The New Normal in the 21st Century

September 22nd, 2016

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Police Robot sent on the mission to deactivate/detonate the suspicious object.

The “new normal” paid me a visit on September 20, 2016 at 7:02 AM PST. My husband and I woke to the sound of our neighbor knocking on our door alerting us to news that the police and bomb squad were outside our condominium building. A medium-sized pressure cooker was found sitting on the sidewalk directly in front of our building. In no time, our quiet non-descript neighborhood in West Los Angeles, was turned into a crime scene. LAPD had barricaded all roads and streets around us blocking all types of traffic.  The police robot was brought in which detonated the suspicious object. Luckily, the object was empty, no one was hurt though a little shaken. By 8:00 AM the police began lifting the barricades and one by one left the scene returning our neighborhood to normal.

This event happened at the heels of the bomb that exploded in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood over the weekend. The term I heard on the NPR news hour, following the Chelsea explosion, was that this is the “new normal.” For a second, I nodded in agreement; yes, this is now the new normal and we just have to continue with our lives. Yet, this is not the new normal at least not for those of us growing up in the 1970’s where the “new normal” was most likely originally introduced. In the 70’s, I was attending a boarding school in Bexhill-on-Sea, in Sussex County, England. This sleepy beach town, home to mostly blue-haired retirees and a couple of boarding schools, was the quintessential English town with charming tea shops and antique stores. Ensconced in the protective walls of my school, my classmates—fellow boarders from the four corners of the world—and I were hundreds of miles away from the terror and disruption experienced in European capitals like London, Munich, Rome and beyond. We did not have social media or round the clock cable news alerting us of terrorist attacks, but they existed and had become a part of our daily lives; the new normal.

Every morning, especially, in the last two years of my schooling, before the start of our classes, we would converge in the school’s small library and pour over the daily newspapers in preparation for a pop quiz to be delivered by our fastidious History teacher, Miss Wade, an Australian transplant. This exercise kept us abreast of the world, the ongoing war in Vietnam, the Cold War between the USA and USSR, the Watergate Scandal, terrorist threats and attacks by the Irish Republican Army (IRA), Spain’s Basque separatist group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), Italy’s Anni di Piombo (Years of Lead) and the Red Brigade, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the Libyans, Germany’s Red Army Faction aka Baader Mainhoff Gang, and other subversive groups with agendas to disrupt societies and topple governments. A day didn’t pass us by without news of a plane hijacking, explosion at an airport or Tube station in London, kidnappings of top government officials, and even the assassination of Aldo Moro, the Prime Minister of Italy. There was even the 1975 brazen hostage taking of oil ministers from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) who were meeting in Vienna, Austria by German and Arab terrorists led by Carlos the Jackal. And, let us not forget the brutal hostage taking and massacre of athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany. 

In September 1975, during a weekend visit to London, where I was going to spend the time with my father who was staying at the Hilton Hotel on a business trip, the lobby of the hotel became the target of a suspected IRA bomb explosion. My father and I had just the left the hotel to dine at a nearby restaurant and returned to find the entrance blocked off with police, ambulance and fire trucks parked outside in the driveway. Two people were killed and 63 people were injured in the main lobby. Londoners woke up the next day to the tragic news and set off to work, school, or on errands as before. It was the new normal.

Another time, in mid-70’s, when returning to England after a short holiday at home in Iran, the BOAC flight from Tehran to London made a surprise landing in Beirut, Lebanon. It may have been a technical problem which had forced the Captain to land us in Beirut. We were not allowed to disembark. I was most likely 13 or 14, traveling alone, something I did regularly on the trips between school and home and back. I had read about the civil war which had erupted in Lebanon and remember looking out the window of the airplane and through the darkness of the night, I could make out the silhouettes of tanks and military vehicles. It was an eerie sight and one that I remember clearly to this day. The plane sat on the tarmac for perhaps an hour but soon after takeoff the Captain apologized on the PA system for the unscheduled stop and explained how lucky we were to have taken off when we did as the airport had been the target of a bombing as soon as we were in the air.

