Building Cultural Understanding

Ahmed came from the Middle East to study in the United States.  His wife was not able to accompany him since she was expecting a child.  Ahmed was required to do community service as part of his academic program.  He applied to serve at a local nursing home.  The Volunteer Coordinator was uncertain how he would be received by the residents, but the Director assured her that Ahmed would be well received.

At first, the Volunteer Coordinator’s fears seemed well founded.  The residents didn’t know what to make of Ahmed, and Ahmed seemed uncomfortable around residents with various health conditions.  Quickly, Ahmed and the residents warmed to each other as they shared stories of their home lands. Ahmed was particularly intrigued by stories of America as it used to be.  In turn, the residents were anxious to learn about the Middle East.  The highlight of the semester was when Ahmed and his friends cooked a Middle East meal for the residents.

At the end of the semester, Ahmed delivered a bag of envelopes to the Volunteer Coordinator and asked that she deliver them to the residents on Christmas Eve.  “I’m going home to be with my wife for the birth of our son, but I’ll be back next semester,” he said.  Each envelope contained a note that was personal to each resident.  The notes recalled special moments that they had shared together.  The tears in the eyes of the residents as they read the notes gave the Volunteer Coordinator a deep understanding of the unique experience the residents and Ahmed had throughout the semester.  The fact that each note ended with holiday wishes was very special.

Just imagine how our fears and prejudices would diminish if all of us had an opportunity to share one-on-one experiences with persons of different backgrounds. Just imagine how the meaning of the phrase “it’s a small world” would take on real meaning with true cultural exchanges. Just imagine what it would take to enable all of us to be able to say: “I have a friend from every habitable continent.”

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“I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.” – Abraham Lincoln

How To Use

Useful guides for incorporating messages into discussion.