Working with culturally different members, the staff at Africa Center celebrates their differences. Innocent suggests that conflicts are learning opportunities.
Chihiro: In Japanese society, we expect other people to work without saying it out loud; we have something called “to read the atmosphere” or “to read the air”, it means you need to understand what your boss wants you to do and you need to do it by yourself. Here at Africa Center, I needed to adjust since I’m not working with other Japanese students in university. Here, if you want someone to do something for you, you need to say it, or communicate better, so that’s something I need to work on: to have a better communication with people.
Elsie: I like the way we are multicultural, it’s always important to have people who don’t have the same background or the same life as I have because it allows me to know other mindsets. I did work 8 years in Hong Kong but I’ve never been in the community or in the team; I had a team at work, but I have never really been a part of that team and now I have this team and all of us are imperfect but we are putting our effort which is really beautiful because no one makes no one feel inferior. We are all giving our best, because we are all coming with something we know, and we are not ashamed to say we don’t know how to do this or that, because if you ask someone for help, someone would help you to do it in a right way. That’s the positive aspect at the center, because we contribute to each other.
Abdirahman: One thing that is quite big to me is I always found it easy to get along and work with people, but when you look at background from which I come from, I come from Somalia where it’s more culturally homogenous. When you are working with a very diverse group of people, everyone acts as an entry point of the wider cultural difference and the cultural background behind each person. Everyday you understand a little more about a certain culture. Through the literature, the community, or internal trainings, I really find more knowlegde on culture and differences and the beauty of it, and I am learning about Africa more than I knew before. It’s not just about Africa; every person you meet has a cultural background behind them, and these people are my contact point and I get a chance to explore those differences and the beauty of all that.
Abdikafi: It’s great to work with self-motivated team members, I think the most beautiful people are those who celebrate difference, people who see they have a common vision. Of course, we are human beings and there are always changes in the center, but the idea is that almost everyone in the center feels that they are really doing whatever they are doing out of choice, working on they are passionate about and enjoy doing.
Innocent: The multicultural background is beautiful in a sense. As much as people don’t like conflicts, for me there are huge learning opportunities in terms of people with cultural differences. Usually culture is deeper than chopsticks and spoon. I use chopsticks, I use spoons—culturally different. That’s not culture, that’s just the materiality aspect of it. For me, culture is that thing deep down that when you see maybe somebody eating with their hands, and you feel inside of you saying something that it’s not right: for me that’s how there is conflict. In many places where they claim to be multicultural, there may not be the best aspects of the multicultural environment, because they don’t get to push things a little far. Push them a little bit until there’s that conflict, and when that conflict arises, there is definitely the learning opportunity.
For many people it’s like “I don’t want to talk to you”, but for me it’s like, “let’s figure out where we see things differently.” I’m quite optimistic about humans in the sense that they want to do to good, and largely it’s a misunderstanding, it’s largely not knowing how to build from a conflict, especially in a multicultural space. People grow up in very monocultural spaces right now, but it’s usually a learning opportunity to see what is different for me, what is different for that person, and what’s the best way to approach this situation. It’s almost like I’m going to write a book about this! But those are the things that can only be learnt through conflict and in my view, you can’t really understand culture without a significant degree of conflict. Where there is conflict, I am so excited, I am taking my chair, I am taking my notebook, because I have discovered something about humans. That’s why I appreciate the cultural differences and that’s why I appreciate conflict. Unfortunately, not everyone addresses conflict like this. When there is conflict, I’m secretly excited, because I’m thinking, “what do we learn here in this conflict?”