All great stories must come to an end…and so must this one. Zack and I met for the last time on Friday to say our goodbyes and discuss what we’ve learned. It was nice to have some sort of “closing statement” after this entire semester together. We’ve talked small talk, future talk and food talk. Now it was time to get deeper than usual and discuss perceptions and misconceptions.
But Rhett, If You Go, Where Shall I Go? What Shall I Do?
When I asked Zack what his initial perceptions of people in the United States were, he thought for one second and said one word: “open-minded.” I like that word. I’d like to think we’re that way and I’m glad the idea of “open-minded Americans” reaches the perception spectrum worldwide. I’m proud of that one.
Like all good city slickers, Zack said he was surprised by the amount of green he saw when he first came to Auburn. He wasn’t expecting pastures and cows, but more skyscrapers and subways. None of that is here I can guarantee you that, unless you count the Haley Center as a skyscraper.
Not only the green, but Zack mentioned something else that threw him off when he first came here. “You’re going to think this is weird.” With a small chuckle and a raise of one eyebrow I said, “Try me.”
The strangest thing to Zack was the friendliness of everyone. He said he’d walk out of his door in the morning and his neighbors would offer a “good morning” with a smile and a wave. He’d say, “Do I know you?” In his big city back home, no one would dare give such a greeting. That part is very lost on him, but he’s gotten used to it now and says he even kind of likes it! I told him you won’t find that anywhere else in the United States but in the South, and I’m glad we’ve rubbed off on him a little bit. That means we’ve done our job!
Here’s Looking at You, Kid
When thinking about my International Public Relations class and Zack, I can’t help but to appreciate the importance of cross-cultural training and the respectable nature of learning to appreciate another country’s customs like in the circuit of culture.
Though having pride and a sense of nationalism for your home country (especially us in the United States) is always something to brag about, it never hurts to try new things and get out of your comfort zone. I don’t mean cheering the “U.S.A” chant quieter at sporting events, I mean understanding a culture’s identity, representation, production, consumption and regulation so well that when you close your eyes, you see their way of life on the inside of your eyelids.
Roads? Where We’re Going We Don’t Need Roads
Not only will this help me have a high regard for other cultures, but it will help me in my work as well. Because I want to work for the United Nations, it’s important to understand every aspect of another country and how that country does business. I want to help them, and that doesn’t entail me impeding my American beliefs and attitudes on them.
Because the United States already has a big influence worldwide, it’s important to show those countries where we do business that we understand them and want to be a part of their culture. We don’t want to bring unwanted culture to them, but rather adapt our culture to theirs in order to prosper. Check out this video about understanding other cultures:
I’ll Be Right Here
Yes, it’s a daunting thought, but not everything has to be about us. There are other countries too. From hiring citizens from those countries where we have organizations to providing cross-cultural training for employees venturing overseas, having that country’s culture in your organization is paramount to its success. Read this fun article called “8 Cultural Differences Between America and Other Countries” here!
As Zack returns to China for the summer, I told him to never forget his time here and to take in his last year in America. Open-minded is the world I’d like to leave this entire experience with. Both of us expanded our horizons and learned things we never thought we knew. My only perception of Chinese students was that they were straight-laced and uptight, but Zack was the opposite. We’re all human and we love to laugh, and our last meeting together was no exception. Happy trails. The End.