because in Spain renting is considered “low class”. Or I could point out that as Spain has transitioned into a powerful member of the European Union it was forced to loose what many consider its cultural heritage, their own unique currency.
These examples all seem so trivial, but I feel obligated to mention them as I am obligated to write this essay in the first place. I can discuss terrorism as I have witnessed it affecting three distinct cultures (Spain, US, Kenya) and what that does to the people and how they react but I wonder if that really would amount to a discussion of culture or of humanity.
With all this said I will for the purposes of this essay follow the format of orientation, direct experience, reflection, and evaluation, as described “for the curricular criteria for the fulfilling the CCE requirement.
I think that I pretty much covered what I feel are the orientating factors of my trip to Spain. I might also contend that the suggested orientations of “films, readings, or other materials” amounts to misinformation and preconditioning for stereotypical interpretations of any culture. Who hasn’t seen a film about two flamenco dancers who fall in love? If you could learn about culture without traveling why would you go anywhere? I especially reject the idea that orientating materials should cover Biblical grounds for pursuing cross cultural engagement. There is no need to attach the Bible in the search for reasons for learning about other cultures.
This in my opinion is really the most practical and useful of the sections of the CCE requirement. Especially, since I don’t believe that you could have an experience without some reflection or evaluation, if only to say that “Spanish food sucks!”
I went to Spain alone, and as such much of my experience there was unfiltered by chaperones or tour guides. My arrival in Spain involved lost luggage, missed taxis and staying in a family run hostel. I arrived in Spain without a place to live for the semester, without knowing a single person. I had no safety net. There was only direct experience. Eventually, I found a privately run dorm filled with Spaniards who I could interface with. The dorm was actually the most important factor of my stay in Spain. There I met Spaniards from all over the country, you can tell by the different accents. There were those from the border with France who spoke with passion about ETA and terrorist acts and there was a fellow from the Canaries who supplied hashish to his fellow roommates (dispelling the notion that in Spain all hash comes from Moroccans). Across the courtyard window from me was the architecture student from a nearby town. There were personalities covering the gamut.
Interestingly, as a case study of Spanish “culture” they all shared something in common, there were all from wealthier Spanish families (to afford the room and board you had to be) and they were all from outside Madrid and they all loved “futbol”. It was an all men’s dorm, but girl friends came over all the time, so I met some Spanish ladies as well.
The CCE requirement explanation sheet, also points out that I should have had at least 20 hours of direct experience. I can assure you, I played RISK, with those ol’ boys for way more than that, and if you know RISK you know there is no more direct an experience than seeing eager contenders all vying for world domination. My guess is that this also covers the expectation that I have “personal experiences” with The Other.
If there is any doubt at this point as to the intensely personal level of my experience of Madrid I can lay them to rest with my recounting of the March 11 train bombings of the Madrid subway--- A system I road everyday to school. Which reminds me that I have not discussed the school I attended while I was there: The Universidad Compluntense De Madrid, one of the largest schools in the world (as I found out) and impossible to navigated since each faculty does not know what the other is doing. Anyway, the day of the train bombings I was awoken by several Spaniards cursing, about those “Fucking ETA bastards, How could they do this?!” which eventually subsided into “Those God Damn Moroccan son’s of bitches” later that day. And the next day culminated in a 3 million person march, full of chants and curses like “We will never forget you” and “Fuck Terrorism, We aren’t Scared!” down the streets of every town in Spain. A direct experience, I think.
In this section I am apparently supposed to produce a. a written work (this paper) b. a reflection of other cultures, see introductory sections. C. What the experiences have taught me, about myself, their culture, and their faith.
It is the final question/goal I will attempt to complete at this point. What has the experience taught me about myself, my culture and my faith?
Going to Spain alone, taught me self sufficiency, fearlessness, and confidence in my ability to speak Spanish, and succeed at University level in academics in Spanish. It taught me that my hybrid culture allows me to adapt and understand why I am adapting to another culture more easily. My experience in Spain taught me that I can learn more about the world, and humanity through travel. Spain also taught me a profound disgust with terrorism and fear mongering. Terrorism isn’t real in my opinion until it happens to your home town. It has happened to mine twice. The terrorist attacks on Madrid have played an instrumental impact on my art (I am BFA graduate). As far as faith, this experience taught more about the reality of faith in the world than Calvin ever could. The reality that atheism is very real and that to atheists God is not a given, this though somewhat unsurprising, is different when faced with personalities who do not believe in God and cannot be convinced of something which I take as fact. When was the last time you had to convince someone God existed?
This essay has been a long time in coming for many reasons. Mostly, I didn’t feel like it. It is here now not because I have changed my mind, but because I am about to embark another journey in my life and I need a copy of my diploma. I am going to teach Caribbean History to high school students back at my old high school in Belize. An opportunity I see as a chance to reevaluate one aspect of my cultural identity.
I have since writing this paper, moved to Belize. I now reside in Corozal Town Belize, Central America. I am a teacher of English Literature and Language to all levels of a community high school. I am also the coach of a girl’s basketball team, leader of a yearbook club, and have been assigned to re work the 1st year English syllabus.