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The invisible dynamics of ‘moving between cultures’

Tuesday, January 16th, 2007 @ 12:41 am
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Just a bit of context…this is something I wrote in my research diary following a CRG –Counselling Research Group – meeting we had at Manchester University. My supervisor, some other students and myself went to a conference in Moscow in April and we were reflecting on that experience during that meeting, mainly around cultural differences. At some point, I raised some issues that seemed not to be grasped from certain people in the group about culture and there was a ‘hot’ discussion around what it means to be British, what it means to try to develop counselling training in countries (like Russia, Greece etc) where counselling is not yet a well defined concept or a recognised profession etc……you will find a strong emotional response from my part which, I feel, models certain reactions that a client may have when in a counselling relationship with a counsellor from another culture and when he/she feels a voice is being denied or some cultural complexities are not being understood.

CRG Meeting – Tuesday, 23 May 2006

I came back from the CRG meeting tonight feeling the intense need to write things down in my research diary…and yet, although I have switched on the computer a while ago, I have been sitting, staring at the screen with my thoughts running in such a speed and being aware that I am making a lot of effort to settle my feelings, to understand, to put words to what I am processing.

I remember telling to my counselling supervisor a couple of years ago, when reflecting on the impact of the factor of ‘culture’ on my identity and my practice, that this issue is ‘so big’…big in emotion, big in complexity….once again today, at some points during the CRG discussion I felt my guts being twisted…I felt this voice inside me wanting to scream out once again, and I felt a wave of sweat, a shivering sense coming through me as I was finding the courage to speak my mind

It all started when the discussion was focused in the development of counselling training in Russia: deciding to undertake a training programme on a discipline (i.e. counselling) that doesn’t exist as a profession in your country, difference in teaching styles, the attitude/expectation to be taught by experts etc etc….Oh My God…how much I had to go though to realise my dream of becoming a counsellor! Do you have any idea of how it feels to live in a country that your qualifications, experience, potential are not enough to get a job? Do you know what it means to have to leave your comfort zone for a good few years in order to pursue something that means much more that a profession within your identity and yet, it doesn’t even have a name in your country? And I have so many other questions that are taking place inside me at the moment but I cannot put them into words, as if I am forgetting my English, as if I deliberately want to forget my English for a while…because IT HURTS

This culture has invaded me; it has invaded my identity…in constructive and destructive ways. Coming to England has given me a lot but has also taken sth away from me…I do not have a home, a sense of home….not now, not yet at least

As I was listening to the comments around the experiences of being in Russia and all the possible explanations that were coming with all that discussion…it was so much obvious to me that something so fundamentally profound –not being able to verbalise it but sensing it moving in my tummy – was missing, was not being perceived, was not being understood…I felt a voice in me being denied

I was thinking: I cannot bear British arrogance, I cannot bear living in a culture which is so dominant in attitude and it seems to even dismiss this reality…I feel sick of it! It’s painful. England is a country of equal opportunities, but it’s not really…so many policies are in place but so often they are not applied…and so many other examples, gosh! I am sinking

I can see the positive regard of people in the group…however the discussion makes me feel so uncomfortable. I feel being dominated

And I am often wondering: Do I come across as rude when I express my opinion according to English standards? And what’s that all about British politeness? It so often immobilises me, it so often steals my voice away…am I really being rude?

I am struck by how many things are taken for granted when you are at your comfort zone, when you are within familiar territory…I find myself thinking: ‘it’s amazing how English people, although such a multicultural society, feel so uncomfortable around unfamiliarity: everybody has to speak English etc etc’…am sure that’s true for all of us, we all feel comfortable with what’s familiar…but what’s this arrogance all about?

I come from a culture which, historically, had been invaded repetitively by so many nations even until recent years…I guess what it means to lose your home, to have your culture violated, is in my genes, it’s trans-generational….England has been, historically, so dominant…..and I am experiencing this dominance, together with hypocrisy, so often…in everyday life……with remarkable exceptions of some true souls….but I see them as exceptions

I want to cry and I am not sure what I want to cry for…I will let it sit for a bit

Three women from the group came to speak with me after the session ended:

One woman came to tell me that she feels ashamed for being British sometimes, that my sayings made her see clearly certain things that remain unsaid and that she can’t believe that even counsellors, who are supposed to be more self-aware, are dismissing them or seem in denial about them

Another woman came to tell me that she wants to understand more of what I have tried to express because she does feel that whenever she is in the presence of a person from another culture, in life or even in counselling, she tends to feel protective and over-careful…and has the tendency to treat them as if they are inferior, as if they are second-class citizens….and yet as a person-centred counsellor, she believes that she is meeting the person, no matter what they carry in their script….I feel this subtle aspect of person-centredness is a bit more complex as it is often perceived

