Getting on the plane

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I took a quiz one time that told me I was an “extroverted introvert.” At the time I thought that made absolutely no sense, but every day since then I’ve realized how true that statement really is. I love people. I love to talk. If I ask you how your day is going, I am genuinely curious. I would love to know how you’re feeling, where you’re from and what’s important to you. At the same time, if I see you from across the grocery store, there is a slight chance I’ll pretend like I didn’t see you. Interaction can be scary, especially when it involves leaving our comfort zone. That shy version of myself is still very much alive, just like it is for many of us. I’m a firm believer that this shouldn’t stop us from reaching out and connecting to as many people as we can.

Ultimately, that is what this blog is going to be about: the great things that can happen when people/companies/organizations go the extra mile to communicate and connect with people or groups that they may not have otherwise. This extra-mile can involve many things: language barriers, cultural differences, political discrepancies, etc. All the things that make us hesitant to understand people are the reasons why we should.

I came to this conclusion after realizing that all of the times I have grown and felt the most connected to others is when I have been the most uncomfortable. When I was twenty I went on a service trip to Thailand as my first venture out of the country. I spent all summer planning, packing and preparing to try and get rid of any ounce of uneasiness. Yet even with all of the measures I took to avoid anxiety, I realized on my way to the San Francisco International Airport that this feeling was pretty inevitable. I probably would have convinced myself not to get on the plane if it wasn’t for my mom (no way she would’ve let me bail. I guess that’s what moms are for.) Two weeks later I was on my way home after teaching English in a Thai elementary school and helping build a water tank out of plastic bottles. This trip to Thailand led me to study abroad in Spain, where I had my first teaching internship and discovered that I wanted to pursue a career in Spanish-immersion education. And to think I would have missed out on all of that if I had been too uncomfortable to get on that plane in San Francisco.

Building relationships is the best way for us as individuals to grow and expand our knowledge. We are introduced to new ideas and perspectives every time we get to know someone, even if we don’t realize it. Similarly, organizations can flourish by relating to a wide range of groups with different beliefs and backgrounds. By keeping an open mind and grasping new points of view, we are better able to unite and work together to combat issues both on a small and large scale.

My hometown of Stockton, California is a great example of the benefits that can come from our communication efforts. After many years of animosity between various neighborhoods and the local police, the Stockton Police Department set out for a way to strengthen these relationships and minimize the riots and violence on both ends. They designated specific officers to monitor the neighborhoods with the sole purpose of spending time with the residents and speaking with them about their hopes and concerns for the area. Many of these officers were bilingual, which played a huge role in truly understanding people’s viewpoints. It gave citizens a voice, and showed them that their opinions truly mattered. While resident-police relations may never be perfect, this undertaking gave both the police and the locals an insight to one another’s perspective and provided a mutual understanding moving forward. It was a reminder that both parties had the same goals: to reduce crime and make Stockton a safer place for new generations. Connecting with those we feel are opposite from us often shines a light on our similarities as well, and allow us to be more productive in achieving our mutual objectives. To read more about this story in particular, you can read this article written by the Stockton Record. http://www.recordnet.com/news/20160709/matter-of-trust-community-officer-serves-guides-befriends-respects

If you feel the same way as I do about this topic, I’m really excited to share stories and ideas with you. If you feel differently, that’s okay too. All the more reason to read any way (because that’s the point.)

Caught Between Cultures pt 2: How to be a Support System

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A couple weeks ago, I wrote about an article that highlighted the challenges children of immigrants face. They often feel caught between two different cultures yet struggle to feel fully connected to one.

This week I found article that discussed these challenges from the perspective of a parent. In “Bilingual and Struggling,” Fariba Nawa talks about her struggle to keep their native tongue alive at home. Her daughter, Bonoo, spoke exclusively Farsi as a young child. However, this quickly switched to English after she started school.

Nawa and her husband want to teach their daughters the importance of bilingualism, but find themselves falling behind the “pervasiveness of English.”

Nawa expresses her frustration with the way that American culture is pushed on children of immigrants. She argues that in other parts of the world, such as Europe, children are able to equally maintain their native language as well as the language they are adapting to.

While many families make it a tradition to visit their origin countries, Nawa isn’t able to bring her children to a war zone such as Afghanistan. She hopes her children will embrace their heritage and not lose their fluency in Farsi.

