The Ripple Effect of Cultural Exchange

Celia and Mai talking on the balcony of TYO Whilst the primary goals of TYO's classes at An-Najah University are increasing awareness of professional competency and improving English conversation, one of the secondary outcomes has been the positive effects of cultural exchange. Cultural exchange is more than just getting used to interns' unique accents and learning trivial things about their home nations, cultural exchange importantly contributes to mutual understanding between societies and peoples.

As the world becomes increasingly globalized, it's important that Palestinian nationals don't get left behind. As a result of the complex political context here there is a restriction on travel, and consequently fewer opportunities for the majority of Palestinians to meet other nationalities and experience the shared understanding that comes from cultural exchange. As a result,  interaction with foreigners is limited primarily to foreigners visiting Palestine.

Many of the An-Najah University students have little to no experience working with peers from other countries, but a large percent of the students will be seeking international employment due to the lack of opportunities within Palestine.

Diversity in a corporation can inspire creativity, but it may also be a source for miscommunication and tension when proper training and understanding of cultural differences is not addressed. To clarify this point, the intermediate and advanced students enrolled in the professional competency class at An Najah University  participated in 2 separate role-plays of a meeting with an international group of employees from the United States, Italy, Palestine, Japan and Mexico. One group acted out the meeting where cultural differences were not taken into consideration, and the other group acted out the meeting where cultural differences were taken into consideration.

The first meeting scenario created conflict, tension and dissatisfaction with the group leadership and resulted in a deterioration of respect. Whereas the second scenario, with the same roles and meeting subject, ran smoothly as the leader of the meeting was aware of the cultural differences of the employees. Most importantly the entire class realized the importance of understanding how differently people can interpret the same information due to their unique cultural perspectives on business, family and social relationships.

Understanding other cultures prevents prejudice and hate, and the nature of exchange means that we, the interns, are getting something in return.

I'm not afraid to admit that many of my preconceptions have altered or completely transformed. I remember researching for my interview and being surprised that the female to male ratio at An-Najah University favored females. I'm pleased to see women so positively represented in education, and at TYO I am inspired by my female colleagues determination to promote more equality and opportunity through education, they are all excellent role models for the students that attend TYO programs. There is still a great deal of work to be done to create a more gender equal society in Palestine, but I have been privileged to be exposed to those who are championing this work.

These experiences that challenge our preconceptions do not live in isolation, we tell these stories to friends and our An-Najah students share their experiences with friends and family too. This is testament to that fact that a one person cultural exchange creates a ripple effect of shared understandings.

-TYO Intern, Celia

This program - as part of Student Training and Employment Program (STEP!) - is sponsored in part by the Abdul Hamid Shoman Foundation.