In its March 25, 2016 article, The Telegraph includes a glimpse into what the world was like in the 70’s and 80’s, marred by terrorist attacks fueled by various governments and insurgent groups. The world, as the old saying goes, has not just recently gone to hell in a hand basket. Yes, there’s no denying the horrific impact and loss of lives brought on by this century’s recent terrorist attacks in the U.S., Norway, Spain, Belgium and France, the ravages of the Civil War in Syria, the Refugee crisis, the savagery of religious fanatics who will go unnamed as their mere mention gives their heinous acts credit.  In no way am I belittling or dismissing this century’s horrible acts of violence. The present is as equally horrible as the past. The new normal has been with us throughout history. I always say that the only way to understand or make sense of the present is to know our history. It will not lessen the grief for the loss of a loved one or a way of life, but knowing the lessons learned from the past offer us perspective and focus to understand the present so that we can courageously navigate our way through it empowered without feeling afraid and helpless. It may sound trite or simplistic, but there is something to be said for the two words “Carpe Diem,” so beautifully memorialized in the film “Dead Poet’s Society,” by the late actor/comedian Robin Williams. The lessons of the past are there for us to learn from. We need to know the past in order to survive the present with its currents threats and Seize the Day.

Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert

jasmin_2015
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert is the President and CEO of the Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute (ACEI).

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The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.

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Education For All – A UNESCO Challenge

September 16th, 2016

unesco

On September 13, 2016, ACEI’s President and CEO, Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert was interviewed by CCTV (China Central Television)-America on the current state of education and literacy around the world.

 

The United Nations has admitted that It has been unable to meet its goal of getting all of the world’s children into school. Right now, some 263 million children and youth are out of school. The United Nations has previously set a goal of educating all children by the year 2030. A new report from UNESCO, however, says that this goal is too ambitious and that at the current rate of progress this goal cannot be met until the year 2042.

The inability to avail universal education to children has broad implications for not only societies, but also economies.  We need to ask the following questions:

  • Why is there is such a divide between rich and poor countries when it comes to education?
  • How will the limitations of poor countries in enrolling their children in school until 2042 affect their opportunity for growth, when rich countries have met this already met this target.
  • How does a society benefit when its children are provided access to primary school education?
  • What are the biggest obstacles in achieving this goal?

UNICEF answers these questions in its 2007 report which may be summarized into one word: lack. The inability of the poorer countries to meet these goals has to do with the capacities of their governments and those in public office.  Lack is the key obstacle to providing children access to free primary school education. There is lack of both financial (absence of a functioning tax base and budget priorities) and human (absence of skilled manpower) resources.  There is a lack of responsibility on the part of governments refusing to accept obligations without political commitment to do anything about it. There is lack of coordination between the different branches of governments and its various offices. There is also a lack of knowledge and appreciation for the benefits and values of education. Uneducated and illiterate parents may not realize that they too have an obligation to make sure their children are schooled and educated.

Where there is a deficit in a strong education plan, we will see country’s overall health and social and economic success in peril.  As Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert stated in her interview: “literacy is currency.” A nation of educated and literate people is one that can pull itself out of its vicious cycle of poverty and economic stagnation.

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The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.

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Sharing a Reality (in International Education)

September 8th, 2016

minds

With the oh-so-fun election season in full swing here in the U.S., it is more difficult than usual to ignore how people can operate in such different realities. People can’t seem to agree on what is a “fact”. In many cases, this is for good reason, because so much around us has subjective meaning.

However, a shared reality does seem to exist. If it didn’t, then mathematics would be meaningless. The “fact” that 1+1=2 is true for you, for me, and for everyone connects us all, independent of our subjective realities. Fantastically, this also seems to mean that if a group of different people living in their own subjective worlds can collectively learn enough about our shared reality, they can successfully invent something that will blast off from our planet and fly to a precise place in the previously unexplored depths of space-time! And then do it again, and again!

Working in international education with credentials, I sometimes feel like I’m searching for relationships between separate “educational realities”.  Of course, credentials and educational situations are complicated issues involving a significant amount of subjective human behavior. As a result, simple arithmetic is insufficient for understanding comparative education, and we may never have credential evaluation solutions as precise as the results of a mechanical-physics equation. Nonetheless, I certainly believe we can reduce biased decision making in our field and improve fair treatment of applicants by using transparent and consistent, evidence-oriented methods. Eventually, if we collect and exchange enough information in a coherent manner, we might even build our own shared reality in international education!