While children of immigrants may naturally want to adapt to their environment, there maybe too much pressure for these children to assimilate to American culture. Bonoo, a child growing up amongst a media-reliant generation, is surrounded by the glamour of American celebrities, reality television, fashion and music. Naturally, she may want to dress, talk and act in a way that allows her to fit in with her peers and conform to the society we live in.

When she comes home, she will be pressured to maintain her Farsi and follow family traditions, and maybe even be discouraged for complying with such a different culture.

As she comes closer to adapting to one world, she is pulling herself farther away from the other. If she can’t turn to her family to vent about these struggles, she may turn to a friend.

Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of Bonoo’s best friend in 5 years. How can we ease the burden of our best friend who is struggling to identify herself while being pulled in two different directions?

  1. Ask questions. Ask Bonoo about some of her family traditions. Show that you’re interested in the side of her life that you may not see as much. Establish yourself as someone she can talk to about both cultures and someone she can be herself around, no matter the version of herself she has to be that day. Let her know that you are there to support her at all points of the spectrum. She may feel the need to follow certain norms and rules around other peers and around her family, but she will not need to do that around you.
  2. Do some research on your own. Find out what some of the common struggles are for others in a similar situation as Bonoo. Be aware of some of these isolated feelings she may have even if she’s not talking about them. It may be hard for her to explain exactly what she is going through, but there are many stories and articles out there that you can use as a reference. Let her know that, although you are not in her shoes, you are doing your best to understand.
  3. Be understanding and encouraging: Be patient with Bonoo when she feels confused and frustrated. She may not want to participate in events that she feels will disappoint her family. Our self-identity is a huge component to our confidence and security. If Bonoo feels like her self-identity is being compromised, this struggle may come out in other aspects of her life as well. Be an ally that she can bring with her in and out of both worlds.

Friendship is a powerful thing. We do not always realize the capability we have as friends to be a stable support in a fast-moving world. We can’t single-handedly change the media and its influence on society, but we can change our influence on those we love and care about.

 

Why Emotion is a Company’s Best Friend

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This week I read a New York Times article about Huawei, an up and coming technology company in Shenzhen, China. In an effort to keep up with high end technology companies such as Apple and Samsung, Huawei recently came out with a new phone called the Mate 10 and put it on the market for nearly $1,000.The company ensures that the price is worth it, with its high-quality camera and artificial intelligence. However, the company is having a hard time getting people to pay the premium price.

I wrote an article a few weeks about credibility as a necessary characteristic of successful writing, outlined by the book we are reading in my Strategic Writing class, Made to Stick. The article addresses two main problems that Huawei has, which are actually two of the other components to successful writing that Made to Stick points out:

  1. Their advertising lacks emotional appeal: the company spends more funding on technological advancements than marketing. They spends millions on updating the phone’s features, making it as quick and efficient as possible. They market these high-tech features to their audience, but still struggle to convince customers to buy. They are underestimating the power of emotion. If you look at companies such as Apple, their commercials don’t simply name off all of the amazing things their products can do. Apple always advertises the fact that their products can bring us together. Our apple phone connects us to our grandparents in another state, or our loved one overseas.For Huawei,  instead of bragging about the pixels of the high-quality camera, advertise how the phone could help when taking videos at a concert or on Christmas morning. Allow the audience to visually see how purchasing the phone will improve their lives.apple-human-family-iphone.jpg
  2. The company lacks credibility: consumers aren’t willing to pay high price when they aren’t 100% positive it is going to be worth it. Huawei is struggling to shake off the “knockoffs and stereotypes” stigma that Chinese products once had. To increase credibility, Huawei could use a real, relatable Mate 10 user in their advertising. Have the user describe the specific ways that the phone makes their everyday life easier. In this case, an everyday phone user would be a lot more powerful than advertising a celebrity or athlete using the phone. While some people may admire them or aspire to be like them, seeing celebrities use the phone doesn’t give the viewer specific examples of why the phone would make THEIR life easier. And that’s all anyone really wants to know.

In order to bring in customers and increase sales, Huawei is going to have to adjust their marketing strategies to better cater to their audience. An everyday phone user won’t remember all the phone’s features if they are simply listed for them. If Huawei can tie each of the features to something that the audience is familiar with- a good camera to take pictures at graduation, fast service to call our mom when we need her- it will better convince people to buy, especially if this information comes from someone that reminds them of themselves or someone they know.

