We are on Day 2 of SPLICE, our training in cross-cultural adaptation. It has been an intense couple of days and my heart is full!
Today we did a simulation to illustrate how we observe and interact in new cultures. I am normally pretty apprehensive about these kinds of things, but was curious about what would take place. The setting was an island on which our airplane had to make an emergency landing. The men and women were separated and told to wait for what seemed like a long time in lines. Then we were ushered into a room (our training room) where all the tables and chairs were up-ended, trash was everywhere, the lights were off and a large sign on the wall said, “Keep silent. Women to the back”. There were forms to fill out, but all the letters were backwards. We were told to fill them out, stay separated, and we waited for what again seemed like forever. Finally we were ushered back out to re-board our plane.
In going through the simulation, I made judgments of this “culture” based on my observations. I was looking through a filter, standing on a certain meaning base in order to interpret what I was experiencing. Later after we talked through the exercise, our trainer gave us information about the values of the “culture”. I was convicted and humbled actually, because of the negative judgments I had made. This “culture” seemed wrong compared to my American filter.
Now, I have traveled a fair amount cross-culturally and had lots of good training on how to value differences and suspend judgment. But thrown into a situation that was intimidating and unnerving (I was pretty sure we were going to be lined up and randomly “shot at”), I went right back to making judgments. And I was completely wrong! I have a lot to learn as I prepare to enter a new culture.