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Drew Feder

Drew Feder co-founded Credential Consultants in 2007 and is a lead designer of Credential ConnectionTM software and the GRADE DatabaseTM, as well as co-author of the GRADE MethodTM. Drew began working in the credentials evaluation industry in 2004 as an evaluator and immediately became involved in management of production and customer service. Since then, Drew served as a Communications Director, General Manager and Evaluator for organizations including the Association of International Credential Evaluators (AICE). Drew studied at Johns Hopkins University and Colorado College, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in International Political Economy in 2003, and is acting President of Credential Consultants.” www.credentialconsultants.com

Credential Consultants is an Affiliate Member of Association of International Credential Evaluators

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Sister Deborah and Ghana Jollof: Tasty Rice

This is a culinary tale–or rather competition–West African style.

Last Sunday morning, I heard a story and song on NPR’s Weekend Edition about a rice rivalry in West Africa, particularly Ghana vs. Nigeria, surrounding a ubiquitous rice dish in the region (Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal) called Jollof. The tune’s nice grooves and rhymes caught my ear, as did the conversation between host Linda Wertheimer and Ofeibia Quist Arcton, the Ghanaian journalist and NPR reporter. (When in Senegal, Quist Arcton finishes her stories with a wonderful flourish: “Ofeibia Quist Arcton, Dahkaaaaaaaaaah.” I’ve always loved her style.)

Ghana
Ghanain restaurant menu. Photo by Rachel Strohm (CC BY-ND 2.0) via Flickr

The song “Ghana Jollof” is sung by Sister Deborah (b. Deborah Owusu-Bonsu), a popular Ghanain TV host, model, and academic, who holds a Master’s Degree from the University of Arts, London. The lyrics were written by her brother, Wanlov (“one love?”) the Kubolor. The song basically postulates that the Ghanaian version of the rice dish is better than the Nigerian version. The basic ingredients include rice, tomatoes, onion, chili pepper, salt, pepper; Ghanaian and Nigerian versions add goat, lamb, or beef. The Senegalese version (not part of the culinary showdown) uses fish. Between Ghana and Nigeria it’s a competitive recipe, so think West African Top Chef.

Intrigued by the story, I searched for the video and found it online. It’s quirky and fun, and a little mysterious. Why are those guys dressed up as women? Folks are shown on the up-and-up, driving a 6-series BMW convertible.

I had fun with this, and I hope you do too. For those of you interested in trying the dish, here is the Ghanian vegetarian recipe. And the competing Nigerian version:

toms

Tom Schnabel, M.A.

Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Blogs for Rhythm Planet
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons
www.tomschnabel.com

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How to Be a Responsible Foreign-Language Learner and Speaker

August 25th, 2016

words

As participants in the 2016 Many Languages One World essay contest, we had to submit an essay on multiculturalism and multilingualism. Writing about multiculturalism and multilingualism is a tough and broad task, but what we can do, as individuals, is write about our own experience. 

As a student in Chinese department and as a traveler, I do not believe in any so-called “clash of civilizations”, or in any “culture shock”. “The other” is always the result of a process of image-making. Moreover, I am strongly convinced that most of the distinctions we rely on are constructs and artificial distinctions, used by dominant groups to justify unequal situations and discrimination. Learning foreign languages aims to explore interstices, never to widen gaps. 

I would like to explain why my experience of multiculturalism and multilingualism has fostered a strong sense of responsibility, and has motivated my political and social commitment.