A third woman came to talk me, with watery eyes, to say that what I have been saying brought up a very emotional reaction for her. She told me of her son living in Japan for 2 years and having a very powerful experience f feeling embraced by the culture and also about certain experiences of herself being really in tuned with certain people from different cultures….and then she shared with me that she is the wife of a second generation Indian man and how much he has culturally suffered in this country

I am feeling that what I am writing here is not grasping what I felt there and what I feel now…I guess I am in pain, I am angry and at the same time enthused by how rich in experience this matter is and how it seems to be misunderstood or underestimated, even from counsellors! So, I feel even more motivated to do my research…but am also scared, whether it hurts me too much, whether I am over ambitious….maybe I shall discover certain firm boundaries to put around it in order to contain the research itself and myself in it…am not sure when or how this can be done…I have to speak to William about it

And C.…I felt C. really heard me…because I did feel into the group that a voice was being denied…is there a parallel process there? Spirituality as a voice denied…but also the cultural complexity being denied…? And of course the spiritual crisis that goes hand by hand to a cultural identity crisis? Interesting

I feel the need to retreat myself to P. Laungani’s book (p.48-50), to go and re-read the pages where he describes the model developed by Bochner (1982) around the four different strategies usually adopted by the person living in another culture in order to deal with their host culture. Those are:

1. They may hastily reject the values of the adopted culture, leading to attitudes of chauvinism, racism and nationalism

2. They may choose to denigrate and reject their own culture. The psychological vacuum and the existential alienation created by this rejection may be filled by a blind, ‘swing’ to the adopted culture.

3. They may vacillate between two cultural norms, unable to work out the means by which these two may be reconciled. Painfully aware that they belong neither to the host cultural group, nor to their own cultural group such people may feel marginalized. This can lead to ‘identity confusion’ and ‘identity crisis’

4. They may genuinely attempt to integrate into the new culture by acquiring a set of compatible and complementary value systems from their indigenous and from their adopted culture, which would lend meaning and significance to their lives. In other words, they may acquire the rationality and the wisdom to appreciate the positive values of both cultures, and bring about a mentally and spiritually healthy integration of their identities

As I am reading these 4 strategies, I have tears of exasperation and hope as I read the fourth one cause I know I do not fall into that group, since I experience all this suffering, but I so much crave/hope for this stage…if it is possible to come. I am particularly touched by the word ‘spiritually’ as well since I have this tacit knowledge that those two –cultural identity and spiritual balance- come hand by hand

So, where am I? Is the rage I am experiencing a sign that I am in total rejection, am I a mad nationalist, a racist? All I know right now is that I am in touch with what English culture ‘does to me’ which is painful, not all in all but very often

Have I rejected my own culture? I am also aware of the fact that I feel so ‘uncomfortable’ in what used to be my own home…am often very critical to the Greeks and Greek-ness…I want to attempt to go back but am also scared of the anticipated alienation feeling, even there…and I know that I had to lose my home in order to understand my Greek-ness…I had to lose this familiarity in order to really experience what my culture is

Maybe I mostly fall into the third attitude, which is extremely painful. I feel restless…there is definitely an identity crisis

Besides the question around how can I survive this identity crisis as a person, the question inside me is also how can I do this type of research when is such a crisis? Can the researcher be in a cultural crisis (and as a result spiritual one as well) and yet do this research on culture and spirituality? Is it ok/fair/healthy to feel that vulnerable on this journey? And a note to Uncle Moustakas: It wouldn’t make any sense to do anything other than Heuristic here…but it hurts…my hope it that it will be a healing journey as well.

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6 Comments for
“The invisible dynamics of ‘moving between cultures’”

  1. The English ‘have the right’ to be dominant and racist to the Greeks as the Greeks ‘have the right’ to be dominant to the Africans! Unfortunately our world constists of 3 types of countries
    1)Business class countries (such as USA,UK….)
    2)Economy class countries(such as Greece,Portugal….) and
    3)cargo class countries(Africa….)

