Context: Read this while at work in LCORE, Ukarumpa, PNG. My working home for the last 2 years has been the office on the right of this building.
In a couple of weeks’ time I’ll be running a Cultural Self-Discovery workshop. Although I’ve attended the workshop and helped facilitate and teach parts of it before, this will be the first time that I’ve been responsible for the entire thing. With over 20 participants from 8 different nations, I thought I should prioritise this book when I saw it on a shelf in an abandoned office at work. Glad I did.
The Lingenfelters write from decades of experience overseas. They write with humility and plenty of insight from their own lives into how you can do it the wrong way. But they learned how to do it the right way and this combination of failing and succeeding was helpful I think. I’ve read a lot of cross-cultural stuff where the author has plenty of stories of others’ failures but seems curiously silent about their own.
As you can see from my context photo above, there was lots in this that I found worthwhile to inform my training in this short 120 page book. I’m no stranger to living and working cross-culturally (this is my 5th decade overseas in some form or other) but although I’m streets ahead of the field in terms of practical experience, I’m woefully behind when it comes to the theory side of things.
I appreciated their analogy of the prison v palace dichotomy of culture. When we’re in our own environment, our culture is like a palace where everything is neat and tidy and we rule over those around and nothing is beyond our control. But when we’re out of it, our culture is a prison in which we’re confined, miserable at the mercy of those who control our environment for us.
This is so true and reinforces the need for us to abandon our palace mentality while living in a foreign culture or interacting with those from different cultures. If we don’t we are either dictatorial tyrants who imprison others or we’re cowering wrecks wallowing in the misery of our own culture shock. I’m sad to say that I’ve been both of these. I think anyone who’s honest would admit that too if they’ve had any real cross-cultural exposure. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if someone doesn’t admit they’ve experienced both extremes… well… don’t invite them to form a multicultural team anytime soon!
So, I’m very much looking forward to what these 23 participants are going to teach me over the coming 8 weeks of the course. If this book was anything to go by, I’ve got a great deal yet to learn and a hunger for it too!