It is amazing how being in a different culture helps us better understand who we are and culture of our own.
It first hit me how Russian I am when I started teaching Russian at Colorado State University. I had students who came to the US when they were two years old and didn’t know a word in Russian but aspired to learn about the country their family came from; I had students who immigrated when they were teenagers and spoke Russian with an interesting soft accent and already showed some signs of loosing the language because they never got to use it; there were american students who were just interested in the country itself. And all together we navigating a very tricky journey of learning a new language, but I was the one who was supposed to be steering the boat. And I did my best. I had to explain concepts, words, tenses, and proverbs, give examples, help translate and express ideas. But I felt like it was new waters for me too and as my students discovered the beauty and complexity of Russian, I rediscovered myself through my native language.
We are taught that “I is the last letter of the alphabet”. No wonder that when we grow up we can’t stand up for ourselves at work, some of us have difficulty saying no and feel guilty for putting their own needs first from time to time. We say “Be of use in the place where you were born” and that, combined with the vastness of the country, results in relatively low mobility. We believe that “life is like a zebra – there is a bright stripe after after every dark stripe”, which means there is luck and there is bad luck, and it often doesn’t depend on you at all. Just wait it out. It will pass. And we often do wait until life will magically change without our interference in it. And when it doesn’t we blame “the destiny”.
What an adventure it was! I looked at myself through a new lens and saw opportunities and limitations. And the latter I am working on getting rid of.
Tell people you meet about your culture, about your language, share your country’s history how you see it. You will think you are teaching, while you yourself will be learning.