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The cultural bridge

A friend of ours was over for dinner the other night.  During the meal, he turned to us and said, “It’s really hard to always feel like a foreigner in this country.”  Yes, his home country is far away from here. However, he has lived in Europe now for over ten years.  Yet he still does not feel ‘at home’ here.

He has not yet crossed the cultural bridge.cultural bridge

‘Crossing the cultural bridge’ means that we adopt as our own the culture in which we find ourselves; drawing on all that is good in that new culture, building on all that is good from our home culture.  It is not an easy journey across that bridge and it doesn’t happen overnight.  We benefit from people encouraging us who have already made the ‘crossing’.  We profit from the insight and wisdom of cultural guides from that new culture.

It’s like the proverbial wooden swinging bridge across a ravine.  Your first thought is to back away from the bridge and start thinking of all the reasons why it is not worth crossing the bridge. Then a friend comes along and encourages you onto the bridge.  Things go fine until the bridge starts swaying, and your immediate reaction is to backtrack to the start.  However, the encouraging words and patience of your friend draw you across the bridge.  After what seems like an eternity you find yourself on the other side, sighing a great sigh of relief.

We have that same feeling of relief when we ‘cross the cultural bridge’. However, at times we may find ourselves backpedaling, backtracking to the bridge.  We can find ourselves being pulled back across the bridge, questioning the adopted culture in which we now live.

When you hear yourself regularly criticizing the culture where you now live, you may be backtracking onto the cultural bridge.

When you notice that all of your close friends are people from your home passport country, you may be backtracking onto the cultural bridge.

When you find yourself stumbling for words in a conversation with your neighbor because you haven’t given much time recently to the language, you may be backtracking onto the cultural bridge.

When you hear yourself often saying: “Well, in our culture, that would never happen because …”, you may be backtracking onto the cultural bridge.

A friend helped you get across the bridge. A friend and cultural guide can keep you from backtracking to the bridge, and can help you keep moving forward on the cross cultural path.


6 Responses

  1. Found this a very insightful, challenging article that happens to many people going cross cultural. Loved the metaphor of the wooden bridge. Thanks David, very good word.

  2. I think the interesting piece was that this was someone from another continent who works in the health profession here in France. I recognized that ‘everyone’ who tries to cross a culture faces what cross cultural workers like us face.

  3. We played a ‘game’ with this many years ago. We had lived cross-culturally but moved into still another. Becoming concerned with a veteran couple (not WT) who usually bad-mouthed the culture, Beth & I challenged each other to always mention, in their presence, an encouraging thing we had observed in the host culture. Interestingly, in time their tune changed and they sometimes offered positive perspectives. We ‘newbies’ were an influence. To this day I like to play the game in reverse; asking newcomers to ‘my turf’ to ‘verbalize what they are seeing’; I need their perspective; the culture bridge is wide enough for ‘team’.

  4. I love the image. I suppose we all SOMETIMES feel like foreigners. What a tragedy to allow oneself to ALWAYS feel that way.

  5. A ‘game’ worth marketing that might help all of us to look for those positive elements.

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