I am forever thankful to my parents who introduced me to different cultures from a young age. Because of them, I have an insatiable desire to see the world and engage with as many cultures as possible. Every single time I travel and engage, more of my cultural defences are broken down. From the first time that I crossed your international borders, Mr World, you broke my heart.
The travel bug’s first bite
I was about 13 when we moved to a small country surrounded by South Africa on all sides. My dad worked for a company involved in building the Katse Dam in Lesotho. There were professionals from all over the world involved – Thailand, France, Germany, England, South Africa, Switzerland, Spain, and Philipines. As a young teenager, I was exposed to many cultures and count it as an incredible privilege. It became natural for me to eat foreign foods, hear a cacophony of languages in social settings and play games that I’ve never heard of before. How can I continue with my life being satisfied with experiencing only one culture? It is impossible to be the same after living in a different country amongst so many cultures. Lesotho, you broke my heart first for other nations.
From the time that I earned my own income, I always tucked money away for the next exotic adventure. The more I travelled, the more my paradigms shifted and my thinking was challenged. Until one day I stood back and realised, the change in my thinking has dropped to my heart. I started to experience people differently, I started to speak to people differently. I recognized that I have a very definite bent towards my own culture that can so easily be harmful to those around me.
My first solo trip
I finished my master’s degree towards the end of 2005 and decided to take a trip to the States before I become a full-blown adult. The trip was 6 weeks long, the first 4 weeks I spent volunteering at Chico’s YWAM base. I spent the last 2 weeks in Orange County with friends of friends. Being alone in a different culture speaking your second language all the time, is challenging to say the least. I very quickly realized that I have been so sheltered in my own culture that I ‘ve developed a one-dimensional thinking pattern. This trip shattered my comfort bubble, for which I’m forever thankful. America, you broke my heart for other cultures.
Sharing life with an American friend
The last significant experience that I want to mention here is my friendship with my friend Sam. Sam is American, married to a South African. She moved to Africa as a young professional, working for Habitat for Humanity. She is an example of embracing different cultures and emerging herself in the one that she finds herself. We’ve been great friends now for almost 12 years. Despite our VERY different cultural backgrounds, we have been able to build a great friendship.
I lived in a flat on their property for about 5 years. During that time, there were so many times that we just would not see eye to eye. Having the best of intentions from both sides, we sometimes would just rub each other the wrong way. Personally, I am so thankful for that! We kept on trying to understand each other, and one day we had a conversation where we stumbled upon assumptions that we both held. Assumptions that are based on our diverse cultural upbringings. I had a lightbulb moment and learned to identify and challenge my own assumptions in my interactions with other people. I learned to understand first, then to speak. Thank you Sam – you broke my heart for people from different backgrounds.
So what does this have to do with life?
It’s got everything to do with life. Life is not one-dimensional. It’s not 3-dimensional or even 8-dimensional. Life has so many dimensions that it sometimes gets overwhelming. Having our hearts broken by cultures and people different to ourselves ensures that we will live a life full of empathy for others. In Brene Brown’s book Power of Vulnerability, she speaks about how we should get into the hole with others and just be with them. Allowing our hearts to be broken is doing exactly that.
The main thread that I want to weave through all my blogs is that of social justice. Being a voice for the voiceless. Social injustice is born when my thinking is one-dimensional and only focused on my own enrichment. This means that I will have to challenge my own thinking if I want to enter someone else’s world and effect change, for their enrichment. That, in turn, means that I need to be trained in thinking multi-dimensionally. It’s for this reason that I’m ever grateful for travelling the world which broke my thinking paradigms and consequently my heart.
3 things that contributed to breaking my heart
- Language. If I had a bitcoin for every time a miscommunication occurred because of language, I would be the richest person in the world right now. It taught me to pause and make sure I understand exactly what is being said. It also taught me to use my words to explain. To rather use more words than less when in a sensitive conversation. First understand, then speak.
- Worldview. Each of us comes with a unique combination of how we view different aspects of life. If we add all of it together, we end up with a very specific worldview. This is shaped by our family, our culture, our experience, to name just a few. We will do very well to first understand others’ worldview before we impose our own on them! One of the most insightful books I’ve read on this topic is Customs of the World: Using Cultural Intelligence to Adapt, Wherever you are.
- Traveling to different continents. Wherever I travelled, there were grocery stores, houses and bathrooms. It doesn’t matter where we are, we are all human with the same basic needs. No culture is more special than another, just different. No people group is superior to another, just different. Engaging with as many different cultures and people groups will grow your cultural and emotional intelligence and equip you for life.
Because of all the rich experiences I’ve had (and still plan to have!), my life is richer and more colorful. I have developed a desire to see social justice in the world and be a voice for the voiceless.