As students studying abroad, we have been tasked with the challenge of exuding the skills and mindset that go hand and hand with intercultural knowledge. Recently I, along with my group, lead a student reflection session on this very topic. We reminded everyone of the definition and the skill set you need to practice intercultural knowledge. There are six different skills deemed, by some researchers, necessary to achieve intercultural knowledge. These skills are cultural self-awareness, cultural worldwide views, empathy, communication, curiosity and openness. While these are all necessary, the rest of the students reminded me of a few more skills needed to be inter-culturally knowledgeable.
The first characteristic suggested was patience. You must be patient with yourself and others especially when different languages are at play. We recently visited a Himba village, where we had a translator/guide to explain to us what their life is like. He also translated questions that some of the tribe members asked us. At the end of the visit, we were able to peruse the crafts they had for sale. Now imagine 15 women all trying to shop at the same time, with one translator. It was quite chaotic. The young, Himba girls would grab your hands and start adorning you with bracelets and necklaces. I finally had to negotiate with a young lady myself. Thankfully she understood me and I was able to get the price of a few bracelets down. But other Himbas did not understand, and the translator was pulled every which direction. In this situation, patience was definitely a skill we all needed to practice so that everyone could buy what they wanted at the price they wanted.
Bravery was the second characteristic a student suggested that stood out to me. I think that our entire group of 16 students are extremely brave for choosing to participate in a study abroad program in Africa. I know that personally, I was asked numerous times, “Why are you going to Africa?” I didn’t necessarily have an answer for those people back then, but I do now. I came to Africa to gain intercultural knowledge. This country and these people are absolutely beautiful. I am glad I had the bravery to do something that most would not, and I am sure that if you asked the rest of the group, all of them would share the same sentiment.
The bravery did not stop when we arrived in Namibia. We have to practice it everyday. We are constantly putting ourselves out there to ask questions, to absorb cultural differences and to understand ways of life. There are several different cultures in Namibia and I would like to leave with knowledge about all of them. You have to have the bravery to interact with the different cultures, to play with the kids and hold their hands, or talk to the elders about their lives and their children. Through finding out about others and other cultures, you find yourself and your culture.