Weeding the Seeds of Cultural Understanding

 

Weeding the Seeds of Cultural Understanding

Posted by Nolan Sutker in American Samoa, News & Highlights 28 Feb 2017

By WorldTeach American Samoa Volunteer Anna Bauder

There are only 3 “rules” in my classroom: Respect Yourself, Respect Others, and Respect your Environment. These are the only 3 rules in my classroom because those are the main 3 rules of life and encompass all other rules.

  • Try your hardest = Respect Yourself
  • Don’t curse = Respect Others (or yourself)
  • Don’t litter = Respect your Environment.

 

However, Environment extends past location (Manu’a High School, Faleasao, Ta’u, Manu’a, American Samoa, Pacific Ocean, Southwestern hemisphere); it goes beyond weather (so warm and SO humid); it covers more than geography (perpetual ocean soundtrack with rugged backdrop). Environment travels into the expansive realm of culture and connecting with people.

After living in a different environment for the past 7 months, I think my last rule “Respect your Environment” is the toughest, most important, but most rewarding one. Not all parts are hard to achieve: It’s a straight forward task to respect my location (dress professionally and teach to the best of my ability); there is a lot of personal motivation to adjust to the weather (lightweight t-shirt and a bun); even respecting geography becomes commonplace (only take pictures and I’ve taken my full.) The toughest, most important, rewarding part is the culture and the connections with people. Emphasis on the people.

It can be easy to think of culture as a list of do’s and don’ts and bullet points of things to not be surprised about, but that keeps you an outsider. It makes you more of a cultural know, not a cultural understander. Cultural understanding might best happen when it’s focused on the people.

  • DO: Say “tou lou” when you walk in front of someone
    • PEOPLE: Think about how rude it is to block someone and when they stop you and thank you, and later become your Samoan family because they love you so much (not that these actions lead to love, but actions do lead to compatibility and that leads to love).
  • DON’T: Stand and drink at the same time but instead go out of your way to sit or squat,
    • PEOPLE: Think about how rushed you look, food is meant to be enjoyed, and when you see the look of respect, surprise, and appreciation on someone’s face when you do it.
  • DON’T BE SURPRISED: Weeding pebble yards is super important and villagers will do it as early as 6:00am, and students will spend their afternoons picking through a 5×5 patch of sand
    • PEOPLE: Think about how unfortunate you yard looks and what everyone else has to see when they look at it and when your neighbor sees you in the store a few days later and thanks you for weeding your yard, and tells the store owner what a good neighbor you are. You can hear the joy in his voice, just because you were weeding.

 

The benefits also apply to myself.

  • DO: “Tou Lou”
    • PEOPLE: Joy
      • MYSELF: contentment in my social interactions
    • DON’T: Stand and Drink at the same time
      • PEOPLE: Appreciation
        • MYSELF: forces me to take my time, and pretty sure it helps with digestion
      • SURPRISE: Weeding
        • PEOPLE: Respect
          • MYSELF: Pride as I survey my spotless pebble plot

 

This WorldTeach experience has not just been about growing my professionalism. It’s not just about making my resume look like I care about other people. It’s not just about being able to have awesome stories when I get back. It’s about learning to respect my environment, even if an environment is alien to me. It’s about expansion of cultural understanding, and taking the step from observation and knowing, to doing and understanding. I have allowed myself to be changed, and that change is not automatically for the better, but I am better because I have experienced change.

There are so many more examples of being culturally understanding, and so many ways that I still mess up (I walked and ate my breakfast this morning). There are moments when I know I’m the exempt, and take full advantage of it (yes, I think I will take advantage of jeans on Friday, thank you (our Samoan teacher does it too)). Nevertheless, I know that the little steps I take help me, and I am really enjoying the benefits, social and personal, of respecting my environment. So, while some people sit around and talk about how people weed their pebbles, I think I will go ahead and weed mine.


Connect with Anna via Instagram @reduaba.

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