I was born in France twenty years ago, and was brought up in ten different countries, among which Spain, South Korea, Canada and China. I have been moving every one or two years because of my parents’ job as International School French teachers. I can relate to many different cultural habits and cultural backgrounds. “Where do you come from?” is a question I feel very uncomfortable with. Because I am unable to answer it and because experience has proven, it doesn’t actually tell a lot about the person you’re speaking to. I don’t feel like I belong to a specific country and don’t feel attached to one single language. I don’t want to choose between countries and languages. The first language I learnt was Finnish. My brother and I recently saw some videos of us speaking Finnish together, but we can’t understand a word anymore. It’s one layer among our multi-layered, multi-dimensional life. Since then, my little sister arrived in our family, adopted from China, and my brother left the French school system to take the International Baccalaureate. My parents have moved to Tashkent, in Uzbekistan, and started learning Russian. When we get together in France every summer, we speak bits and pieces of French, English and Mandarin Chinese. Each language allows us to express our ideas, hint at common references, play on words in a different way. In our case they are always related to a certain time period, linked to certain friendships, landscapes, food, books, movies and educational systems we’ve experienced and share, which thus inform our approach to each language. As my sister said once, what we truly share is our story, our passing by in many places and never settling down.

This had led me to think identity is not an enclosed and immutable entity, identity is evolution, identity is change, making one’s way between adapting and conflicting. Identity is like a tangled web, tying together places you lived in, people you met or crossed paths with, what you’ve seen and experienced. In my case, I feel that what has primordially influenced me are the most unbearable things I have witnessed. People suffering from leper, from hunger and thirst, children working in terrible conditions and whom childhood was stolen away, eager to escape from poverty and war, in the places I’ve visited or lived in. You can’t forget these things. You can only pretend, but somewhere deep inside, it’s calling out for justice and urging you to do something. I feel this is what ties all the puzzle pieces of my scattered life together.

Therefore my political and social concerns have always been the very basis, the starting point in the appreciation of the world and people around me. I have been volunteering for several NGOs. I have been working in Pnomh Penh for the NGO Pour un Sourire d’Enfant (For a Child’s Smile), which takes care of children living in slums and dumps and offers them access to healthcare and education. I participated in the planning of Charity Runs in Taipei and other cities I lived in. When I was in Paris I participated in helping homeless people and families to fill in paperwork and have access to basics. I have been writing down all their stories and hope to get you to read them some day. What revolted me is, some people would sometimes stop near me and say we – volunteers – were encouraging the present-day “invasion” of “immigrants” and poor populations in France. Some seem to consider solidarity as crime – but as I said, I don’t make distinctions between “us” and “them”, and by helping them I’m helping us. Recently I have been working in Lyon for the Secours Populaire, helping out in annual events and working to improve the reading and writing skills as well as self-confidence of children left behind. Wherever I’ve been I have felt the same emergency. Wherever I will be living, and wherever you live, there is probably something going wrong outside your front door and you can always do something, at your level, to instigate change. Multi-culturalism is about lending a hand to others, wherever you come from and wherever they come from.

Moreover, I believe that we have a duty to reflect on our ability to bring some change, not only as young people but also as students in Language Departments. I am studying in the Chinese department of my University. I think it is important for us to concentrate on building “cultural bridges” : we can study common, parallel aspects in order to create dialogues rather than orchestrate sensational “West-East” breaking points. For instance last year I have read some interesting studies on links between some French twentieth century surrealist works and early Chinese Daoist works such as the Zhuangzi : provocation, striking images, humor, rejecting of forged boundaries and rigid categories. Drawing parallels often teaches us a lot more and is definitely more stimulating. Also, I would like to emphasize the fact that cultural understanding should never be taken for granted. We have to fight for it. Some of my classmates in the Chinese Department, studying Chinese language and culture at a high level, have never been in a Chinese speaking country, have no intention of going there, no desire to learn more about or meet people who live there – because, as one of them told me once, their interest in Chinese is only “theoretical”, “aesthetic” – and sometimes they have harsh, shocking words, and many prejudices against Chinese people and culture – very dangerous ideas.

I plan on maybe becoming a researcher in Chinese philosophy or history; whatever I do later on, I hope I will never separate my work and my ideas. I was blamed once for refusing to complete an exercise in one of my Chinese courses. The problem was, the title was “Why women and men do not think alike” and the sentences we had to complete and read were very insulting. The teacher respected and understood my choice, but one of my classmates told me I should learn to separate the student and the “feminist” – that is schizophrenia – and then explained, China “never had and still does not have any feminist ideas” – which is completely false. Essentialism and distinctions between political and academic spheres are recurrent obstacles, and yet they can be overcome by raising awareness about our responsibility, our role as foreign-language learners and mediators. The issue is too important in our world today to be ignored.