Huawei has created amazing products with quality features. They’re not wrong for bragging, they just need to learn to brag the right way.

 

The Responsibility of Recognizing Privilege

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This week I stumbled upon an Atlantic article called “Reflections of an Affirmative-Action Baby” by Peter Beinart. Beinart reflects on his success as a writer for New Republic magazine. He comes to terms with how much this success was tied to his position as a white, upper-class male in society.

Beinart admits to turning a blind eye to the lack of women and African-Americans at New Republic, and realizes that his promotions and acheivements were partly at the expense of those discriminated groups. According to Beinart, ensuring that he would never again contribute to this discrimination means “embracing a world in which I lose some of my undeserved advantage.”

This article reminded me that discrimination is double-sided. Let’s compare it to the board game “Sorry”. For every person who is sent home, there is another player who becomes the head of the game. Except, in this case, rolling the right number to send someone home is merely being born into the right circumstances.

We often think of those who suffer from the racism, sexism and other discriminatory practices ingrained in our society. What we neglect to address is those who benefit from it. I think this is precisely why discrimination is still around. If white privilege and patriarchy was SOLELY negative for everyone, it wouldn’t exist anymore. Someone has to be benefitting from it for it to continue to play such a huge role in our society, even if these benefits are morally compromising.

Claiming to accept diversity isn’t enough to end discrimination. Those of us who experience the plus side of prejudice have to be willing to give these benefits up. What does that look like? For Beinart, it would’ve meant giving up his opportunity at New Republic to avoid working for a discriminatory institution. Some are willing to do that, others are not, and therein lies the problem.

In the moment, it doesn’t seem like we are doing anything wrong. We have every liberty to take the opportunity, right? It’s easy to advocate for a discrimination-free country until we realize what we would actually have to give up.

Now I’m not saying that we need to deny ourselves every chance to advance our education or career. It may be hard to distinguish between success due to privelege and accomplishments from genuine hard work. What I’m saying is: let’s stop turning a blind eye. If we find ourselves a part of an institution that discriminates against certain groups, let’s hold ourselves accountable. Saying no to your dream job to stand up for those being treated unfairly will make a greater impact than you think.

Sure, this action alone won’t end discrimination, but using that as a determining factor to NOT take a stand is a huge part of why we haven’t been able to change. It won’t erase prejudice altogether, but it could ignite a domino effect. Be an example to your friends, your family, your children to put equality above our individual winnings. The more people who follow this example, the less institutions will be able to get away with these practices. They will be forced to change.

What Drives our Cultural Curiosity?

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I read an article this week about an American girl who was named mayor of Wanda, a small town in southwest China. 23-year-old JongMay was born into an American family in China but grew up the United States. After winning a worldwide campaign promoting the culture of the Miao people, she was selected for the promotional program that gives people from around the world the opportunity to rotate as the town’s cultural ambassador.

Returning to her place of birth, JongMay has practiced cultural activities, such as learning to dance in the Jinji style, to connect to Chinese culture.

This story is an amazing example of human’s ability to adapt to different traditions, regardless of the ones they are already accustomed to. Although JongMay was raised in the United States, her dedication to partaking in Chinese culture has established a connection to the people and traditions of the Miao people.

Many of us think of culture as where we were born and the influences we had growing up. Yes, these factors are very important. We celebrate Thanksgiving because we grew up in America and that is what Americans do. However, that is not to say that we wouldn’t be able to travel to a different part of the world, study their culture and appreciate their celebrations as well. Our birthplace isn’t what gives us the ability to understand another culture, it’s our willingness to dedicate the time and effort to learn about places and histories that are unfamiliar to us.

For JongMay, this experience has opened the door to an entire new world of people that she can connect and build relationships with. Along with this comes the responsibility to keep herself updated with the society’s current events in order to be as knowledgeable as she can.

Connecting with other cultures is easier said than done because it requires the commitment and enthusiasm to learn and understand a different world. Ultimately, our ability to connect with other cultures is going to come down to how much we WANT to. It is going to depend on our willingness to put ourselves outside of our comfort zone.