    Think…if you were an American wouldn’t you feel superior to the 2) and 3) ?
    If you were African wouldnt you feel inferior to the 1) and 2) ?
    Now that you are Greek (eventhough you dont feel like one 100%)dont you feel inferior to the 1) and superior to the 3)?????????
    Come on,be honest after all you are a councellor!
    Let me give you an example just to stress my point of view:
    We all have heard of the ancient greeks,right???Well i think that the Americans and the English feel exactly the same as the ancient greeks were feeling 2500years ago!Why?Easy….ancient Greek was the dominant language,ancient Greece was the centre of culture,art,democracy etc.,ancient Greece was the centre of shipping….. and lets not forget that the Atheneans called all foreigners ‘barbarians’
    So why today should be different???
    It was all about power then,its all about power now.
    Closing…I just remembered what an old flatmate had told me a long time ago (he was from kenya)
    “2500 years ago Greece was the dominant country,today is the USA.2000 years from now it may be Africa,s turn to be the dominant.
    (no comments)
    Sorry for my poor english (after all it is the dominant language and we all have to write english!)
    I hope you dont think I am too cynical…

  2. I respect intilda’s opinion.

    But I have some questions:

    – Do strong men ‘have the right’ to be dominants and racists to women?
    – Do rich Americans ‘have the right’ to be dominants and racists to poor Americans ?
    – Does an adult ‘have the right’ to be ‘dominant’ and ‘racist’ to children?
    – Does a rich Afrikan ‘have the right’ to be ‘dominant’ and ‘racist’ to a pure English?
    – Does a rich but low IQ American ‘have the right’ to be dominant and racist to a poor but well educated Indian or Brasilian or Egyptian?

    etc etc etc

    Questions can be answered only if we clearly decide and declare our criteria.

    If our criteria of domination are the power of money and politics or maybe the physical strength then Intilda is right! The ‘stronger’ wins. American women are ‘b’ or ‘c’ class citizens because American men are physicaly stronger! A poor English is ‘c’ class because a rich Afrikan is ‘a’ class!!! etc etc 🙂

    But if we agree that our criteria are different, like excellence of actions, education, kindness, intelligence, knowledge, or maybe the emotional and mental quality of an individual, then, in my opinion, we have to reconsider and find the real answers. Our ‘truth’ is based on our criteria.

    We live in an unfair world. Some people steal from others all their rights, opportunities, freedom etc etc because they have the ‘power’. Some countries steal from others all their wealth and freedom because they are stronger. Are these strong countries considered as ‘Business class’ ? 🙂
    We have to fight against the injustice everywhere, for our own and other people’s rights. If we accept the current criteria of ‘human accreditation’ or ‘human discrimination’, we are not the solution of the problem –> we are the problem!

    By the way,

    The ‘Ancient Greeks’ had something that ‘Modern people’ of the ‘first class’ countries don’t have at all:
    They had their own absolute intimate civilization. They had invented and developed almost everything. Phylosophy, Maths, Literature, Medicine, Poetry, Astronomy, Music, Athletics, Commerce and all other known sciences & activities. All modern scientists of the ‘first class’ countries have impropriated most of their knowledge from the Ancient Greeks. 🙂 1/3 of the English and other ‘modern’ languages are based on Greek. All words for scientific terms, business, emotions, etc etc are Greek. Although we think that English is a dominant language, you have to accept that is very very Greek influenced 🙂

    Sorry for my poor English (after all it’s difficult for a Greek to learn and write in a language that is a transmutation of his)

    I hope you don’t think i am cynical too (‘cynical’ is Greek word)

  3. The debate has already started!!! Thank you both ‘Intilda’ and ‘Stochastic’ for your contributions…..I do agree with Stochastic that no matter what society cultivates as value or norm, if it is against what we know as goig against fairness and justice, we shouldnt compromise but fight, no matter what…the world is going insane and this is a fact but this doesnt mean we shall just accept it passively and live according to the corrupt, anti-human values

    and…answering to ‘Intilda’s’ question about whether I feel inferior to the Americans or superior to the Africans…well NO…and this is an answer that has resulted in me after extensive work with myself in personal therapy, exploring relationship dynamics etc………what I am aware of is that society wants to make us feel like that because Big Powers want to hypnotise us and cultivate certain attitudes so that we can be more easily brainwashed… the whole debate is political as well…..the answers can be found within one’s self, if strong enough to challenge what is so often imposed

    thank you once again, I love this dialogue!

