Series on Multiculturalism, Diversity, and Cross-Cultural Relationships

This is the third of my three-part series on multiculturalism, diversity, and cross-cultural relationships. In my first article: https://thelabyrinthguide.wordpress.com/2014/04/18/series-on-multiculturalism-cross-cultural-relationships-and-diversity/ I shared with my readers how and when I became impassioned with this topic. In my second article: https://thelabyrinthguide.wordpress.com/2014/04/25/series-on-multiculturalism-diversity-and-cross-cultural-relationships/ I elaborated on the importance of exposure to multiculturalism and diversity. My definition of diversity includes people with all types of differences: race, religion, philosophy, age, gender, sexual orientation, physical health, mental health, socioeconomic, intelligence, genetic attributes, etc. In my third and last article I present some of the challenges that we face in dealing with diversity and share ideas on ways to increase our exposure to diversity and multiculturalism.

Part III

The Challenges and Taking Action

How do we engage people in the conversation of diversity? You see the moment we use the term “diversity” we isolate those who we most want to invite to the table, the non-minorities. Sadly, these non-minorities assume that any topic around diversity is just for the minorities and that it does not involve or affect them. But the truth is that it affects all of us. If for example we consider one aspect of diversity, race, the population of the world is becoming more and more intermingled. The United States estimates that by 2050, 62% of the nation’s children will be the minorities. The United Kingdom estimates that by 2050, ethnic minorities will make up one-third of Britain’s melting pot. We will see the majority becoming the minority and suddenly the conversation of diversity will become relevant to those that ignored it earlier. The dialogue needs to begin today because understanding and acknowledging the basic rights of all human beings regardless of who they are is relevant to all of us.

Trying Snake Wine for the first time in Vietnam

Forcing myself to try something that does not necessarily sound appealing. Trying Snake Wine for the first time in Vietnam. Aguardiente watch out!

It is in our human nature to protect ourselves and in many ways maintain the status quo if that ensures our survival. Therefore, initiating change or going through change can be a very arduous process if it challenges what we once thought of as the norm. One way to initiate change is to do it in small steps whether we are the person changing or the person effecting the change. Sometimes we have to be the one to take the first step, because if we wait around for someone else to do it, it may never get done. We also know that people’s value systems are different and what appears to be righteous to one group may completely contradict another’s beliefs. I do find it very difficult to reconcile in my heart and brain how people can use things like religion or politics as a legitimate excuse to discriminate or mistreat people. But that’s a whole other topic for another day.

I invite you to be the catalyst and to help initiate change. Below is a list of suggestions of how we can increase our exposure to multiculturalism and diversity.

Types of Exposure and what you can do:

  • Read, listen to, and watch both domestic and international sources of information and news media on relevant topics
  • Further your education: take courses, attend workshops, do research
  • Travel: within your own country and abroad
  • Visit museums, learn history
  • Try ethnic restaurants, try new foods (even if they don’t look good)
  • Try your hand at international cooking and share with family and friends
  • Listen to international music
  • Try new things
  • Join an international organization or one that supports specific causes.
  • Volunteer in organizations that support specific causes
  • Reach out, make new friends
  • Put yourself in uncomfortable situations, become the minority
  • Challenge your existing value system. Just because you were taught certain things at home does not necessarily make them right.
  • Allow yourself to improve your value system
  • Learn to recognize prejudices. Prejudices come in all shapes and sizes.
  • Reexamine your friendships and associations
  • Seek out minority role models for yourself and your children
  • Write articles, share your views
  • Organize international cultural events
  • Organize awareness building events
  • Practice Mindfulness.  For further reading:  https://thelabyrinthguide.wordpress.com/2013/11/01/mindfulness-and-living-a-mindful-life/
  • Refrain from judging
  • Listen to others
  • Remain open-minded
  • Be patient
  • Be tolerant
  • Be compassionate and kind
  • Become a mentor
  • Lead by example
  • Seek out the opportunities where you can engineer change.

One of my role models growing up was my Girl Scout leader, Mrs. Marshall, an African-American neighbor who lived in my building. Among other things, she inspired me to become a Girl Scout leader. I have always been a huge supporter of Girl Scouts of America because they are an “inclusionary” organization. As a Girl Scout leader I took the opportunity to share my passion for multiculturalism with my Daisies and Brownies. For one project I found a great website that offered international paper doll cutouts which the girls placed on individual poster boards that read, “ There are Girl Scouts all around the world. We may look and sound different but we are all sisters. We respect ourselves for who we are. We respect others for who they are”.

My daughter (right) and a fellow Daisy Girl Scout proudly displaying their International Girl Scout posters.

My daughter (right) and a fellow Daisy Girl Scout proudly displaying their International Girl Scout posters.

 

We also participated annually in World Thinking Day, a day honoring Girl Scouts and Girl Guides from other countries. World Thinking Day was a very well-organized town event with every troop representing a different country and creating a display, activities, and projects for the other girls to participate in.