That’s what I would like to conclude with: learning languages and traveling is a good start, but it is not enough. We need to stand up, and take action for what we believe in. We are responsible for what we do – and what we don’t do. Learning foreign languages is an urgent necessity but it won’t help if it’s just about playing with sounds and alphabets. It’s about making the others’ fear, anger and hope, our own.”

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Léa Buatois

About Léa Buatois: Léa was one of 60 winners of the 2016 international essay contest of Many Languages, One World® (MLOW) that included students from 36 countries and 54 universities. Her essay, shared in this blog, was selected from a pool of over 3,600 entrants. Many Languages, One World is organized by ELS Educational Services, Inc., and the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI). Léa  was born in Dijon, France, in 1996. Her parents teach in French international schools around the world. Because of her parents’ job as French teachers abroad, she has been moving a lot, approximately every one or two years. The first language she spoke was Finnish, and later she started learning English, French and Mandarin Chinese. She is now studying in the Chinese Department of the Ecole Normale Supérieure of Lyon, France. She is interested in becoming a researcher in Chinese philosophy or history, or working in cultural diplomacy or international relations. She love traveling, reading and writing.

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AN EVALUATOR’S JOURNEY

August 19th, 2016

Sunset

When I accepted my mother’s invitation to accompany her to a cocktail party, I did so reluctantly. It was July 1982 and as a freshly minted college grad with a BA in Political Science the last thing I wanted to do was attend a party with my mother. It turned out to be the best thing I could have done as I left the party with not one but three job offers. I decided to forgo the offer of working at a law office (even though I was toying with the idea of going to Law School), or a real estate office (numbers were not my forte) and chose instead to accept the hostess’s invitation to work at her private not-for-profit Foundation that specialized in international education research and evaluation. The rest, as they say is history. Over a course of thirteen years, I worked my way up the proverbial ladder from file clerk, to junior then senior evaluator, assistant to associate director and finally as Executive Director. Bitten by the entrepreneur spirit and an MBA in hand, I bid goodbye to my mentor and founded the Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute (ACEI) in 1994.

You can say I was born into the field of International education. Beginning from an early age by insisting on “working” at the education firm my mother headed in Tehran, Iran, to attending an international boarding school in England, and continuing my higher education in the U.S. The same is true for my brother and business partner, Alan Saidi, who joined me at ACEI in 1996 as Senior VP and COO. Together, we have infused into ACEI our personal life experiences of having lived in three different continents and benefiting from three different education systems (Iran, UK, and USA). Our mission has always been to make ACEI a company that truly cares for and values its international candidates who are considering to further their education, or qualify for employment, immigration or professional licensing or maybe they are displaced because of war and conflict and seeking refuge in the U.S.

Our own experiences, as international students morphed into immigrants, have enriched our understanding of the dreams of international students, immigrants and the plight of refugees. We have also garnered a deep appreciation of world cultures and the varied nuances of education systems around the world. Together with a team of expert evaluators we pride ourselves in ACEI’s history of over 22 years of dedicated service in international credential evaluation and helping our colleagues at U.S. schools and colleges with the admission of students from around the globe. We continue to share our experience through our e-learning training programs, our blog AcademicExchange, our monthly newsletter The Report, and by contributing to publications on world education systems, and speaking at various international education conferences.

As an Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators, we at ACEI are committed in preparing evaluations by recommending U.S. educational equivalencies that are consistent and in compliance with the Association’s Standards and Best Practices.

If you are exploring opportunities of outsourcing your international student credential evaluations, we hope you will consider ACEI as your number one source. You and your international students will receive the personal care and attention we know you deserve. It is our mission to be of service and we want to be your trusted source for international credential evaluations.

Kind regards,
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert

jasmin_2015
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert is the President and CEO of the Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute (ACEI).

ACEI Logo with Slogan - FINAL

The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.

