Cultural Connections – Deﬁning culture and community
October 16, 2020
South Central Post, Oct. 8 ,2020
by ELAINE BURTON SAINDON
What exactly is culture? How do you define that? How does one identify with, ‘where do you come from’?
Why do we have certain customs that make us comfortable and ‘feel at home’? What is it that makes you ‘fit in’?
Humans from the beginning of time, have found ways to connect with others and build festivals, music, art, or games/sports. These are the most visible ways we ‘connect’ or find similarities that help us get to know others. We also visually identify culture by skin colour or the way we dress.
But culture goes much deeper than just what one can gain through observation. Ninety percent of who we are is what we do not see. Below the ‘surface’ we are made up of core values, belief systems, attitudes towards school, authority, or government, family tra- ditions, social status, wealth, political views, religious practices, heritage, talents, skills, life experiences, sexual identity, communication styles and so much more!
The ‘Cultural Iceberg’ visually compares how humans only display 10 percent of who they are on the surface with 90 percent of our identity only to be discovered once a deeper connection can be made with others. Finding opportunity to meet, engage, learn, ask ques- tions, and share stories is the first step to find- ing that connection and building a ‘sense of belonging’ within your community.
For many of us, we have been born into our communities and have raised our families in an environment full of relatives, close friends, good jobs, common interests, and a comfort- able lifestyle. It may be challenging to think of ourselves as having a deep rooted culture as we have not been exposed to many differ- ences to compare ourselves with. Yet, if we were to remove ourselves and be placed into another community, country, or culture, we would quickly see that it is not as easy as we may have expected to ‘fit in’ or ‘find a sense of belonging’.
My childhood was filled with change. We moved very often due to my father’s work and by the time I entered high school in Grade 10, I was in my 12th school. We lived in six provinces across Canada and when I left home at age 18 to attend college, I moved into my 32nd ‘new home’. I’ve been beat up because my hair colour was ‘different’ or I was ‘too skinny’. I have been told, “You have an accent, where did you come from?!” or, “you LOOK like you belong here but I can tell you are not FROM here”. I am Canadian. I am white. I only speak English. But this experience showed me that even moving to a new town in the same province can take time to ‘fit in’, be accepted, and ‘find a sense of belonging’.
So I have learned over the years that with change comes effort. Effort on my end to get involved, try new things, talk to new peo- ple, and at times, smile when I don’t feel like it. Likewise, I have been so grateful for peo- ple who have also made the effort to reach out, make me feel welcomed, and took time to get to know me ‘below the surface’. This was essential to helping me adjust and find my ‘sense of belonging’ and adapt to living in a new community. Ironically, it’s perhaps these circumstances that have led me onto the path of helping oth- ers find their sense of belonging as they move, adjust, adapt, and find community connec- tions that will make their new home welcom- ing. It’s with this purpose that we hope to provide opportunities through this column to understand each other, learn about new cul- tures, adapt to differences, and appreciate the value that comes with expanding our person- al circles to include ‘a new neighbour’.
Change is inevitable and it is not always a personal choice. However, how we respond to it can make us stronger, wiser, and empow- ered to bring value to others, if only to our- selves. personal choice. However, how we respond to it can make us stronger, wiser, and empow- ered to bring value to others, if only to our- selves.
Elaine Burton Saindon is the Coordina- tor of the Pembina Valley Local Immigration Partnership which represents 13 municipal- ities in southern Manitoba and works with local stakeholders to develop and implement sustainable solutions for the successful inte- gration of newcomers. For more information please visit www.pvlip.ca, our Facebook page or email: firstname.lastname@example.org