Our Brownie Troop's display representing England in World Thinking Day. We made a poster showing the differences between American and British English.

Our Brownie Troop’s display representing England in World Thinking Day. We made a poster showing the differences between American and British English.

When my children attended The American School in London, ASL, I became involved with the International Community Committee, ICC, which was part of the parent’s association. Although the school is American there were students from approximately 42 different countries attending. The ICC hosts a Global Festival every two years. The festival celebrates all of the countries represented by the student body. The festival has cultural and educational components. Guests attending the festival get to enjoy music, dances, costumes, games, crafts and food from around the world. In the 2012 Global Festival I helped organize the food segment of the festival with a friend. We worked with 42 country representatives and helped coordinate their food displays culminating in a delicious gourmet extravaganza. The Global Festival is always a very well attended school community event drawing between 1200 – 1500 guests all in one day.

The ASL Global Festival: the organizers and country reps, with the food tables around the perimeter of the gym. Note by red, white, and blue outfit for the USA and my yellow, blue, and red scarf for Colombia.

The ASL Global Festival: the organizers and country reps for 42 nations, with the food tables around the perimeter of the gym. That’s me on the far left. Note by red, white, and blue outfit for the USA and my yellow, blue, and red scarf for Colombia.

These are two examples of activities that I have been part of. My quest continues, to make the great divide between us a little smaller, one relationship at a time. About a year ago I received an email, which had at the end a very powerful quote by Maya Angelou.

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.

Maya Angelou

For further interesting exploration:

Patricia Gurin Ph.D.: Her research is focused on social identity, the role of social identity in political attitudes and behavior, motivation and cognition in achievement settings, and the role of social structure in intergroup relations. Her latest book is Dialogue Across Difference, highlighting the importance of engaging diversity now more than ever.

http://patriciagurin.com/portfolio/

http://patriciagurin.com/portfolio-view/dialogue-across-difference-practice-theory-and-research-on-intergroup-dialogue/

A must watch:

Ted Talk with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The danger of a single story. She emphasizes the need to fully understand a situation or a person before passing judgment.

http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story#t-19362

An article by Liz Ryan about how business approaches diversity the wrong way in the Harvard Business Review

http://blogs.hbr.org/2012/10/we-approach-diversity-the-wron/

An article by Nina Terrero speaking of the lack of children’s books celebrating diversity

http://shelf-life.ew.com/2014/04/15/kid-lits-primary-color-white-report/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Series on Multiculturalism, Diversity, and Cross-Cultural Relationships

Part II

The Importance of Exposure to Multiculturalism and Diversity

This is the second of my three-part series on multiculturalism, diversity, and cross-cultural relationships. In my first article: https://thelabyrinthguide.wordpress.com/2014/04/18/series-on-multiculturalism-cross-cultural-relationships-and-diversity/, I shared with my readers how and when I became impassioned with this topic. In this follow-up posting, I elaborate on the importance of exposure to multiculturalism and diversity. My definition of diversity includes people with all types of differences: race, religion, philosophy, age, gender, sexual orientation, physical health, mental health, socioeconomic, intelligence, genetic attributes, etc.

Exposure to multiculturalism and diversity helps us expand our awareness and knowledge. As we build our awareness of other people’s differences we learn to understand them and in turn we develop tolerance, acceptance, trust, and compassion, which can lead to cooperation and collaboration. And how much easier would it be to live on this planet, to work together to solve its problems, if we operated under this premise. But I know this sounds very utopian, and perhaps rather than try to solve the world’s problems, I can focus on my little part of the universe and help influence those around me in a positive way. I behave a certain way, because I know that my children are watching and emulating my every move. I want them to grow up without unfounded prejudices and fears.

Celebrating my birthday in London with wonderful friends from around the world. From left to right: Colombian-American, Mexican, Palestinian, Turkish, Venezuelan, and Canadian.

2012 – Celebrating my birthday in London with wonderful friends from around the world. From left to right: Colombian-American, Mexican, Palestinian, Turkish, Venezuelan, and Canadian.

It is human nature to gravitate to known and comfortable environments. And it is also human nature to be weary of those and of things that are unknown. In the absence of true knowledge we allow fear and ignorance to form our misguided judgments.

I grew up as a Colombian immigrant in Queens, New York in the 60’s. At the time the Latinos in New York City were made up of mostly Dominicans, Cubans, and Puerto Ricans. Even among the existing Latino groups there was dislike and mistrust. My parents and I moved to an apartment building in Woodside, Queens. We were the only Hispanic family in our building. For several months after we moved in, my parents greeted our next-door neighbors, a white Jewish elderly couple, and for months they ignored my parent’s polite salutations. My parents were patient and knew from prior experience that in time the couple would come around, and they did. Somehow their comfort level grew as they got to know us and they became friendly with us. It makes me happy to think that we helped influence their viewpoint in a positive way. My other memory of a neighbor was of the Marshall family, one of the few African-American families in our building. Mrs. Marshall was working a full-time job, was raising a family, had lost a son in the Vietnam War, and on top of all of that, she was the dedicated Girl Scout leader of my troop. I always admired her commitment to the community and am grateful that she served as a role model to me inspiring me to become a Girl Scout leader to my own daughter.

