April 12, 2017
This past December, I travelled to Labrador as a volunteer with the Culture-to-Community Program.
Facilitated by the Internationalization Centre at Memorial, the program links Memorial students of diverse backgrounds with classrooms around the province to increase intercultural understanding and respect for cultural differences throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.
As an international student from Cameroon, I wanted to volunteer for the Culture-to-Community Program to promote worldwide togetherness and foster a mutual understanding and respect of other cultures. The program gave me the chance to share my culture with others, which was a wonderful cross-cultural experience.
As a volunteer, I was given the opportunity to present to K-12 students in Labrador City about the geography, culture, and demographics of my home country, Cameroon.
With an extended family spread across many countries and growing up in an international school for seven years, my life has been influenced by cross-cultural interaction. Nevertheless, my two-day experience in Labrador was phenomenally humbling, and deepened my understanding of cross-cultural interaction.
The most interesting and rewarding part of this experience was eliminating the misconception that Africa is neolithic.
It was fascinating to watch the children’s expressions when I told them that six-year-old children in rural Cameroon do chores, including washing their own clothes by hand with a block of soap and without the use of a washing machine.
I also gave them examples of urban Cameroonian children’s day-to-day lives. I told them they have video game consoles, washing machines, access to the Internet and watch the Disney Channel like typical Canadian children.
For these young students in Labrador, learning about the day-to-day lives of Cameroonian children the same age as them opened their eyes to see the many similarities that exist between them and other young people around the world.
I was happy to see that the students were passionate about the presentation. Many tiny hands shot up every time I asked multiple-choice questions on different aspects of my country. They listened carefully and asked questions that expressed a keen interest in learning more about other cultures.
While it was clear the children learned a lot from my presentation, the learning was definitely a two-way street.
After the presentation, I learned some of the folk entertainment unique to Newfoundland and Labrador culture, such as mummering, which usually takes place during Christmas season, when friends or family disguise themselves by using masks and uttering unrecognizable words.
What I also found interesting is the shared love between Labradorians and Cameroonians for a similar dish: fish and chips, which is a popular street food in my home country.
The students were surprised to learn that it does not snow in my country and that temperatures average 36 C, and because of its proximity to the equator, it never gets below 17 C.
As immigration continues to increase, Canada’s population is becoming more and more culturally diverse.
I believe that the Culture-to-Community Program facilitates cross-cultural communication, and impedes misunderstanding and stereotypes by bringing people with diverse backgrounds together to talk about their shared experiences.
From a young age, kindergarten and elementary school students acquire cultural competence by being exposed to the culture of students from different parts of the world, which helps develop their cross-cultural communication skills and cultural knowledge.
As a volunteer for the Culture-to-Community Program, I see how beneficial a program like this is for K-12 students, by preparing them to take part in an increasingly diverse world.
It has been an honour, as a volunteer for this program, to help ensure that when these children grow up and inevitably encounter different cultures, their guiding principles will be respect, dignity and understanding.
Joyce Monjimbo is a third-year business student at Memorial. She can be reached at email@example.com.