My Intercultural Journey. An Interview with Rama Saidani – Intern at EIFID

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Can you introduce yourself, talk about what you do?

My name is Rama Saidani, I’m currently an intern at EIFID – I plan to become a great intercultural trainer in the near future! I am a French national with Algerian blood, living in the UK with my Egyptian husband.

Do you feel these different influences around you got you interested in Intercultural Communication?

Actually, when I really think about it, it’s impossible to separate intercultural communication as a field, to my daily life, as it’s the case for a growing number of my fellow humans. I definitely think having mixed origins/being an expatriate/being in an intercultural marriage are privileges.

What do you think these privilege entail?

Years ago, I would have not known what to reply, but my answer now is: being able to acknowledge the fact that different worldview, different cultural programming exists, means being able to try and spread awareness and tolerance. It is the mission I chose for myself. Patti Mc Carthy talks in her book “Cultural chemistry” about the “cultural cruise control”. My biggest motivation is to help others use this cultural cruise control as a guiding tool to make sense of the world, and never turn it into ethnocentrism or disdain for others. Additionally, I believe that it is necessary for everyone to have some degree of Intercultural awareness since our world shifts into a global village.

Let’s go back in time, is there any significant early experiences that influenced you and helped shape your mission?

Both my parents were born in France. My mother in a hospital in Normandy, to French parents. My father, on the kitchen table of a house his parents had just moved into, having emigrated from Algeria only weeks before. I myself was quite oblivious to this duality growing up. Sure, I knew my father’s family and my mother’s family were very different but I grew up in a very multicultural area so difference was my norm. I was not interested in or even really aware of the fact that I had mixed origins until I was about 9 years old, in 2002. I think every French citizen remembers this year where, during the first round of the presidential election, “Jean Marie LePen” (the far right’s candidate) got the most votes. I remember feeling really angry, sad and frustrated for my father, who could not take part in the vote since he was not a French national. My father, who had spent his entire life in France, who was singing me lullabies in “Chtimi” (an old dialect spoken in the North of France), was suddenly seen as “unwelcome” in his own country by, what seemed at the time, the majority of our fellow citizens. What an injustice! I remember drawing on cardboard, writing political slogans with my glitter pens, to take part in demonstrations against the far right.

What effect did this particular event have on the 9 years old you?

To my father’s surprise I ordered for my following birthday a road map of Algeria! I started wondering what it was all about, why people were not accepting of other people, what was the differences between us all, humans? Surely, all this reject, hatred, all these misconceptions, were not only about my auntie Saliha feeding me “Couscous” and my auntie Mireille making roast pork, my father’s family fasting Ramadan and my mother’s family putting up trees for Christmas? There had to be more to it!

How did you finally find answers to your interrogations?

Those questions remained somewhere in the back of my mind until my studies gave me the opportunity to experience life abroad. Edward T. Hall said “One of the most effective ways to learn about oneself is by taking seriously the cultures of others. It forces you to pay attention to those details of life which differentiate them from you.” It is while living in China that I became aware of my own culture for the first time. Every small detail of life in the fast-paced Beijing felt mind blowing to me. I am sure a lot of Westerners can relate to this feeling! From uninhibited karaoke sessions, or taking naps at work, to notions of personal spaces. Everything seemed “strange” and led me to reflect on habits, beliefs, values…

All of these differences are only the tip of the cultural iceberg, but I learnt, that when one digs deeper and focuses on what’s underneath the surface, one begins truly understanding others and oneself. I’m still learning everyday, discovering about myself and others, and I’m looking forward to see what the next steps of my journey will be !