Self-Reflexive Essay on Intercultural Communication
Culture is an infinite-coloured rainbow of cultures. Every continent, every country, every province, county or state down to the village level, there are people with distinct cultures, values and core beliefs which make them who they are- distinct from the next culture. All through the ages as far as civilization can be traced cultures have always interacted be it positively or negatively. The ways of interaction vary from intermarriages, competition for natural resources like water, hostilities and wars, alliances and pacts, sports and other leisure activities such as communal ceremonies… the list goes on.
What I am trying to say is that diverse as cultures, tribes, ethnicities, peoples and so on are, there has, there is and there will always be connections created between various cultures. As it has been over the ages the more that neighbouring cultures interacted through first and foremost a common language, the more they assimilated into one other. In Europe in cities such as Rome, London and Istanbul which started out as a meeting point between people from different languages, different “trade tongues” were being spoken between merchants, sailors, soldiers, shopkeepers and so on. It is for this simple reason that I understand the values of intercultural relationships and communication. Intercultural communication is the clearest way towards achieving globalization.
I have personally interacted with people from all over the world, people with beliefs completely dissimilar from mine, people speaking different languages, people with mannerisms totally unlike mine. I have interacted with these people a lot over the years ever since I was a young boy in Kansas. I was three months from my third birthday when my father came home from work one evening but there was one thing different about him that day. I saw him through the living room window as he parked his car outside on the driveway. It was a habit of ours as my father came home from work every evening, that as he got home I would run outside to meet him and he would catch me in his arms, throw me in the air, catch me and throw me up again.
We would then walk towards the house as he ruffled my hair and I would ask about his day at the cement factory as my mother had taught me to ask. That day, I sensed that there was something different. First, my father slammed the car door shut. My father was a gentle giant. I had never seen him angry before. That day though he was angry, I knew it at once. And so, as my father approached the house, grocery bags in his hands with fast, brisk steps so unlike his long limbering strides, I closed the curtain of the window and sat down on the sofa, my heart beating fast. I knew it somewhere in me during one of the coldest of November evenings I have ever shivered through that today was going to be different.
The moment my father opened the living room door, he went straight to his chair at the corner of the room and plumbed his heavy frame on the cushion. He looked around at me and waved towards me. “Come here son,” He waved over and I dutifully obliged. He sat me on the arm of his chair and ruffled my hair and started, “Son, sometimes parents have to make very hard decisions…”That is the best memory of my father who died less than two years later from liver cirrhosis.
That was the beginning of my life. My parents separated two weeks later and got divorced just one month later. Child custody decided that I was going to stay with my mother and my father would visit as often as he could which was not that often. Six months after the divorce my father went two whole months without visiting. Around that time mother decided rather bravely that we needed to change environment. Kansas was too painful for her, and even though I did not know it yet, the move to San Diego would be very beneficial for me.
San Diego was my mother’s childhood home where her whole extended family lived. She was a Hispanic, my father was Caucasian and so their child was pretty much a child of two worlds. My father was a free spirit, born in the Wild West where he mounted and rode a horse by his fifth summer while my mother was a conservative Catholic something which she passed on to me. Anyway when we arrived at San Diego eight months after that fateful evening my parents had that one fight which would change my life forever, I was expecting something totally but I was ready of the extent of change.
My mother’s family all lived in one block in a low-income part of the district in a ghetto neighbourhood in the city of San Diego. My mother’s set of grandparents were still alive at that time even though they were well into their eighties. My grandmother knew only a little English but she loved to tell stories to her grandchildren. We were sixteen grandchildren in total, and we were never at the same place at the same time. My cousin Enzo, who was thirteen at the time was the one who translated the stories and jokes my grandmother told. My mother, even though Spanish was her first language, had never taught me a word of the language but I suppose she thought I was too young.
We became close, Enzo and I and I looked up to him like a big brother. He was very welcoming and understanding. At the family dinners Enzo told me which food was which in Spanish. He taught me Spanish to a great extent. In fact my interest in Spanish was born primarily because Enzo was a very good teacher. My mother took me to a nearby Catholic School St. Teresa’s Kindergarten where the students were predominantly black or Hispanic. It was from this early age that I learnt about many diverse cultures. At the kindergarten level we interacted as brothers and sisters, blacks and Hispanics and the few Caucasian students.
I remember one instance growing up in San Diego when I was in tenth grade, a freshman in high school, our class got a new classmate Lee Chong who was in fact from China. He knew a little bit of English. His native language was Cantonese and he knew only a little bit of English. I instantly remembered my first interaction with Enzo and became close friends with Lee. Lee was very brilliant. I taught him English and he was a quick learner. Their family was into the restaurant business and they had come all the way from Hong Kong. Lee’s uncle who ran a chain of restaurants in San Diego had opened one large restaurant and decided to acquire the services of his younger brother, a chef struggling in the highly competitive restaurants of Hong Kong.
Lee and I became friends immediately. I even remember one instance when a twelfth grader, a known bully in school, intimidated Lee in the locker room hallway and I intervened. Lee and I were in the hallway. I was talking to Alex, a classmate and Lee was reading the notice board with moderate success because by then he was not that conversant in English. This bully, Kevin came striding through the hallway with his buddies. He was looking for attention, as he often did and the first thing he noticed was Lee, peering at the notice board through his rather thick glasses. Kevin came and tapped Lee on the shoulder rather heavily, his glasses almost came off. I made a move immediately but it was Alex shrill feminine shout that caught the ear. “Hey, why don’t you pick somebody your own size?” she shouted at the bully. Kevin was so caught off guard that when I said “Yeah Kevin” all he did was wheel around, glare at Lee and get lost. Lee took only two school semesters to fully acclimatize to the new climate and in that time I learnt Mandarin and Cantonese. These two moments in my life are what have shaped me into the man I am right now and I am thankful for them.