Duke Engage Academy made me think a lot about cross-cultural interaction and helped me realize the potential applications of what I learned in my course work this past year to my upcoming experiences this summer. This past fall, I took a class called International Law and Global Health through the Humanitarian Challenges FOCUS program. We talked a lot about the Savage-Victim-Savior Complex after reading the work of Alfred Mutua. Mutua criticized the westernized concept of human rights as an excuse to impose western ideals on the rest of the world by acting as “saviors.” He opposed any western intervention into other cultures whatsoever. Mutua made valid points and when I first read his work, many questions arose in my head. I found myself agreeing with many points he made and wondering if all service work I had done in the past had come from a place of soiled intentions. However, after reading Mutua’s work, we read that of doctor and cultural anthropologist Paul Farmer. Farmer encourages us to acknowledge the complexity of human rights work but then to cut through it and take action rather than avoid it at all costs. Farmer’s work was refreshing and inspiring. What I learned from Mutua and Farmer this past fall was reiterated at the presentation on the Ethics of Engagement at Duke Engage Academy. I found it very helpful and important to acknowledge the way we may be perceived as “outsiders” and “saviors” and be unwanted in the communities we will soon enter. However, the presenters did not mean to discourage us but only to encourage us to acknowledge the great complexity of the work we are about to do – to realize that we are not going to go into these communities and miraculously solve problems that have been present for years. In International Law and Global Health, we also talk a lot about the idea of “cultural competency” which was put forth by two nurses in Latin American communities, Reni Courtney and Linda Holland. Courtney and Holland explain that there is both intrinsic and instrumental value in cultural competency. The intrinsic value is that every culture has integrity and deserves respect. The instrumental value is that people are more receptive to advice when they feel that they are being treated with respect for their culture. For example, when nurses had to prescribe cold medication to Latin Americans, the Latinos were more likely accept the nurse’s recommendations if they advised use of traditional treatments like hot tea and broth in addition to modern medicines. Last semester, I tried to put my academic knowledge of cultural competency into practice by volunteering in George Watts Elementary School through a program designed to get Latino mothers more involved in the education of their children and to encourage bilingualism. Through many experiences, I gained further respect for the complexity of being culturally competent and recognized that it takes time to become truly culturally competent. I hope to continue to put my knowledge of cultural competency into practice this summer.
This past semester, I took a class called Border Crossing: Leadership, Value Conflicts, and Public Life in which we learned many concepts that are very applicable to the work we are about to embark on and were reiterated during Duke Engage Academy. Both the Border Crossing class and Duke Engage Academy emphasized the importance of building relationships with people from members of the communities in which we will be working to our community partner to the other members of our group. In the Border Crossing class, we learned a political framework for relational meetings that is very similar to what we went over in the Social Identity & Partnership presentation. However, because of what I previously learned, I was critical of certain aspects of the presentation during Duke Engage Academy. I will definitely take away the idea that people’s stories give huge insight into what is important to them. However, I don’t think that we should directly ask people for their stories. Instead, we should focus on asking the right questions that lead people to tell stories. Also, I do not think that this conversation should be completely one sided like the workshop emphasized. We should instead focus on both invoking people’s stories but also connecting with them on a deeply personal level. We should show a vast appreciation for people’s stories because they are by no means obligated to share them with us. This summer, I would definitely like to hear the stories of the people I am living and working with. However, I realize that building a relationship first is essential and that this takes patience and time.
Another huge takeaway from Duke Engage Academy is the importance of being truly present during our summer experiences. A lot of times during the school year we are focused on getting things done to move on to the next task, but this takes away from our ability to enjoy the moment and recognize what we are learning. We are all guilty of this, but staying in this mindset throughout the summer would be a shame. We are about to encounter new experiences, challenges, and lessons in a new country with a very different culture. I am excited to take it all in while also creating space for myself to reflect on what I am learning and be present in every moment.