By: Amanda J. Van Dort Sri Lanka Country Director
There is a difference between reading about other cultures and experiencing them. In my position as Country Director of Emerge Global, I’ve been lucky enough to experience Sri Lanka and travel to other Asian countries. I’ve seen that though cultures may be different, humans are very similar. In some countries, they drive on one side of the road, listen to a certain type of music, and have different socially acceptable gestures. But, in all countries people are searching for love, acceptance, success and stability. It’s these universal human pursuits that draw us together. It transcends borders, currencies and politics.
The ability to relate to other cultures is a learned trait and comes from countless conversations. In these conversations, we learn to simplify our English and cut out slangs, to listen intently to the beautiful rhythm of accents different than our own. We bare in mind the things we’ve heard about other countries- their history, their religion and their values. But, for success we tread softly, remain open and ask questions to truly understand. We strive to grasp what people from different countries can teach us, which is sometimes the gaps in our own cultures.
Through my exposure to Asian cultures, I’ve learned more about respect, modesty and nature. I can’t explain in words the lessons I’ve been taught in the last one and half years, but I know that it could not be replicated in classrooms, films or the news. I’ve assimilated, but remained an American. But now, I’m an American who is more culturally aware and sensitive, and I believe that makes me a better American. Moreover, I’m prepared to enter the field which I’m passionate about and for that preparation I thank the smiling faces of my friends in many countries, my most important teachers.
Working in a foreign country comes with a price. You are going to eat alone, feel alone and be alone. You will experience the glamour and the poverty. You will feel overwhelmed and want to cry out “why?” when you witness social injustices. There are times when you will excitingly try the local dish and times when you will miss your favorite burger joint or the pancakes the way your dad makes them. There are times when you feel proud of the new friends you’ve made, and time when you feel you have no real friends at all.
You will experience both and one will not outweigh the other. But your work for others, for the world, will be the tipping rock on the scale. There is no greater calling, and for that we continue our work.