In the twenty-first century, people interacting with more than one culture is rare and yet common at the same time. Because of patterns of globalization and advances made in the transportation industry, people move and travel to other lands much more than they used to; however, you would probably be surprised by the number of Americans who have never left the North American Continent or even the United States itself. Where these cultural interactions do take place, they can be a source of both conflict and enrichment.
My name is Lara, and this is my story with different cultures.
When I arrived in France at the age of ten, I was surprised by the name I was given in the schoolyard: “Swiss girl.” After all, I’m French as well and growing up in Switzerland until then, I had grown accustomed to being designated as: “the French girl.”
For me, having this dual-citizenship meant that no matter where I lived, I could never feel like I belonged there. In my mother’s home country, France, I was perceived as Swiss, and in my father’s Switzerland, I was always thought of as French. Everywhere else, I just existed as both. My childhood experience was deeply marked by this feeling of not fitting in anywhere.
It turns out that this feeling, which was often followed by anger and desperation, was only felt by the angry and frustrated child and then adolescent that I was. Now that I believe I’ve reached at least a slightly more mature age, I understand that this previously perceived ‘curse’ is in fact an invaluable gift. Having two nationalities, speaking two languages, and having lived in both of my countries has given me an incredible perspective on the world. I am inherently capable of understanding the concept of multiculturalism, which is the root of my involvement at the Student Language Exchange.
Getting back to the idea that ‘people don’t interact with other cultures enough,’ I want to underline a crucial fact: the capacity to understand a culture without speaking its language is something I would describe as an American ‘urban myth.’
Not everyone speaks English— partly because not everyone can afford to. When I was an adolescent somewhere between the ages of fourteen and seventeen, I realized that as an educated European it was my duty to learn languages if I wanted to understand other nations’ cultures and people.
Traveling back to France for winter break after a semester in the United States exposed me to the fact that most people in France don’t speak English, even though most of its population has the option to do so. Knowing this, how can we expect a country like Indonesia or Ethiopia to be progressing in English? However, Indonesian, which is spoken by over two hundred million people in Asia is not the traditional language Americans or, as a matter of fact, Europeans chose to learn at University.
Neither is Hindi, Bengali, Tagalog, or Finnish, and I could continue this list for a very long time.
I believe that peace on this world means global understanding, which can only be achieved by starting with learning these languages, as well as numerous others. Perhaps if the children I played with in the schoolyard had truly been exposed to even one other culture, they would not have felt the need to differentiate me by my nationality alone.