Marching proudly in the 4th of July parade in Westport, CT with my Girl Scout Troop.

2005 – Marching proudly with my Girl Scout Brownie troop in the 4th of July parade in Westport, CT.

Growing up as a Latina in New York was not a great thing. Not because I was directly mistreated but because there was a prevailing attitude that Hispanics and Hispanic culture was sub par. As a child I looked for ways of blending in and forgetting my ethnicity. I suppose this is what thousands of immigrant children had done before me and continue to do to this day. Immigrant groups that arrived before us staked a claim and defined what they believe is the “right way” of being American, and all of the newly arrived immigrants try desperately to fit in by giving up their uniqueness. It is sadly contradictory that some of the people of this country, a nation founded on freedoms and religious tolerance, punish those for being different. I was incensed recently with the reaction by the general public when Ms. New York, the first Indian-American woman to win the title of Ms. America 2014 received vile feedback in the news and social media. Ugly comments were made accusing her of not being “American” enough, and of not representing “American” values. Wow, that today in 2014 we can still have such biased views and prejudices saddens me.

In 1974, my parents decided to return to Colombia because that was their plan all along. Little did they know that our going back to Colombia would be the greatest gift they would ever give me. I had come to the United States at age two and now at 13 we were returning to my birth country. The USA was my home but I was equally accepting of the idea of moving back to Colombia where I had spent most of my childhood summers. I would become immersed in the culture, learn the history, travel the country, study the language, and develop an appreciation for being Colombian. This experience also heightened my sensitivity to the appreciation of other cultures.

My daughter smiling in the African dress I sewed her for a pre-school international event.

2003 – Westport, CT My daughter smiling in the African dress I sewed her for a pre-school international event. The shoes are Colombian “alpargatas”, a type of espadrille shoe.

As much as we enjoyed living in Colombia I had my sights on going to university in the states and so we returned in 1978. Living in Colombia had raised my self-confidence and solidified my identity. Upon my return to the USA I no longer felt like a minority. That is until my senior year of college when I went from not feeling like a minority to being labeled a “double minority”. That was a huge surprise and I envisioned a giant rubber stamp coming down on my forehead.  I was a soon-to-graduate engineer who was a “woman” and a “Latina”. I became highly coveted by the recruiting companies because I could fill two of their minority recruiting quotas. The reality was that I was back in the United States where labeling seemed and continues to be, unfortunately, a very important part of this culture.

In my first article, I mentioned how I have three distinct roles. I am a Colombian citizen, a Colombian immigrant to the United States, and a US citizen. In the first role, I did not and do not need to prove anything to anyone. However, in my role as a Colombian immigrant and naturalized US citizen I have always felt it necessary to show other Americans a positive image of Colombia and of Latinos, while dispelling some of the misconceptions they have of our ethnic group. I will take this opportunity to say that there is a subset of American society that is open-minded and have an appreciation for diversity. I also have to point out that prejudices can also exist within a minority group.

Celebrating a birthday in Annapolis, MD with two American friends.

2013 – Celebrating another birthday in Annapolis, MD with two wonderful American friends.

My husband, a white American of European decent, and I have raised our children in a multicultural environment. Together we made the decision that I would speak Spanish and he would speak English to the children. As a family we have lived in Belgium, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and England. Every location has offered us varying experiences. Moving has taught us resilience and adaptability. Living abroad has taught us to see things from a different point of view. We have lived in small towns and in big cities. We have lived in very diverse and in very homogenous locations.

2002 - My son on the left in yet another costume I made, representing lightning. He is standing next to his Sikh buddy. His mother would share concerns over whether or not to cut his hair for kindergarten. In Sikhism, Kesh is the practiceof allowing their hair to grow as a  symbol of respect for the perfection of God's creation.

2002 – My son on the left dressed as “lightning”. I certainly kept busy making costumes. He is standing next to his Sikh buddy. His mother would share concerns over whether or not to cut his hair for kindergarten. In Sikhism, Kesh is the practice of allowing their hair to grow as a symbol of respect for the perfection of God’s creation. She was worried about her son being teased as he got older.

I have come to the conclusion that people from very homogenous towns or groups are at risk of becoming insular and close-minded. These folks have had limited exposure to people who are different perhaps by their own choosing or just by chance. When suddenly faced with a person or group who may not conform to their value system, they allow fear and ignorance to form their misguided judgments. Some can exhibit behaviors such as apathy, unfriendliness, anger, discrimination, segregation, bullying, mistreatment, or even violence. These behaviors are then passed on to their children and the negative behaviors and misconceptions are perpetuated. However, not all people from a homogenous group will react negatively. Some will allow themselves the opportunity to get to know the “stranger” much like the elderly couple did towards us, and eventually welcome them into the community. It is nice to know that human decency and goodness can prevail.

