My ESL classes at Heald College took six months and these were necessary requirements so that I could pursue major courses in Architecture. There were other students like me from other countries and it felt good to belong to a group that was being taught the American way of life and culture. It felt good because it gave me the feeling that I was not alone in my hardships. It did not feel so bad and odd being with a group struggling with nuances of the English language and pronunciation and the idiosyncrasies of American culture.
While I considered myself an out-group when I was with natural-born Americans, I felt like a member of an in-group when I was with the foreign students. Probably, this feeling springs from the fact that one naturally feels out of place when all others behave and talk in a different way. There is some comfort gained from knowing that one is just like the others.
My struggle to fit in was at times frustrating, as I could not be properly understood by the teacher on account of misplaced accents or outright mispronunciations.
At first I really felt stupid when the teacher would rephrase my statement and ask if it was what I meant. When I would say it was not what I meant, another classmate would butt in with a genuine intention to help me out but I would end up all the more confused and misunderstood. Realizing the setbacks of my lack of facility with the language, I resolved more than ever to master the English language. My Intercultural Communication at Work Working as a busboy and later, as a waiter in a restaurant gave me the chance to encounter more people and gain more facility with the English language.
Finding work was quite an exhilarating experience for me. I felt that I could already communicate my ideas clearly and so I gained more confidence. Of course, there were still some instances when some patrons would fail to understand how I pronounce my words but whenever such a thing happened, I would remember the word and practice saying it correctly when I got home. I had discarded my Dari-English dictionary and I could already carry on a conversation with a native speaker of American English without fumbling for the right word or halting.
I once attempted to be friendly with other waiters hoping to generate deeper camaraderie while we were up and about with our tasks. To my horror, I found that Americans seem to be single-minded and so focused when they go about their work that banter is misconstrued as not being serious about work. From then on, I learned to be very business-like while doing my work, bearing in mind that I was not working in an Afghan setting Conclusion This profound reflection on my sojourn in America has made me realize a lot of things that I once took for granted.
First, I realized that I possess the resilience and tenacity that is a hallmark of a true Afghan. I used to take for granted the lore and history that due to the Afghan experience of a succession of foreign invasions, Afghans are by nature strong in spirit and character. Indeed, it is no easy task for an 18-year-old boy to force himself to become an adult almost overnight due to peculiar personal circumstances. I realized too that exposure to another culture widens ones horizons and makes one more tolerant of other people.
Assimilation into another culture truly begins and is facilitated by an earnest desire to learn the language to a level that one speaks it like one born into the language itself. Together with this is a keen sense of awareness of the seemingly insignificant cultural differences between one’s culture of origin and the host culture. Cultural sensitivity, if I may use the term, enables one to steer clear of problematic situations. Indeed, it is not always wise to act and behave according to one’s cultural orientation when one is in another cultural setting.
My intercultural communication with the Peterson family was at first regulated by cues from the reactions of Mr. Peterson. I came to know what he disliked by observing how he reacted. Yet, the sincere sharing of cultural traditions was the factor that truly made our relationship rise up to a higher level. Mutual respect and understanding resulted from the open sharing and this could not have happened by merely observing each other’s reactions. Truly, if one wants to have a meaningful intercultural communication, it must begin with an honest sharing of culture and traditions.
It makes it possible to view the other person from their own cultural perspective. The moment I stopped my automatic comparison of Afghan and American values whenever I encountered an unfamiliar cultural practice, I became more accepting of American culture. As Holliday, Hyde and Kullman advise, “Put aside simplistic notions about what is real and unreal in your perception of another culture, and appreciate that every society is as complex and culturally varied as your own”.
(10) The moment I began to have this attitude in my attempt to fully integrate myself into American society, I may have taken the first step towards “intercultural competence”. Alred and Byram (2002) define intercultural competence as “the ability to behave appropriately in intercultural situations…. the ability to stabilize one’s self-identity while mediating between cultures” (340). I may have taken the first step but I still have a long way to go. All people regardless of culture have the innate need to feel a sense of belongingness.
I am sure this is the reason why I felt at ease with my fellow Afghans as I did with other foreign students who were struggling to deal with language difficulties. Yet, once a genuine intercultural communication is initiated, it leads one to learn and marvel at the diversity and richness of all cultures around the world.
Works Cited Alred, Geof and Mike Byram. “Becoming an Intercultural Mediator: A Longitudinal Study of Residence Abroad. ” Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 23. 5 (2002).
Retrieved from http://www. multilingual-matters. net/jmmd/023/jmmd0230339.htm on April 25, 2007. Holliday, Adrian, Martin Hyde, and John Kullman. Intercultural Communication: An Advanced Resource Book. New York: Routledge, 2004. Questia. 25 Apr. 2007 </PM. qst? a=o&d=108464145>. Robson, Barbara, Juliene Lipson with Farid Younos and Mariam Mehdi. “Afghans Their History and Culture, Cross-Cultural and Adjustment Challenges, published by the Center of Applied Linguistics, The Cultural Orientation Resource Center last updated 6/30/02. Retrieved from http://www. cal. org/co/afghan/acult. html on April 25, 2007.