An Opportunity to Grow in Cultural Awareness

by Anika W. '20

In the summer of 2019, I attended the Global Leadership camp through the organization called FIUTS (Foundation for International Understanding Through Students) on the campus of the University of Washington.

FIUTS is a nonprofit organization that brings students together from all over the world to participate in a two-week-long Global Leadership Training program. Their goal is to help students build cultural understanding, practice communication and diplomacy skills, create cross-cultural friendships and learn to become not just global citizens, but global leaders. Their vision statement explains it well. “FIUTS envisions a global community, tied to the Pacific Northwest, in which people are connected through friendship, mutual respect, and a commitment to international understanding.’ Much like how EC has the three touchstones (Academic Excellence, Relationships and Servant Leadership), FIUTS’s three main focuses are Leadership, Culture & Communication and Global Citizenship. 

I have learned from both FIUTS and EC that every day is a choice to choose to build community, be a leader and grow in one’s cultural understanding of the world.

I have always been drawn to cultural diversity because it has been a big part of my life. I was born in Japan and spent preschool and part of kindergarten in the Japanese education system. I have also lived in southern and northern Germany, Michigan, Tokyo, Japan and California. However, no matter which country I was living in, I continued to attend German schools until the seventh grade. When I came to EC in the eighth grade, I had to make a huge switch from studying in German to English, so I understand well the language difficulties and cultural challenges that come with a change in the environment.

At Global Leadership camp, we would always start our day off by doing team bonding exercises and name games. These activities reminded me of similar exercises we do in Leadership Class at EC. As I have learned from Ms. Skoog, my leadership teacher that I have had for four years, and Mrs. Kittridge, my eleventh grade CML teacher, the first lesson of leadership is: “Names are important.” Because I learned this lesson early in my EC high school experience, I decided to place priority in learning everyone’s name at camp. Since I came into this leadership program without previously knowing anyone, the goal I chose was a challenge, yet one that I felt very motivated to achieve. I would walk up to students, ask them for their names and start having a conversation with them about their lives and cultural experiences. It was fun getting to learn new cultural traditions and hearing about the lifestyles of people from Chile, Japan, China, Taiwan, Moldova, different states in the U.S. and so forth.

Even though the morning group challenges might have seemed strange or unusual at first, they actually brought the whole group together because the challenges encouraged us to step out of our comfort zone and interact with one another. In leadership, we do the same! We often participate in challenges together as a whole class in the gym, which fosters an environment in which all feel welcomed, accepted and supported by one another. 

Throughout the weeks of the UW Global Leadership camp, we explored what it means to be a leader, particularly in diverse cross-cultural settings, learned about different elements of culture and how to be successful in working and communicating with people from other cultural and language backgrounds. We would split into small groups for more in-depth discussions and activities, remarkably similar to how at EC we have “think, pair and share” times in which small groups of students can collectively share their ideas and thoughts more closely.

Rather than language barriers hindering friendships, I thought of language barriers as an opportunity to show even more support and empathy towards one another.

 

As for the day-to-day schedule of UW Global Leadership, we spend a couple of hours dedicated to a particular morning class and then would later gather together as a whole and explore Seattle.

The morning classes were split into two groups: students who were native English speakers attended Global Leadership class (which was the class I was a part of) and students who were still learning the English language would attend English Leadership class. This distinction played an important role when FIUTS instructors would split up students into activity groups because they would ensure that there was a mix of students from both classes in each group. This reminded me of the leadership council groups that consist of different grade level students.

I have learned the importance of diversity in my leadership class at EC, and therefore was very excited to meet new people with different personalities and global perspectives in my FIUTS group! One of my group members was Fran, a girl from Chile that I soon became friends with. She was very kind, always smiling and had a heart of gold. Yet occasionally, she would have trouble communicating and would get stuck when she could not find the right English word to express her thoughts. So, we worked together to identify the English meaning to words she knew in Spanish, which involved a lot of patience, time and me guessing words. I knew we could have used google translate or another type of language translator, yet we both agreed to challenge ourselves and work it out verbally as a team. 

As I interacted more with people and built friendships, I realized how important it is for English speakers to be patient and committed towards helping non-native English speakers understand what is being said and going on. Rather than language barriers hindering friendships, I thought of language barriers as an opportunity to show even more support and empathy towards one another. I saw it also as a fantastic chance for me to grow in my own cultural awareness and global perspective. 

Before the beginning of morning classes, many of us students would get together at Starbucks and drink tea/ coffee before heading down together to our FIUTS meeting spot. Then, when lunch came around, we would get a huge group of students and sit down under the large oak tree with our sandwiches, hamburgers and milkshakes from the UW cafeteria. The little extra effort and time each of us made to continue building friendships and learn from each other outside of class were where many of my favorite and most memorable moments were created.

I remember looking around the circle of people who were strangers to me only a couple of days previously but now were close friends of mine, and I was in awe of the accepting culture we had created as leaders. I have also experienced that strong sense of support and kindness at EC at hyped football games, in leadership class, during energetic assemblies, in the cheering crowds during musicals, plays, band and choir concerts, when teachers stay after school to help students, to name a few. I have learned from both FIUTS and EC that every day is a choice to choose to build community, be a leader and grow in one’s cultural understanding of the world.

My time at FIUTS will always be full of precious memories and leadership lessons that I will carry with me to EC, college and beyond. Through social media, I get to stay in contact with all my new friends until the day comes that we can meet up in person again! Building relationships and being a servant leader are two of the most important focuses in life that I have learned from leadership class at EC and from UW Global Leadership camp. I am excited to grow more every day as a global leader and will continue to challenge myself to step out of my comfort zone, try out new activities and meet new people with diverse cultural perspectives and experiences! 

 

 

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