In 2011 we had the opportunity to move to London with our teen-aged children. We spent two years living in one of the most diverse cities of the world. I am so grateful that we were able to expose our family to so many ethnic, racial, religious, and socioeconomic groups. When you live among people of different backgrounds or attributes you develop a comfort level with them that allows you to be open-minded. This better prepares you to interact with each other and offers a basis for cooperation and collaboration. It prepares you to live in the global community and to work in a diverse environment. I also feel that living in London gave my children an appreciation for their own multi-cultural background.

2011 - London Exploring our new home.

2011 – London Exploring our new home.

We are now in suburban USA. There is still so much to improve and accomplish in the arena of diversity. In the fall, I was at an orientation at my children’s school and I could not help but notice that there were three distinct groups of people. There was a large group of mostly white families with a smattering of some ethnic families mingling with them, there was a small group of African-American families, and then there were the assorted loners. I wondered to myself why each group was keeping to themselves fully knowing the answer to my own question. Everyone was choosing to stay in his or her own comfort zone. This self-selected segregation bothered me so I chose to walk over to the group of African American parents to introduce myself. Some of you may argue that self-selected segregation is acceptable, but I will counter that with, self-selected segregation is a defense mechanism, that although shields us temporarily, it prevents us from pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zone to reach our fullest potential.

The United States is not the only country dealing with diversity issues. The challenges exist worldwide. Italy appointed its first black female cabinet member, Cecile Kyenge in April of this year. What was seen as a positive step in racial integration has publicly highlighted the ugly face of the prejudices that exist in Italy as Mrs. Kyenge endures countless racial abuse. Many other countries have experience similar challenges with assimilation of ethnic groups such as France, Germany, Britain, Sweden, and Finland. Colombia and many other Latin American countries are guilty of marginalizing their own native and black minority groups. Other nations struggle with uniting internal religious and ethnic groups. No location is immune to this problem.

I have been through my own journey. I too am guilty of passing incorrect judgment. I have come to the realization that prejudices come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes can be almost imperceptible. We all have a value system that we learned at home. There are moments in our lives that we come to crossroads where our existing value system is challenged. If we recognize these junctures as learning opportunities then we can begin to make changes that allow us to become better human beings.

In the end, the hallmark of a good relationship is when all parties involved are made to feel good in that relationship. And how do we do this?  By taking the steps necessary to learn about the other person. As we build our awareness of other people’s differences we learn to understand them and in turn we develop tolerance, acceptance, trust, and compassion, which can ultimately lead to cooperation and collaboration.

Slide1I do a reality check and bring myself back to my little corner of the universe, back to my original goal, to behave in a way that teaches my children to be open-minded and not develop unfounded prejudices and fears.

In my last and third article I share my call to action with you, steps you can take to further your exposure to multiculturalism and diversity.

For now I leave you with the following:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
― Maya Angelou

Series on Multiculturalism, Cross-Cultural Relationships, and Diversity

Part I: My Passion for All Things International

This is the first of a series of three articles on the topic of multiculturalism, cross-cultural relationships, and diversity. In this first posting I share with my readers how and when my interest in this area developed, creating a backdrop for the second article. In the follow-up article I communicate why I feel it is so important and critical to be exposed to multiculturalism, cross-cultural relationships, and diversity. In my last and third article I discuss some of the challenges that we face in this arena, and offer recommendations of steps to take that could increase our exposure to diversity. Keeping in mind that when I refer to diversity in my articles, I am including individuals with all kinds of differences. 

A symbol of Colombian Culture, the open truck called "Chiva" or "Bus de Escalera" used as transportation in rural areas. The buses are beautifully hand painted with colorful images and accents.

1983 – A symbol of Colombian Culture, the open truck called “Chiva” (goat) or “Bus de Escalera” (ladder bus) used as transportation in rural areas. The buses are beautifully hand painted with colorful images and accents.

There are things in this world that inspire our passion and interest. For me, some of those things are multiculturalism, cross-cultural relationships, and diversity. There are various paths that have brought me here. I am a Colombian born immigrant to the United States. This allows me three distinct roles, that of being a Colombian citizen, a Colombian immigrant to the United States, and lastly an American citizen. By moving to the United States I entered into a multicultural environment, I lived in a Colombian home in an American culture. A defining moment in my life, when my interest for all things international was sparked, happened when I joined Mrs. Bouhafa’s 3rd grade class in 1969. I joined her class after the first month of the school year when the powers to be decided I belonged in her class.

Mrs. Bouhafa and her 3rd grade class of 1969-1970

Mrs. Bouhafa and her 3rd grade class of 1969-1970. That’s me, the Girl Scout Brownie on the left hand side.

