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About using ‘mother tongue’, teaching ‘Greek-home’ audience, ‘re-entry’ anxieties etc

Saturday, April 14th, 2007 @ 1:03 pm
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Posted in  Personal Process, Reflexivity, Training/CPD

I will soon teach a workshop titled “Cross-cultural counselling and the therapeutic relationship: exploring our cultural selves and cultivating cross-cultural empathy”.This will be my first teaching experience in my home country as a counsellor and interestingly enough i hold a lot of anxieties around that: How will the Greeks perceive me? How will I manage to teach in my first language when am so used to operate within my counselling role in english for years now? What sort of reactions will the topic of ‘culture’ provoke to the Greek colleagues? How will i be seen by the organisers, the Greek person-centred training institution?…I just realised that “what used to be my own/native culture is a whole new culture for me” !!! and i have so much anxiety around operating ‘within’ it…It is as if I have become a stranger, a foreigner in my own ‘home-land’…. This realisation, although anxiety-provoking, is quite interesting from a research point of view…In an attempt to seek some peer support around that, i send an email to my colleague S. who has spent years in the UK as a counsellor and has now returned back to Greece. She is going through similar kinds of processes. In my email to her, i wrote amongst else:

“it is my first time i will do sth like this in Greece and feel a bit nervous/anxious.Particularly around my use of greek language in a greek
context, also about how i will be perceived by the audience (I am too young for
Greek standards, although i have done so many things in terms of qualifications
and experience for my age…i worry that the Greeks might belittle me…?). How
do you feel around that?”

When reading those lines, I notice that my worries are around the use of language (returning to mother tongue in a particular role does not seem that easy), my age (there seems to be cultural attitudes around the question of which age somebody is expected to have achieved certain things and hold status…particulraly within the counselling profession that is broadly dominated by middle-aged practitioners) and my self-confidence as a professional (although i feel quite confident as a counsellor in the UK because i receive recognition and i was offered ‘jobs’ etc, i seem to be losing this to an extent when in Greece cause the profession in not recognised and therefore is not easy to transfer my qualifications and professional competency/idenity)

S. replied to my concerns by saying that:

“About how you feel about Greeks. I too bought JMcL’s book and I feel it helped
my greek tremendously! I have no other way of translating BUT the people at the institute should know good English and I often say something in English if it is too difficult and then someone translates. I have this all the time with my clients… it was terribly embarassing at start but now it is much better. I kind of accepted this part of the integration process, that some of the words will come in English. Dont worry about
ridiculing you!! If they do they are RUDE!! I understand that it is scarry to present in
a new audience. I feel this too. I tell myself that you are offering them something
important and if they dont respect it then it is their problem and they are ANAGWGOI.
One tip: I try not to say too much about my opinion. I say about what I have researched, what others say and I ask a lot to hear their voices. I make sure I get them in twos or
groups. In this way the focus is away from me. Ok if at the end I feel closer I do open
up and share more personal stuff.

Also I think there is great responsibility with the organisers themselves. They should tell you who is your audience and how to manage their ‘difficult’ students. Although sometimes ‘difficult’ students might find you refreshing. Generally presentations are hard work and teaching is one of themost stressful jobs so it is normal to worry…”

It was reassuring to hear all this from a colleague and it does show me once again that ‘culture’ and fitting in,belonging, feeling comfortable etc especially when one has lived in another culture for a log time is definitelly not an easy process…it seems to me that for culture to become visible, it needs to be seen in contrast to another one…this is why i find ithard to communicate such feelings with my family or friends in Greece that havent lived abroad

I am also thinking that i recently mentioned some of these processes to my therapist and he seemed to not be having a clue around what i was talking about….i felt he was ‘far away’ from that experience…too English in my eyes!!!….maybe am too Greek or too foreign in his eyes!…Gosh, how much BABEL in there really…and not ‘meeting’…this on its own shows that this area shall be researched somehow…or such processes shall find a place at least to be voiced….could this be the PhD? Can i manage with the emotional impact it brings? Or could i see the PhD as the ‘vehicle’ for my transitions and ‘cultural integration’? I leave this question to rest for now….I will sleep on it…I guess the answer will emerge gradually….maybe delivering the workshop in Greece will help, have to prepare for it…

PS: another dimension that i think is worth giving attention in relation to the above reflections is the fact that by delivering this workshop in Greece, it is the first time that I will talk about culture to my ‘own people’, i will be an ‘insider’, not a ‘foreigner’, in their eyes I will be ‘one of them’, regardless to the fact that I have studied, worked and still live abroad. Whenever  I talk about culture in the UK, I am the ‘foreigner’, and I am perceived as ‘exotic’ which makes me more ‘interesting’ to the audience…this leaves me with a feeling of ‘wonder’ about how it will be in Greece…it makes me nervous….but also curious…let’s find out really!


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