  4. Dear stochastic,
    ten years ago at the age of 21 as a university student I was fighting for human rights,respect,equality etc. I was going to demonstrations and making my own personal revolution against to this unjustice world.
    I felt i was always in the margin,always part of a minority.The music i liked, the places i was going out,the ideas that i had.
    The wierd think was that I had friends from “both sides” the rebellious and lets say the passive ones.I remember the agony I was feeling as I was trying to fit in these two different worlds, since I always felt that I belong somewhere in the middle. I disliked the passiveness of the second group but i also realised the “we have to fight everything and everyone” ideology was not for me and couldnt really be applicable and workable (maybe in an utopia)
    Today,as my revolutionary self has faded out, I realize in order for me to survive in this discriminatory world (this means keeping your job,have social life etc) I had to leave some things behind me.
    You may say that i betrayed my beliefs and even worse myself.Maybe at some level I did.Maybe its all part of growing up.
    Dont misinterpret my point of view on the 3 types of countries.I may want even more than you to be part of a fair and loving society but I have seen that some are more equal than others.
    When I read what you wrote about the ancient greeks (“they had their own absolute intimate civilisation,they developed almost everything…)I thought your selection of these words is extremely arrogant!!So do the words that you used when describing this civilisation indicate indirectly that the ancient greeks had the right to feel superior,since they “invented almost everything”??Do you-without realizing it-accept this reality and maybe even justifying it?(If so, you agree with me!!)Do you mean that the Americans must not feel superior because they didnt invent anything and they based their civilisation and their achievements on the ancient greeks??I hope this is not the case because if it was, you would be hypocrite!!!And for crying out loud the Spartians killed their own unhealthy babies, the Atheneans had slaves and kept women at home!!The criteria that you wrote, havent changed.I believe its a human need,an archetype,to want to dominate,to want to make war…money…to expand,to be more powerful than others.And i thing you are more racist than i am!!!!!What Im trying to say is that we all are racists.
    So really the question for me is if we-the human kind- have the strength to fight this structure? or even worse and pessimistic if we can really fight an archetype????
    On the other hand we can fight only for the fight,only for the joy that resistance gives
    But at the end of the day we see most of our co-fighters to give up and we realize that maybe we have to do the same thing for the sake of our sanity!!!!!
    Thanks for listening

  5. Dear intilda,

    I have the sense that we are from 2 different worlds maybe from 2 different planets!
    That’s normal, we are different. 🙂

    It’s very difficult to express in details my point of view just in a few lines, in a blog’s comment, in a different language.
    So please agree with me that we cannot do much synthesis in this dialogue.

    The current ‘archetype’ you mentioned is an invention of the ‘modern civilization’. It is a manipulated version of history from the western ‘modern historicals’. Maybe you have to reconsider your historical sources and see what was the real meaning of a ‘slave’ in Ancient Greece or if Spartians really killed their own unhealthy babies. If you really want to find the truth, you have to read REAL history. From your message seems that your knowledge of real history is scrappy. But thats normal, schools and universities teach the manipulated version of history or better they manipulate the criteria of understanding it. Of course it’s difficult for a non Greek to read ancient history from reliable sources because there is not understanding of the original script (ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians etc etc didn’t speak English :)).

    I am not leaving in a dream, i live in the real world like you, a world that only warriors survive. But in my opinion there are many different kinds of warriors. It’s a matter of criteria once again what kind of warrior each person chooses to be.

    I was at the university too, not only as a student but also as a teacher. In my experience some people at their early ages fight for human rights, espect, equality etc, and years later are ‘safe’ with their jobs and families, having the power and money, so they stop fighting, or they choose to ‘fight’ without really doing that.

    The TV and press  propagate on a 24/7/365 basis the pattern of the ‘good’ citizen, who lives and thinks in the proper ‘correct’ way. This world is full of ‘safe’ people who decide other people’s rights!

    Racism, as a word, is purposily misinterpreted by the system. The system calls ‘racists’ all individuals that are opposed to the procedure of ‘mixing cultures without synthesis’ and ‘homogenizing’ humanity.

    Of course I AM a racist, i don’t believe that all people are the same, i don’t believe that idiots are equal to smart, hard workers are equal to the lazy, educated are equal to non educated, killers and thiefs are equal to others.

    I DO believe in equal opportunities, equal human rights and treatment but we have to ask “bussiness class” countries WHY they don’t offer that equality to other countries as an option or even IF they REALLY offer it to their own citizens.

    I believe that every person has an individual mental and emotional quality and value.

    Unfortunately the evaluation and meaning of ‘Quality’, ‘Equality’, ‘Racism’, ‘Opinion’ and ‘Truth’ are matters of subjective criteria.

  6. Dear stochastic,
    I strongly agree with you that neither can we express in detail our view in a blog, nor understand what exactly a person is saying.How could we, since people may not understand each other when they talk face to face…
    As for your comment on “real history” Im not sure if there is such a thing…you can by all means argue that if we study many and different historical resources and testimonies etc, we are able of descovering and writing ‘history’.Maybe.
    On the other hand we have to be cautious since historians are only people just me and you,carrying their own ideas,preconceptions and why not misconceptions…
    I decided to be brief this time…Im really tired and not in a mood to debate 🙂
    just a last question:have you never never ever be a little bit of racist to someone who was not so….rich than you or so beautiful than you or I dont know different than you….
    (I dont say that such a thing is good or anything like that…I dont like it myself…but I dont know….maybe we sometimes feel superior to other people when we really shouldnt have.
    ps:hope atrapos give us again the opportunity for a debate

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