Mrs. Bouhafa stood in the front of the classroom with me and introduced me to the rest of the class and said something about my Spanish-speaking ability. I had been fully bi-lingual since kindergarten. A boy in the class, Stephen (bottom row 1st boy on left), took me by the hand to the back of the room, to a globe of world, pointed to Spain, and asked me if I was from there. I said no, and rotated the globe back and proudly pointed to Colombia and said, “I am from here”. Stephen smiled. I feel good even today knowing that he and the other children learned about Colombia from me. It would be the beginning of my lifelong mission of trying to share a positive image of Colombia and of Latinos with Americans. Mrs. Bouhafa was a world traveler. She shared her passion for all things international with her students. Her room was filled with pictures of her in various parts of the world, but the picture I remember the most was of her on a camel with the Egyptian Pyramids in the background. Mrs. Bouhafa taught us about world cultures, worldwide geography, and to find beauty in all of it. Little did Mrs. Bouhafa know that she had planted a seed of wanderlust in me, and the desire to see the world.

That's me as a very proud Girl Scout Brownie 1969 waiting to discover the world.

1969 – That’s me as a very proud Girl Scout Brownie  waiting to discover the world.

At first I would not need to travel very far. I lived in New York City where all you had to do was step out of your front door and see people from around the world. When I rode the subway I loved observing the different outfits worn by people, the beautiful colors of the fabrics, the styles, and the hats. In one afternoon you could see Hasidic Jews dressed in black with their payot, Indian women in colorful saris, African women in their long dresses of African print, Cuban men in guayaberas, Muslim women wearing hijabs and abayas, and Sikh men wearing turbans. You could venture into Chinatown and feel you were half way around the world as you walked in wonderment looking at the food markets, smelling all the fish, and seeing all the Chinese character signs. It was also the sixties and there were many changes happening in our society. The Civil Rights and Feminist movements were in full swing. People were protesting the Vietnam War and the Flower Power generation was blooming creating a historical generation gap. My dad’s hobby was to make 8mm home movies and capture the essence of New Yorkers on his films.  On Sundays, our family would go to Greenwich Village in Manhattan to people watch. We have great footage of my mom and I dressed in our 1960’s Sunday church outfits hanging out with “Los hippies”, as my parents called them, while listening to guitar folk music and Hare Krishna chanting. There I stood at age 8, absorbing all of these experiences quietly in my head helping to shape my opinion of the world.

I attended Public School 151 in Woodside, Queens. Our 3rd grade class of 29 children was comprised of mainly white (European ancestry) children, 4 African-American boys and girls, 3 Asian boys, 1 girl from Aruba, and 1 Colombian girl (me). There was some religious diversity. In the month of December we learned Hanukkah songs together with Christmas songs. My first school trip to the United Nations Headquarters in Manhattan was a true highlight. I was amazed with the concept of simultaneous language translation. The idea that someone could be speaking in their native tongue, and that dozens of translators would be translating in their private cubbies, speaking into microphones, which in turn were wired to members of the audience. That people could understand each other even though they spoke in different languages was mind-boggling.

In my other parallel childhood life, I would visit Colombia during the summers. I realize now how privileged I was to be able to have had those experiences. When I went to Colombia I would stay with family in my birth city of Medellin. Sometimes I flew with my parents, and other times they would send me by myself on the airplane. I would spend amazing summers discovering Medellin, its surrounding villages, and the countryside. But it was not all fun and play, my mother who gave me spanish lessons during the school year, would also request that I take spanish lessons during vacations.

The "gringita" niece learns about animals at the "finca"  (the ranch)

1971 – The “gringuita” niece learns about animals at the “finca” (the ranch)

As a young adult I would begin to travel the world. The first big trip that I planned and saved up for was during college. In 1983, I visited a total of 10 cities and villages in the Atlantic coastal, central Andes, and Amazon regions of Colombia.

1983 - On the first adventure that I plan and finance myself. Here I am by the edge of the Amazon river near Leticia, Colombia in the Amazon jungle area of the country.

1983 – Look Mrs. Bouhafa, here I am by the shores of the Amazon river near Leticia, Colombia in the Amazon jungle area of the country.

In 1984 I began working as an engineer in upstate New York. That alone was a cultural change for me, Schenectady was very different to New York City. I continued to travel with work to other states allowing me the opportunity to see the vastness of this nation and the huge regional differences. In 1986, I took my first European trip to the Alps in Switzerland to ski. With each trip I knew I wanted to see and learn even more of the world and its cultures. There was no turning back. I started figuring out ways of traveling, not just for pleasure but also for work.

Look Mrs. Bouhafa, that's me on a train in the Alps!

1986 – Look Mrs. Bouhafa, that’s me on a train in the Alps!

My career in engineering evolved and in time I got an MBA. Business school was transformative for me not just in academic ways but also in my view of the world. Prior to business school I used to think that the United States was the be-all and end-all. Sure, I had a multicultural back ground, but I was close minded in thinking that there was nothing better than the United States. I judged everything through the biased American view. Business school exposed me to international students and business, and broader thinking.

One of my dear friends from business school. We sat next to each other for our 1st year. Since English was his second language I helped him with clarifications during class. This is after business school when I visited him in Tokyo, Japan

1994- One of my dear friends from business school. We sat next to each other for our 1st year. Since English was his second language I helped him with clarifications during class. This is after business school when I visited him and his family in Tokyo, Japan.

