Saturday, July 9, 2011

Intercultural Relationships


My hope is for us to come together not only embracing shared beliefs and values, but acknowledging our differences in ways that promote respect and appreciation. To ask for a shared vision is a fair and legitimate human proposal; what is not fair and legitimate is to dictate the ways on how we get there. If we are to emerge from the long shadows that can engulf us, we must talk with each other, come to understand each other, and renew ourselves and our perceptions of each other.
-  Alma Abdul-Hadi Jadallah

You can live your life telling yourself that you choose your own path, that as long as you work for it you will end up with your dream job, the perfect social life and the perfect partner, but when love strikes (and I don't mean the high school crush, holiday flirts or rebound guys but that one that throws you off balance and compromises your breathing), the choices you've made so far matters little. You can live your life thinking that you're a rational person that would avoid difficulties in order to gain something easier, but when you find yourself eye to eye with that one person, rationality won't matter much. So maybe you one day find yourself in love with the seemingly impossible: a man or a woman from a different culture, with a different background and beliefs, with a different skin color, different values, opinions and thoughts. Then what? Do you walk away from it, hoping to find someone that would be easier to live with or do you cautiostly walk into it with the hopes of being able to overcome the differences?

First of all, cross cultural relationships all depend on the individuals involved and not their backgrounds. It all has to do with how open minded you are, your communication skills (which is mandatory and explained below), expectations, ability to compromise, knowledge and motivations. You can come from two completely different cultures, with different religions and political views, but what it comes down to is the personal traits and if these can be combined - i.e. all the issues that every relationship has to deal with.

Making an intercultural relationship works demands knowledge about each other's cultures, countries, religion and backgrounds. The best way if of course to talk to each other about it, ask every question you have no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. Be curious and interested and show it by doing your own research; read books, listen to music and watch movies from the country or region, get in touch with others from the same culture and follow the news. This way you're likely to find out things about your partner's background and history that he/she didn't even know, things that slipped his/her mind during school or that he/she has been too uniterested to find out. The history and culture of one's own country is usually more uninteresting than other cultures, so by learning and discussing your findings can be a great way of both showing your interest and makes a good topic of discussion. Make sure to embrace what you learn; you may not like the music the first few times you hear it, or histories of war and unjustice may make you judgemental of the people that experienced it - but with an open mind it will not only give you new knowledge but also get a better understanding of your partner.

Keep a positive attitude towards the other culture, no matter of the things that you don't agree with or don't like about it. There's always wonderful things to learn and experience while getting to know another culture so it's important to appreciate the differences and be empathic. One thing that has helped me to overcome less attractive attributes in cultures is to simply see it as "exotic." That may seem biased, but it gives a different ground to stand on and a tool to use when understanding or appreciation fails you.

Actress Mae West once said that "I speak two languages, Body and English" which is a skill that is put well to use when communication is a problem. Even though you may speak the same languages you will most likely have different ways of using it. Irony is for example not used or understood in all cultures and the same goes for jokes that can be easily misunderstood and lead to unnecessary arguments if you don't understand the background of the joke. Your social skills will be different; in one culture it may be just fine to call someone fat without meaning anything negative about it, but in others it's a bad insult. Take your time and leard each other's social skills. You'll likely find out about these in time anyways, but it can be done the hard way or by communication. Don't take for granted that your partner can read your expressions and the words said in between the lines: keep it as simple and clear as possible. Don't play mind games and keep a dictionary close at hand when the communication doesn't go your way.

Every relationship has obstacles and problems to overcome; everyone are different to matter if you share the same culture or not. However, intercultural relationships presents its very own set of issues that will have to be dealt with, rather sooner than later in order to know if this will work for you or not. The differences between you can be an adventure and open your eyes and heart for a better understanding of life and the world (big words, I know). That said, it's not always easy and sometimes the differences are just too much. Maybe you will have problems with each other's families, maybe you won't be accepted into the new culture or maybe your religious beliefs don't accept compromises. But as I see it, everything can be overcome with patience, sincerity and motivation. Sometimes you just have to let go of some of your own principles if you want the relationship to work out in the long run. It all depends on how much you value each other and what your priorities are. As with any relationship; you can never expect to change the other person. If you do that, you're most likely doomed to fail. Instead, see the differences and accept them, and equally important; don't forget all the similarities and use them as a bridge to overcome the obstacles facing you.

You'll face prejudices and words of doom from your surrounding so meet them with a smile and let them be a part of your own learning experience. An intercultural relationship doesn't only affect the couple, but also everyone around them. If you have to meet comments, make sure to preach understanding and respect. After all, it's in our every day life that we can save the world from racism, injustice and biases so you might as well start with yourself and the people around you. Soon enough the words will spread:

The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren,
and to do good is my religion.

-Thomas Paine

No comments: