Last week our noviciate house had the great privilege to welcome Sr. Geraldine Kearney, sgs, a member of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan of the Order of St. Benedict, to lead us in a week long session on intercultural communication.
Given that we are a household composed of Australians, Vietnamese, an Indian, and a Canadian, intercultural communication is a vital part of our daily community life. Before the workshop, I wasn’t aware of how many layers of culture and personality are embedded in how we communicate. I also wasn’t aware of the very Canadian values and assumptions I bring to communication. I am happy to say that I learned a lot over the course of the week.
Sr. Geraldine skillfully led us through a series of exercises and reflections on culture and identity, values, assumptions, what it means to come from a high context culture (such as Vietnamese and Indian culture) and from a low context culture (such as Canadian and Australian culture), and how we exhibit all of these cultural traits through the way we communicate.
Part of the session felt a bit like a refresh on cultural studies I had done in social studies classes in junior high and high school, but it was really far more personal and meaningful than that. Each of us shared cultural symbols (I shared the maple leaf, as emblazoned on the bottle of maple syrup I lugged with me from Canada), and personal stories about our lives in our respective cultures. It was a wonderful time of bonding as a group.
For me, the best part of the whole week was the morning we spent playing with dolls. As part of a module called “The Play of Life” we created representations of particular periods in our lives (generally a time before the age of 10 years old) using plastic dolls and other decorations to act as symbols of that time. I chose the period when I was 8 years old and my parents had decided to separate. There was a surprising amount of emotion stirred up in me as I created my scene, but I was also struck by how I could look at my life much more objectively from that vantage point. As a child I really could only see myself in the situation but as an adult I can now see more clearly the roles of my father, mother, and brother and other extended family. The exercise gave me a better sense of perspective and understanding of myself and my life.
Throughout this noviciate, I am continuing the interior work I began during my candidacy year, particularly with respect to my mother’s struggle with alcoholism (and my own struggle with her alcoholism), and I think that playing with dolls will actually be a very helpful and creative way to do that work. I’ve been asking God in my prayer to show me how I can look back on some of my past experiences (and that assumptions I’ve made as a result) in order to see them more objectively and then to release the power they hold over me. I think playing with dolls may be a key part of the answer.