I learned about countries not just from a cultural perspective but also from a socioeconomic and geopolitical view. I started understanding the role that the United States played in world politics and in the global economy. I knew then that I wanted to work in international business. In time, I achieved my goal and ended up doing international business and product development that involved traveling around the world, working with cross-functional, and cross-cultural work teams. I was in my element.

I sponsored a meeting for our Middle Eastern organization in Marrakech, Morocco. This was the last evening dinner with our Moroccan entertainers. Circa 1996

1996 – I sponsored a meeting for our Middle Eastern organization in Marrakech, Morocco. This was the last evening dinner with our Moroccan entertainers. 

Although, my own multicultural background and training has given me a heightened sensitivity to appreciating other people’s cultures, it has been with each subsequent trip and cross-cultural encounter that I have gleaned the cultural nuances, learned how to behave abroad, and learned to become a more open-minded person. This exposure to multiculturalism has also developed my sensitivity to understanding people’s differences no matter what kind. I thrive in environments that have diversity and I relish the opportunity of being inclusive and of being included.

Visiting another friend from business school in Tokyo. His wife dressed me in a traditional kimono for dinner.

1994 – Visiting another friend from business school in Tokyo. His wife dressed me in a traditional kimono for dinner.

My business and leisure travel has taken me all over the world. I have been to 5 out of 7 continents, and to 33 countries. I have been to 32 states of the United States. If only I could sit with Mrs. Bouhafa to compare pictures and experiences, and to thank her for sharing her love for all things international with me.

Look Mrs. Bouhafa, one hand camel riding in Dubai. 2001

2001 – Look Mrs. Bouhafa, one hand camel riding in Dubai.

Everyday I continue to learn more and more about diversity and human nature. Although, I count the days until I can get on another airplane to visit some exotic part of the world, I know that I have hundreds of resources and experiences to be discovered right here in my own neighborhood.

Family Trip to Vietnam. Our tour guide teaches us about the food at a market in Hoi An. 2013

2013 – Family Trip to Vietnam. Our tour guide teaches us about the food at a market in Hoi An.

With every connection I make to someone or someplace around the world or even right here in my own backyard, I discover we have more things in common with each other than I realized. When I focus on the similarities it seems to lessen the differences.

In my next posting I share why I feel it is so important to expose ourselves and our children to other cultures. I also make the connection to the importance of exposure to all that is different, be they people of different race, religion, sexual orientation, age, physical abilities, mental health, socioeconomic, genetic attributes, etc.

 

Relishing the trip in the Mekong Delta, outside of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

2013 – Trip to Vietnam. Navigating the Mekong Delta, outside of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I love this picture my daughter took because if you look at my sunglasses you can see my daughter taking the photo and son and husband further back, all three the apples of my eye!

 

 

Definitions from various sources:

Multiculturalism:

  1. of, relating to, reflecting, or adapted to diverse cultures
  2. relating to communities containing multiple cultures
  3. the preservation of different cultures or cultural identities within a unified society, as a state of nation

Cross-Cultural:

  1. comparing or dealing with two or more different cultures
  2. pertaining to or contrasting two or more cultures or cultural groups.
  3. in sociology, involving or bridging the differences between cultures

Diversity:

  1. the condition of having or being composed of differing elements.
  2. the inclusion of different types of people (as people of different races or cultures in a group or organization.
  3. the term can describe differences in racial or ethnic classifications, age, gender, religion, philosophy, physical abilities, socioeconomic, sexual orientation, gender identity, intelligence, mental health, physical health, genetic attributes, behavior, attractiveness, or other identifying features.
  4. In sociology, the term can be used to describe groups of people whose members have identifiable differences in cultural backgrounds or lifestyles.

The 6-month Passport Validity Requirement and Other Useful Information

US Passport Requirements vary by countries you visit.

US Passport Requirements vary by countries you visit.

What? This was my reaction when my dad told me last night how he had gone to his travel agent to buy airline tickets to Mexico and the agent told him she could not sell him the tickets because his US passport was valid for less than six months. She told him that this was a new requirement imposed by Mexico.

For the seasoned traveler that I thought I was, I have to say that I knew diddly-squat about this travel requirement. I immediately panicked a little since my children and I are planning a trip to the UK soon. My daughter’s passport expires at the end of July of this year. It has less than 6 months left of validity. I started scouring the website for information about the UK and Mexico just to better understand this so-called 6-month rule.

The best source of course is to go to the US State Department for the most updated information. Last night in my hurried research (I was going to my daughter’s dance presentation at school), I totally missed this site. It was my wonderful travel agent friend from the UK that sent me the links this morning to the U.S. Passports and International Travel with the Bureau of Consular Affairs of the US Department of State site.

http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country.html

State Department's  US Passport and International information site

State Department’s
US Passport and International information site

You enter the name of the country that you are traveling to and it gives you the passport validity requirements in addition to other critical information such as travel advisories, vaccination/blank pages/visa requirements, and currency restrictions. I breathed a sigh of relief to confirm that the UK simply requires a valid passport at the time of entry. But I did confirm that Mexico has the 6-month passport validity requirement. My parents have already started the paperwork for their new passport and will have to postpone their travels until they receive it.

