From U of M to Germany January 27, 2011Posted by Christine Morrison in Countries, Fulbright, Germany, Undergraduate.
Tags: ambassador, cross-cultural communication, language barrier, resourcefulness, skills
I did not travel much growing up, so I was unsure exactly what I was missing out on. I started thinking about traveling while listening to stories from my peers who went abroad, and I found a common thread: their time abroad – no matter where they went or for what reason – was a life-changing experience. There seemed to be something to living in a different culture and away from the comfort of familiarity, and I wanted to see for myself.
U of M prepared me for a year abroad by providing a richly diverse atmosphere in which I could learn how to be sensitive to cultural differences without compromising my own values. This was especially achieved in my role as a resident advisor (RA), which involved extensive training in social justice.
During my two years as an RA, I had residents from a dozen countries and numerous states, and all of them came from unique backgrounds. Spending time with them gave me the opportunity to interact with people of different social identities individually and in groups. Building these cross-cultural communication skills has proven to be very useful abroad, especially now that I am a foreigner. It’s also made me realize that in my interactions with people from different countries and cultures, I am an ambassador for the U.S. I have met several people during my travels who had never met an American before. Meeting them not only gives them a first impression of me but also of my country.
Another skill I’ve found very useful is resourcefulness. Because I am in a different culture and there is a language barrier, things that were easy in the U.S., like getting a haircut, going to the doctor, or even buying toiletries, are not as easy here. Doing these basic tasks in a foreign country requires flexibility, networking, contacts who can help you make informed decisions, and a little bit of imagination. Even with resourcefulness, however, it can still be a little scary.
Despite the added stress of a language barrier, I am glad I came to a country whose language I did not know because it forced me out of my comfort zone. I arrived in Germany having completed one semester of German and a couple levels of Rosetta Stone. I was far from fluent, and I lacked speaking confidence. Fortunately, Fulbright offers a six-week, in-country intensive language course before the grant period. I gained at least another semester’s worth of language in that time, and I learn more everyday. It is a very humbling and rewarding experience every time I successfully communicate in German because a fluent conversation is something that I took for granted in the U.S. and that I do not have the luxury of here.
Effective communication, resourcefulness, and ambassadorship will continue to play an important role in my career because scientific progress is a worldwide effort.
I began to understand the importance of these skills as an undergraduate at U of M. I am nurturing them now as an international student, and I will use them everyday in the future.