Let’s talk about the differences

Excerpt from Emily Shenk’s personal blog “smaller details“. Emily is a Fall 2017 student from Eastern University. Reproduced with permission.

The program here is very heavy on culture. There is not a single day I have had when we did not discuss how culture affects my experience of Australia, how Australians experience me and how cultures interact with one another. As a part of this conversation on culture, we were assessed through the Intercultural Development Index which is a diagnostic tool used in 17 different countries to evaluate cultural competency. As a part of the results of the assessment, there are five categories of scores, all which describe your ability or inability to recognize difference and similarities between cultures and if you have the skills to adapt or not. Basically, its one big Buzzfeed quiz, just more important and actually valuable. The coolest part is after your scores have been evaluated the IDI provides you with a profile of your score, what it means in real life and a plan on how to improve your cultural skills! How cool is it that God created us as beings that each feel a part of one or two cultures but also have the capacity to improve our abilities to relate to one another? This gives me such hope in the world.

According to the IDI there are five stages of orientation. First, denial is when a person can recognize very basic differences between cultures(such as food) but not deeper differences (such as conflict resolution styles). People in denial may avoid or withdraw from cultural differences. Second, polarization is a stage where a person exhibits a judgmental orientation that views cultural differences in terms of “us” and “them”. Third, minimization is an orientation that highlights cultural commonalities, values and principles that can have a tendency to struggle with noticing differences. Forth, acceptance is an orientation that recognizes and appreciates patterns of cultural difference and can see both sides. And fifth, adaptation is when a person is capable of shifting their cultural perspective and behavior authentically based on the situation.
It is not important to me what my score is. Instead what I have gained from the IDI is a mental framework through which I can interpret all people, opinions, fears, conversations and contexts and how I can build my cultural skills in each setting. A wise band instructor once repeated a statement so much it became a mantra for me: knowledge is power. Knowing what I know now about my self perceived and actual cultural competency skills, I am able to use the information as mental power to grow and learn. What better a time or place to do this work than in Australia? Every day of my semester so far I have been challenged to consider the similarities and differences between my own country and this one.

I have found for me it is natural to see commonalities between myself and other people. It is actually in the differences I struggle to resonate. Where I see a person unlike myself, I find I jump to connections of how we could bond and be same as opposed to recognizing and celebrating the differences between us. If you and I were different, wouldn’t you want to share with me how awesome your culture is and how you would rather do something? I wish I were naturally able to see those opportunities. The IDI plan I received after taking the assessment suggests it takes 50 hours of mental effort to improve your cultural competency skills. That is a lot of hours! Considering I am in class 15 hours a week, serve at a Salvation Army mission 5-8 hours a week, and sleep roughly 49 hours weekly, its as if there is no time for growing! I have taken this blog post as a chance to engage some of those 50 hours thinking about the difference between my life at home and my life here. If you wish, consider the list below (whether it be silly or serious) and learn a bit about Australia!

Scuba diving

Differences between USA and Australia:

  • Toilets have two buttons to flush! no handles. (no Dad, the water does not go down counter-clockwise)
  • The driver and the steering wheel are on the right side of the car. the driver is always next to the middle line, throwing me for a loop when I think we are turning into oncoming traffic.
  • Cut (hurt), OY! (hey), cuppa (tea), car park (parking lot), hashie (hash brown), rubbish (trash), Uni (college), bogan (redneck), sunnies (sunglasses), theater (surgery!!), devo (devastated), maths (mathematics), bub (baby), jumper (jacket)
  • They are weird with their prepositions…ending sentences with a prep is fine and they use strange phrases. “coffee ON lactose free milk”, “heading TO hospital”
  • I have felt 4 raindrops since landing in Australia. Not because I don’t go outside, but because it hardly ever rains
  • Australian, British and South African accents are all different.
    gasoline is listed in cents/liter. So instead of it reading “4.65″, it is “122.7″
  • For new babies, 6 months paid maternity leave, 3 months paid paternity leave and a year long job suspension.