Screen Shot of information available for Mexico from the State Department site.

Screen Shot of information available for Mexico from the State Department site.

To my surprise I found out that many countries around the world have this requirement for incoming visitors. As you well know, the danger with Internet research is that you have to make sure the source is up to date. Last night, I found conflicting information for Mexico. I have shared the following links to give you a general sense of the countries with this requirement. These sites are not up to date because Mexico is not on the list. It is best to use the state department site I mentioned above. I will say that I thought the first site below seemed very official since it was a U.S. Passport Help Guide but it too has not been updated.

Examples of sites that have not been updated but give you an idea of the countries with the 6-month passport validity requirement:

http://www.uspassporthelpguide.com/six-months-validity-rule/

http://traveltips.usatoday.com/countries-require-six-months-passport-validity-100788.html

I also want to take this opportunity to mention that you also need to have blank pages available in your passport for immigration agents to stamp. The State Department link to country information I shared also lists the passport blank pages requirement. Last May I found myself with very limited free space in my passport that is valid until 2016. My plan was to add pages when I returned to the US in June after moving back from England. I ended up scheduling more trips than I anticipated before my return trip. I took a day trip from London to Paris and was severely reprimanded by the French immigration woman for having such limited space. Knowing that I’d be traveling to Brussels as well I rushed to the US Embassy in London and had extra pages inserted into the passport. I did not want to give any other immigration agent the chance of reprimanding me again. Border agents can be so different with regard to stamping your passport. Some really don’t care where they stamp your passport and some even stamp over old stamps. Others meticulously place their stamp in the provided space. And as I well know now, the French want to have ample choices of blank pages to pick from when stamping your passport. C’est la Vie!

I hope you find this information useful. Happy Travels!

What the 4th of July Means to Me

In the parade with my Brownie troop in 2006
That’s my daughter waving to the camera.
Westport, CT

With the 4th of July approaching us, I sit and ponder on the meaning of this celebration. Everyone is decorating with red, white, and blue and preparing for picnics and barbeques. Beautiful desserts will be made that resemble the American flag. Parades will be held. Firework displays will fill the skies. For many, it’s just a summer celebration. For me it’s a time to reflect on what it is we are truly celebrating.

My son in the parade with his baseball team.

The Patriots

Now that we are living in England I have learned some facts of how the British people view the 4th of July. In essence, they don’t think much of our holiday. It’s really not taught in their schools. Some of them refer to our Revolutionary war as the Civil War. It was viewed back then as an act of treason. Others think of it as just another mishap or incident with a colony. The year 1776 is really not even mentioned. Testimony to this was the ride my children and I took at London’s Madame Tussauds Wax museum. The ride explains British History throughout the centuries. The ride passes through historical exhibits going from the 1200’s through the 1600’s, and then it mysteriously skips the 1700’s, resuming once again in the 1800’s Industrial revolution. My children found this quite interesting.

To me, the Declaration of Independence was not just about 13 colonies feeling mistreated by the crown, and choosing to become an independent and sovereign nation. To think that these 13 colonies would take on a world power like England was at the time in of itself an amazing feat. What strikes me the most was the determination of our founding fathers to establish a nation in which we are entitled to “unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”, unalienable meaning impossible to take away or give up. You have to realize that not all nations offer this. Furthermore, that our Constitution has survived 236 years is an incredible accomplishment. Of course we have made amendments to it but it stands to reason that it was and continues to be an amazing document. The United States is the country with the longest running constitution. Many countries and regimes have rewritten or abolished their constitutions.

The Liberty Bell
Philadelphia, PA

We as Americans are quite privileged to live in a country where we are allowed to speak our mind, where we can criticize our government without fear of being incarcerated, where we can protest something we don’t approve of.  We live in a democracy where we have the luxury of electing our government officials. We live in a country, in a culture that permits us to have choice. How wonderful, to feel this empowerment. Sure, there have been recessions, scandals, and presidencies we may not totally approve of but even with its ups and downs, The United States of America is still the country of opportunity. It is a country where if you are born the child of a maid, you can aspire to be something other than a maid. My liberal friends would beg to differ and argue that not everyone enjoys equal opportunities in the United States. This is a topic that we could develop into a doctorate dissertation. Perhaps I am too naïve and optimistic to feel that if you work hard enough in the United States you can make something of yourself. I compare the social structure in the US to that of Colombia. In Colombia, it is still pretty much like the caste system in India. If you are born into a certain social class,  it is very difficult to break out of that social class.