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I Am Not A Citizen Of The World

August 11th, 2016

worldpeople

No soy una ciudadana del mundo.

I come from Chile, located at the end of the world. Surrounded by the immensity of the Pacific Ocean, the loneliness of the Atacama Desert and the impenetrability of the Andes cordillera, it could be considered an island. 

I am not a citizen of the world.

I am fluent in Spanish, French and English. I am “cultured”; I know about history, art, music and poetry. I am “travelled”: I biked the Golden Gate Bridge, I went up the Eiffel Tour, I got the Padi diving course in Koh Samui, Surfed in Sydney and knew the leather tanneries in Fez. However, when I travel, I care about the amazing travel selfies that I post on instagram. I am not interested in knowing the locals, since they look different and their cultural traditions are ridiculous, obsolete, and nonsensical, compared to my “modern” and “liberal” way of life. I am not interested of Khmer Rouge and its impact in Cambodian citizens, and I certainly do not take advantage of my language skills to understand their beliefs, their stories, or their wounds.

Je ne suis pas une citoyenne du monde.

I do not care about global issues such as the energy crisis or the uncertainty of the refugees’ life. I have electricity and hot water in my house and recycling is too much effort. And when by accident I run into the international news happening in a faraway land, I quickly change the channel to the Turkish soap opera of the moment. After all, the facial expressions of Hurrem in Muhteşem Yüzyıl, are much more attractive than the death baby on the beach. My main concerns are the next season of Games of Thrones, the next Taylor Swift album or the 4 kilos that I desperately need to lose before my next trip to Costa Rica.

  1. Turkish soap opera: The Magnificent Century

 

I am not a citizen del mundo.

I do not have time to get informed of world news, search different sources of information and form my own opinions. I do not have time to do any volunteer work since my life is “crazy” and I have a lot on my plate; after all, you do not get to the 1013 level in Candy Crush Saga playing for only one month.

Je ne suis pas une citizen of the world.

I go to fancy restaurants, and the bill covers a month of an entire family living. I buy Louis Vuitton bags, while outside the store is a lady selling coconut water to support her family, and I bargain her down from two dollars to one. I love to buy cheap t-shirts, but I never ask myself how the price can be as low, and who is really paying for them.

Je ne suis pas una ciudadana of the world 

My favourite and most valuable relation is with my smartphone, since it provides all that I need. Wakes me up in the morning, keeps me company during the day and even introduces me to people to date, since I long lost the capacity to engage with others in real life. When I do not have Internet my phone, I feel disconnected. I am numb.

I am not une citoyenne del mundo

I live unconsciously. I do not connect to others in any significant way. I am a consumer. I try to fill my internal void with external things, and wonder why I never feel as happy or complete as the girls in the women’s magazines. Even when on my Instagram I have hundreds of likes and I seem to have it all, I do not want to acknowledge that “thing”. That “thing” on my chest. That “thing” that I conveniently “confuse” with hunger so I eat/drink/smoke to make it go away. That “thing” that accompanies me everywhere I go. That “thing” that never leaves me, not even in my dreams. That “thing” that gives me nightmares every night. Nightmares that I do not realize that I have or even question why or since when I have them.

Since most of the time I travel alone, is not unusual that people approach me to ask where I come from and why I am traveling by myself; people with epicanthic fold, women wearing veils, with different skin and hair colour, in summary people that I had never the interest to approach. It is when they kindly ask me about my culture and they tell me about theirs, when I realize how narrow my worldview is. How come they are interested in me but I am not interested in them? When they talk to be on the bus or in the hostel lobby I realize how much I focus on my belly and not on what surrounds me. I realize how loyally I mirror Chile. I am also an island. Surrounded by invisible but robust frontiers, locking me in a comfortable bubble wrapping me to everything dissimilar.