For everything we do, there is a what, where, when, why and how factor. In the case of connecting across cultures, the why fuels everything else. However, this why can also be the hardest question to answer. For JongMay, the why was a desire to reconnect with her place of birth. For the rest of us, figuring out why we should go out of your way to learn about other cultures when we are already so attached to our own can be hard to do.

For me personally, I want to learn to speak spanish to connect with the many people in my hometown who speak it as their first language. I want to teach, and I understand that teaching in California means working with spanish-speaking students. In order to be the best educator I can be for these students, I am dedicated to learning their language and connecting with them as much as possible.

If you are struggling to find your why, maybe consider your current job or the future profession you are working towards. How can understanding another culture help you in this field?

You may also want to consider where you live. Do some research. How many people in your city or state speak a language other than English?

Are you interested in traveling? How will taking the time to learn about a country’s culture and traditions enhance your experience there?

The why is different for everyone, but once we find it, everything else seems to fall into place.

The Real Reason to do Our Research Before Traveling

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The New York Times wrote an article this week about three UCLA men’s basketball players who were arrested in China for shoplifting. These players were pulled from the exhibition game in Shanghai.

The Pac-12 commissioner expressed his disappointment that this “situation” distracted the players from the “educational and cultural experience” that the week was supposed to be about.

The players were eventually released and determined innocent after questioning. China’s criminal justice system has a very high conviction rate, and theft can result in imprisonment for many years. Detained individuals, including visitors can be held without trial for long periods of time.

This situation, as inconvenient as it was, could have been much worse. We have seen horror stories on the news of Americans who go to prison in other countries, not knowing the dangerous situations they are putting themselves in. These events highlight the importance of understanding the different laws and customs of other countries, especially if we are planning on spending time there. Just because something is okay, or even encouraged, in the U.S., does not make it okay in other countries. Seems obvious, right? Sometimes it isn’t so easy to identify these situations.

When I took my volunteer trip to Thailand when I was 20, we were informed that we would receive a “packing list” via email. To my surprise, the list was 15 pages long. This was because they had included a whole section on things that must be avoided once we entered the country. Some of these were cultural, like not showing our shoulders or knees when we entered the temples. We were never allowed to have our feet above someone’s head when sitting on an elevated surface, because feet were considered to be the most evil part of our body, while the head was the most holy.

But there was one item on the list that stuck out the most, probably because it had font twice as big, was in all caps and bolded: DO NOT SPEAK ABOUT THE THAI GOVERNMENT. I read on to find out that, if found guilty of speaking poorly about the government, you could be put in prison for fifteen years.

And that’s when it hit me. Something that happens every single day in the United States could put you in a Thai prison for over a decade. Obviously I knew that Thailand had different laws and customs. I was fully aware that different countries have different punishments. Family warned me time and time again about culture shock, but to be honest that seemed pretty vague. Here was an example that put it all in perspective for me.

While traveling and experiencing new cultures is so important, we can’t ever forget the significance of doing our research. We will spend hours planning our sight-seeing itinerary and our air BnB plans, but not spend any time researching the best ways to be a respectful, responsible tourist. Something as little as the wrong body language can be harmful. It is more than just representing our country well across the world, it’s about showing respect for other customs and keeping ourselves safe.

 

 

 

The Bias We Didn’t Know We Had

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It’s not a very surprising concept: we like things that are familiar to us. We feel a connection with people when we have common interests and characteristics. It seems like an innocent idea, but when does it infringe on our ability to remain unbiased?

The Daily Emerald’s recent article discussed the University of Oregon’s announcement to hold “implicit biased workshops” for campus faculty. The goal of these workshops is to address this bias to the University’s staff and faculty, and to find a solution.

According to Project Implicit, “Implicit bias” is the “thoughts and feelings that occur outside of conscious awareness or control.” This idea was difficult for me to wrap my head around at first. Many of us consider ourselves to be open-minded individuals. We don’t discriminate against people or make judgements based on gender/race/sexual orientation etc. We do our best to understand other perspectives and be considerate with our language and interactions.

But now there’s a concept of subconscious judgement: being discriminatory without even trying. That’s a pretty scary thought, because how do we change something if we’re not aware we’re doing it? It seems pretty impossible to change something that’s not in our control. One idea on how to tackle this issue is to brainstorm the areas in our lives where this implicit bias could be present. Once we can do that, we can make an extra effort to be more objective in these situations.