One of the aspects I appreciate the most about international travel and reading about people from other countries and cultures, is that it teaches me to better understand and be more accepting of others. Perhaps the biggest lesson in life for me has been that by observing the conditions of others around the world that has allowed me to better appreciate the countries that I have lived in. When I come across countries that are unsafe, unjust, oppressive, economically unstable, or not open-minded to different ethnic groups or religions, it reaffirms my conviction that everyone should be entitled to the rights of life, liberty, and happiness, and also to the right of “choice”.

So I’d like to share with you a little bit about two worldwide figures that inspire me this 4th of July, this day of celebration of our freedoms that we take for granted everyday. I am deeply inspired by two heroic international women. The first woman you may be very familiar with, she has been in our headlines since 1990. The second woman has made her contributions since the late 90’s and has become more mainstream in the media since 2005.

  •  Aung San Suu Kyi led the democratic movement in her country of Burma (Myanmar) that opposed the Burmese military government in charge at the time. In 1990, her party the National League for Democracy (NLD) won 59% of the votes in the elections. However, the military nullified the elections and refused to hand over power. Suu Kyi was put under house arrest for 15 years out of the last 21 because she was supposedly considered a threat to the peace and stability of the country. Instead, she went on to become a worldwide symbol of democracy and of the fight against oppression. Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights. She was not able to receive the prize in person because of her house arrest.  She not only sacrificed herself for the cause, but her family as well. She lived apart from her English husband and two sons since the house arrest. The Burmese government wanted her to leave Burma hoping to then deny her re-entry into the country. Instead she chose to not abandon the Burmese people and stayed her course. Even when her husband was dying of cancer in 1999 he was still denied an entry visa into Burma. Suu Kyi was never able to see her husband again. Her husband had always been very supportive of the Burmese democratic movement. After enormous worldwide pressure, the Burmese government finally released Suu Kyi in 2010. She ran for office in 2012, and finally in April of this year she won a seat in parliament. Just a few days ago, on June 16th of this year, Suu Kyi finally delivered her Nobel Prize acceptance speech in Oslo, Norway, in what was considered to be one of the most amazing moments in the history of Nobel Prizes. She was also finally reunited with her two sons whom she had not seen in 24 years. During her 2-week tour in Europe she met with political leaders of Switzerland, Norway, Ireland, England, and France where she was cheered for her pro-democracy efforts and was treated like a head of state. She continues to champion Burma’s transition from military rule to a democracy. You can read more about her in the many books that are available. In 2010, Aung San Suu Kyi published Letters from Burma.  Her story has inspired many authors to write about her, the most recent being, The Lady and The Peacock, by Peter Popham.A
  • Fawzia Koofi is an inspiring Afghanistani woman who has been not only a women’s rights activist but also became a parliament member in 2005. She now aspires to run for president of Afghanistan in 2014. Fawzia has received many death threats and attempts from the Taliban but she continues to fight for what she believes in. Fawzia has written a wonderful memoir called The Favored Daughter. In the book she shares letters she has written to her two daughters, Shaharzad and Shuhra. In these letters she is inspiring but also realistic and pragmatic. She navigates us through her last 30 years in Afghanistan. When Fawzia was born, because she was born a daughter and not a son, so she was put outside in the sun to let nature take its course. But even then she showed her determination, and although she was severely burnt by the sun, she had survived her first 24 hours in such harsh conditions. The fellow women in the family pitied her and returned her to her mother. Her mother made a vow to ensure she would give her daughter the best life the she could. Fawzia’s grandfather and father had been parliament members representing one of the most remote regions of Afghanistan. Life in the 60’s and early 70’s under the monarchy and parliament appeared peaceful and fairly modern in the bigger cities. However, in 1973, there was a coup d’état that led to the dismantling of the parliament and suspension of the constitution. Her father was imprisoned and later killed for speaking against the new establishment. What followed were the years of Russian communism and the Soviet war in the 80’s, while the mujahideen grew stronger in power leading to their eventual takeover by 1995. Although, Fawzia had completed high school and started medical school during the war years, she was not able to complete her studies because the Taliban prevented women from getting an education. Unable to continue her education she focused her work on women’s rights. After the fall of the Taliban, Fawzia completed her degrees in business and in law. In 2005, the first elected parliament in 33 years was put in place. Fawzia Koofi made history by becoming the first woman Second Deputy Speaker of the Parliament. Her contributions in the area of human rights have been numerous. She continues to champion women and children’s causes. Fawzia continues to strive to make Afghanistan a better place for her daughters and others. She hopes to become the next President of Afghanistan. For further reading, read A Favored Daughter by Fawzi Koofi and visit http://www.fawziakoofi.org/mission.html and http://www.fawziakoofi.org/

These are the two women who are inspiring me on this 4th of July. Their experiences help me appreciate where I live in and the societies that I am part of. As I think of my children, I am grateful because I am raising them in environments, both here in the US and abroad in which they have rights, unalienable rights, of life, liberty, happiness, and choice.

Sitting and Thinking of My Children
Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh, Scotland

Happy Fourth of July!!!!

Happy Fourth of July!

Enjoying the Summer.
2005