My name is Ruti Ejangue, and I a freshman at American University studying International Relations with a minor in Leadership and Management. I am currently taking a Cross Cultural Communications class with Professor Terra Gargano which aims at building students’ intercultural competency skills and exploring the way in which “culture, technology and communication reproduce, reinforce and challenge prevailing ideas about differences between cultures.” The final project for this class involves immersing ourselves completely in a foreign culture and really pushing ourselves out of our own cultural beliefs and values to experience something entirely different. Living in Cameroon my entire life I was never really exposed to the Latin American culture until I moved to the states in the fall for school. Thus, for my project, I chose to immerse myself in the Latin American culture, because I wanted the opportunity to experience it in a rich and authentic way.
For weeks now I have been volunteering at the Latin American Youth Center which is dedicated to empowering predominately Latin American Youths in their academic, social, professional, and personal lives. This organization aims at ensuring that youths are achieving a successful transition to adulthood, through multi-cultural, comprehensive, and innovative programs that address youths’ social, academic, and career needs”. Twice a week I go and tutor and give workshops to students at Woodrow Wilson High School that are either the children of immigrants from Latin America or just recently moved to the the States from Latin America. Through this volunteer experience I learned the value of listening and having meaningful conversations with people who have entirely different cultures and experiences than I do. The students that I work with are from different regions in Latin America. While they may all speak Spanish, the students that come from Mexico and El Salvador have completely different experiences, challenges, cultures, identities, than the students that come from the Dominican Republic or Colombia. American society tends to lump those who have Spanish descent or come from Spanish speaking countries into one category: Hispanic, because it is easier than actually taking the time to understand the diversity among them. By doing this however, they fail to recognize and truly capture the complexities and the multicultural identities of people from Latin America.
This volunteer experience has enabled me not only to strengthen my intercultural competency skills but has allowed me to become more knowledgeable about a culture that I knew very little about before moving to the states. The principal goal of our Cross Cultural Communications class is learning to navigate our way throughout numerous cultures while still staying true to our self and our beliefs. This volunteer opportunity has enabled me to fulfill this goal and most importantly has taught me a lot about by myself. I went into this experience nervous and unsure of what to expect. Nevertheless, those feelings were soon dispelled as I let my inhibitions go, and let myself immerse myself into this culture. I was pushed out of my comfort zone and in the end it was very rewarding.