Out of nowhere, these strangers show me their openness, their kindness, their generosity, and their happiness, and strangely, it feels good, and that “thing” on my chest feels somehow warm. It is then when I realize I lack those attributes. I cannot demonstrate affection as easily and as openhandedly as they do. I wish I could, but that “thing” on my chest, seems to be cold and empty…

It is only because I am multilingual that I am able to talk with people from China, Lebanon, Malaysia, India, Nigeria and Russia about the common battles we face as women over coffee in Edinburgh. Women who would be unlikely to meet in Chile since the percentage of immigrants from China is 2%, and even less for the other mentioned countries. Our natural barriers seem to act like an impenetrable membrane from the rest of the world, which gives the illusion that we are the norm and the others are the different ones. Our barriers keep us physically, mentally and emotionally disconnected from the rest of the world. 

It is when we cry our hardships together and encourage one another that I discover and I am able to appreciate these former strangers as human beings. Humans with feelings, struggles and dreams, just like mine. And it is then when I feel something moving on my chest, and I notice an urge to help them to achieve their goals, and to do it together. Suddenly our conversations are not about the bachelor or what we consider attractive in a man, but about our adventures or misadventures, on how we misread cultural norms, and what we learnt from them. We compare traditions, customs and meaning and it is then when I start to appreciate their way of life, and recognize that maybe my way of life is not the best one, that it is certainly not entirely “right” or “good”. Theirs may be more “conservative” and traditional, but at the same time it is more respectful, cooperative and caring. Women are not displayed as sexual objects, people are not in an endless race to show who has more, and people think twice before judging someone else. Learning different perspectives and about different ways of life, allow me to think about new ways, new solutions and new possibilities. I am able to see the richness of our world and it opens my mental frontiers to consider that maybe if we share more, we can take what is good from each other´s cultures, build a new perspective together and share a new common path to improve our communities.

It is when they tell me about their life stories when I realize, that that news that I heard about war and the bombing of that country in a faraway land, becomes real. It is not something that happened to random people on TV. It is my friend’s life that was on the line. I had shivers and sorrow to hear her describe how her father decided to split the family members in several different cars to drive to the frontier in case one of them got bombed. The shivers and sorrow I was able to feel were only possible because we were able to talk the same language and were curious about each other experiences. 

It is then that I realize that multilingual ability is more than technical proficiency. Multilingual ability serve to something more than to land a job in an international company, have high scores in a given test or ask for directions in a foreign country.

Multilingual ability can be more. It can be a door to empathise and develop significant relations with others different than us that we would have never talked to since we would not understand each other. It can allow us to connect with others emotionally and break our stereotypes. It allows us to constantly redefine the meaning of kind words according to the langage we speak. It can be a way to engage with others as human beings and find what bonds us instead of what takes us apart.

Multilingual ability awarded me the gift to have new friends with diverse customs and worldviews. Friends who showed me their generosity and their love; friend who taught me how to develop the attributes I lacked. Attributes that moved and warmed up that “thing” inside me. It was with their friendship that I started filling up the everlasting loneliness that was with me, no matter how far I went or how many things I bought.

Multilingual ability threatens my perfect “casual” picture on Instagram of me looking at the horizon in the Grand Canyon, and replaces it for a messy picture in my wallet with all my friends sharing hummus, dumplings, patacones, fish and chips, chalakaka and pisco sour on a long table.

It is when I acknowledge the stereotypes I have,
It is when I start to connect emotionally with others and with myself,
It is when I question the fears I hold,
It is when I recognize what impact my actions have in the world,
It is when their issues become mine, and mine become theirs,
It is when my friends´ homes become mines,
It is when I see the richness of what we could create collectively,
It is when I live my life with others,
It is when I share the warm of heart,
It is when we realize that we are all in this together,
That I start my journey of becoming a citizen of the world.

maria
Maria Jose Ramirez C.

Maria Jose holds a PhD in Education from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, Master’s in Human Kinetics from the University of Ottawa, Canada, and degree in teaching from Ponrificia Universidad Catolice de Chile. She loves sports, nature and travel and for over 12 years has worked with athletes by motivating and inspiring them to not only win medals but achieve their own excellence not just at their sports, but also as human beings. Maria Jose was one of the 60 winners of the 2016 international essay contest of Many Languages, One World® (MLOW) that included students from 36 countries and 54 universities. Her essay, shared in this blog, was selected from a pool of over 3,600 entrants. Many Languages, One World is organized by ELS Educational Services, Inc., and the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI)

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