Brygida, from Poland, exudes an air of professionalism, polish, and practicality.
A librarian in a local town library, she reigns over her world of books with enviable skill and ease. This has been her community of sorts.
Not long ago, she joined our luncheon for international wives. It was her second time to participate, and she has developed some solid friendships with a few others in the group.
But what she shared later blew me away.
“Having lived in the U.S. for 17 years and as a proud owner of U.S. citizenship, I never considered myself an international wife. Yet, yesterday at the gathering, I felt connected in a very special way.…"
Brygida’s story is one that plays over again and again in our modern world. So many people now grow up in one culture but move to and adopt another. And, if they're on the move regularly, finding a community to fit into can be a challenge.
I think of such people in terms of the Venn diagram.
Finding Joy in the Intersections of Life
Venn diagrams were always a favorite of mine in early math. I loved the concept behind them. Two or more different sets coming together, overlapping and producing something new.
Little did I know this would provide one of the metaphors for my life.
See, I love intersections of life, of perspectives, of energy that happen when people from different walks of life, especially different cultures, come together.
I revel in the dynamism of such connections. The sparks. The greater masterpiece which emerges.
We can study the behavior, customs and values of a people group and discover so much. We can compare what we learn with our own set of cultural characteristics. As we do this, we are engaging in cross-cultural study.
Cross-cultural comparisons prove valuable in understanding life on a continuum. One culture is more individualistic in nature (Anglo-European American), while another is communal, or group (Japanese, for example). These factors play into behavior in a myriad of seen and unseen ways.
The caveat in cross-cultural comparison and contrast is you need to be cautious about judgment and stereotyping.
Beware of the Stereotype Phantom!
What do I mean? Simply, “All Americans are abc, all Japanese are xyz. All Muslims are 123, and all Hindus are 789.” Stereotype lumping can lead us into dangerous territory, both as we consume the news and interact with others from a different cultural background than our own.
We look at the rest of the world through our own cultural lens. We need to recognize and adjust for that fact. Becoming truly objective is near impossible. But adjusting our understanding to take into account our cultural biases is, indeed, possible.
While there is value in cross-cultural work, for me, the thrilling part has always been the overlap in the Venn diagram. It is the intercultural outcome of two or more cultures coming together, producing something entirely new.
Discovering Where We Belong
Over the years, I’ve been blessed to be a cultivator of intercultural opportunities, making connections and community. No question, I delight in creating and encouraging people from vastly different backgrounds, who otherwise might not have gotten a chance to meet, to connect and develop relationships.
What took place in Brygida’s heart the other day is one of those “masterpiece moments.”
She shared, “Some of those women [I met at the gathering] come and go as beautiful colorful birds; they stay with us for a time being and it is for us, residents, to enjoy their presence and make them welcome in our big home.”
This was an acknowledgement of responsibility. She came to realize her status, as a resident, put her in the position of being a welcomer.
“I learned the lesson. With those International Wives, the time might be short. But I am privileged to live here for good; they come and go,” she reflected.
This was also an acknowledgement of belonging.
“I think I found my place in this community. I am a wife for sure, I do speak with accent, I am proud of my origin, and I am open to meet new people and learn their stories. And I am part of both worlds, and it is good and reassuring. Thank God.”
Brygida found a new place of belonging, separate from her professional world of books and cataloguing systems.
And I am so glad she did!
How do you find belonging? Where do you “fit in?”