I am a month into the CET Arabic/Internship summer program. I believe that I’m doing well and getting a lot done but I am beginning to feel the stress from the increased workload. School work and internship work is easy to track – I have this many pages due tomorrow. I need to get this project done for the boss Wednesday. I am accustomed to this type of work. The work that is special to studying abroad is practicing “intercultural fluency.”
Picture: Me “doing it in Arabic.”
Another thing I have to be fluent in?
I would describe intercultural fluency as a type of cosmopolitanism; but where as cosmopolitanism implies an attitude of openness to a diverse range of cultures and values, I see intercultural fluency as the verb that demonstrates cosmopolitanism. I view fully embracing building intercultural fluency as the largest challenge to a truly successful study abroad experience.
What makes intercultural fluency such a challenge? Well, while studying abroad it’s about the territory. A foreign student always feels as if they are a visiting team in a match-up against the host countries languages, cultures, and eccentricities. Patience and sensitivity towards cultures are at a premium while learning from and about others. This, however, is much more difficult to accommodate when what you value is not under your control.
Gotta do the work.
My most trying instance of being interculturally fluent was during a hangout with my assigned language partner. I went over to his family’s place on an early Friday afternoon. Before going, I anticipated the events: we were going to eat too much mansaf, lay around for a bit, and stay up late at a cafe with his friends. I knew that I would spend the night there and come back Saturday (the Sunday of Jordan) to finish my research paper. I anticipated all of these things happening, but I still ended up on edge.
Pictured: Mansaf with my language partner.
I was on edge for two reasons. One, I maintain my own schedule and I retreat home when I get tired. This was not an option because I wasn’t sure how uncouth it would be to ask to go home and plus we were about a thirty-minute drive from the city proper. And two, my general attitude toward work is to work it out in my head until I have either finished it. I did not feel I had finished enough before the hangout but I was unable to do anything about it until I got back to my apartment.
So, when our cultural peculiarities started clashing, like his polychronic my monochronic culture, I was being tested. It was necessary to let go of the priorities in my world and try to live in his. But this is easier said than done.
Pictured: Crossing the bridges already made by those before us.
I kept it together, though. But when I returned home I found myself unmotivated to finish the work I so desperately wanted to do. While the visit was a win against the home team, I had come away feeling defeated.
That being said, reflecting on intercultural influence through this post was revitalizing and relieved me of some of the stress, because I reminded that intercultural fluency requires active participation, even with people who have intercultural experience under their belt.