  1. Who we hire– whether we are a boss, a parent looking for a babysitter or a student looking for a tutor, we may be inclined to choose someone based on a bias. Maybe they remind us of someone we know: our best friend, our sister or our favorite celebrity. While it isn’t wrong to feel a connection with someone because of these factors, we may be taking the opportunity away from someone who is better qualified but doesn’t meet these other factors we didn’t even know we had. Maybe it would help to read someone’s resume or qualifications before looking at their picture (kinda like The Voice: job interview addition.) If we’ve already met them, we can be extra aware our our potential biases when considering each candidate, and ask ourselves what kind of judgments we are making about them.
  2.  Who we help: Most of us have a cause we feel passionate about. Some of us want to help children in third world countries, others want to help abused animals, while some people strive to help our environment. We may, however, opt out of helping other causes because we are so consumed in the one we are currently involved it. We may, unknowingly, be assuming that our cause it more important than everyone else’s.
  3. Who we support– we may even be more inclined to support certain politicians based on biases. We might be more drawn to someone because they’re the same race as us, or come from the same state. For young voters, it can be hard to remain objective if our close friends or family strongly support one person. However, it is important to take the time to consider what qualities we want in a politician, and have that be our prime reason for supporting someone.

Being aware of these biases makes them not so “implicit.” It can be hard to be honest with ourselves in these situations. If we pride ourselves on being open-minded individuals, we don’t want to admit to being biased. However, holding ourselves accountable is the best way to overcome these situations, and show that we are actively trying to give everyone we meet a fair chance.

Reverse Culture Shock: It’s Real

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This week I read an article by the Harvard Business Review called “How to Return Home After an Assignment Abroad”. I felt like I was reading my own thoughts from 6 months ago. The article talks about the reverse culture shock that happens when coming home from a study abroad program and gives some helpful tips of how to address this unexpected struggle: don’t feel like you need to choose between the “you” before your travels or the “you” after. Utilize both versions of yourself.

Last year I studied abroad in Spain for five months. Being as close to my family as I am, I knew I had to prepare for some homesickness. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to call my mom just to ask her how much detergent to use (international calls are expensive). Luckily, I adapted pretty well once I got to Spain. I got use to speaking Spanish and eating lunch at 3pm. What I wasn’t prepared for was how big the streets felt when I got back to the U.S., or driving for the first time in 6 months. I wasn’t prepared for how rushed I felt when I came back to California. I was also coming back home to a new president, and what felt like a total shift in morale for our country.

I felt like I had changed so much in the last couple months. A year ago I had only been to Canada, and now I had eight countries under my belt. I had barely spoken English in six months. It felt so strange and frankly frustrating to hear so much English all around me when I had finally adjusted to not hearing it at all. I had no idea how to click back in to my old life and felt as though those close to me had moved on without me while I was gone. When my family came to Spain to visit me, I had a hard time comprehending that my life back home and my life in Spain were merging. Separating them was what helped me leave my comfort zone living in this new, unfamiliar place.

Yet when I talked to family friends about my time abroad and answered the sleu of questions about my travels, I felt insecure that I hadn’t changed enough. I had seen so many new places and experienced new cultures, but I was still the same person. I still had the same favorite tv shows and movies. My hometown, Stockton, CA, was still my favorite place in the world. I would still prefer a venti Starbucks over a $4 European shot of espresso. I was still very much an American.

To be honest, I’m still in the transitioning process of returning back to “normal” after my time abroad, even six months later. One thing that really helps me when I feel the need to distinguish between pre-travel Lindsey and post-travel Lindsey is reminding myself that I’m still the same person, just a more evolved version. Because of my time abroad, I can confidently hold a conversation in Spanish. I can find my way around a city using public transportation. I can speak about what it’s like to live in a country that has universal healthcare and is part of the European Union. I’m more comfortable with new people, new places and new conversations.

However, I can still do and enjoy all the same things I did before I studied abroad, maybe even a little more. I can still feel happy and at home in Stockton, even more now that I can connect with the many Spanish speakers there. My favorite job in the world is still being a big sister, and now I can be an even more knowledgeable one. I don’t have my whole life figured out the way I thought I would when I came home from such an adventure, but traveling taught me that I didn’t need to. It taught me that I didn’t have to find the best version of myself, because we all have so many different versions of who we are that we can use in different situations to connect with different people.