“There is nothing in the house”

Sts'ailes territory

Sts’ailes territory

The past few days I attended the Young SIETAR BC congress in Vancouver and Sts’ailes and I would like to share a few of my highlights. As the theme of the congress was “Shaping Identity: Land, People, Systems”, there was much focus on the connection to the land. This was beautifully set off by something that the Musqueam (1) elder said at the beginning of the congress: “There is nothing in the house, so go outside!”

Immersion Day

So we did. As is the tradition for Young SIETAR congresses, we started with Immersion Day, where the aim is to explore the city in a different way. We were divided into smaller groups that each got an Immersion Dayenvelope with some questions to ask the locals – no Google allowed! Our group decided to hop on some bikes and explore Jericho Beach and the University of British Columbia. It was great fun – and very interesting – to talk to random strangers about Vancouver and its history, and then share our findings with the other groups. I learned a lot about Vancouver and First Nations history in Canada.

“We are not myths of the past, ruins in the jungle or zoos. We are people and we want to be respected, not to be victims of intolerance and racism”
Rigoberta Menchu Tum (Nobel peace prize 1992)

A sense of place

I also enjoyed Anne O’Carroll’s session about the connection between the environment and culture. She gave many examples of how the environment can influence people’s behavior, for example the hot climate in Spain leading to the siesta. She also talked about Jared Diamond’s well-known book ‘Guns, Germs, and Steel’, which is a book I would like to recommend to everyone. In brief, it explain how Europeans basically were lucky in their location and the natural resources in their environment, which lead to a different development for Europeans as compared to, for example, aboriginals in Australia. There is much to say about this book but I will just leave it here with a quote that captures the essence:

“History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among peoples’ environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves”
Jared Diamond

Service as partnership, not charity

Congress

Back to Vancouver

One of the very last sessions I attended was the one by Ryan Richards and Pauline Vromans about service to communities. Many people do volunteering work where they spend time in an orphanage, help build a new school, or implement a project to help the local community in some way. Their main message was that we need to move from thinking about service as ‘charity’, where ‘we’ are the ones with the resources and ‘they’ are the ones that are ‘needy’, to thinking about service as a ‘partnership’, where you search for solutions together. This is nicely illustrated by the following quote of the Aboriginal Activist Group in Queensland:

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together”

(1) The Musqueam people are the First Nation that is originally from the area where Vancouver is now built.

Photos by the author

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About Marian van Bakel

I graduated in International Business Communication at Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands. After my studies I was a Visiting Study Fellow at University of Oxford where I conducted a research on the adjustment of Dutch diplomats and their partners in London. In February 2012 I successfully defended my PhD thesis ‘In Touch with the Dutch’, in which I put expatriates in touch with a Dutch host to examine the effect of this contact on the success of the international assignment. During my PhD research I also worked as in house communication consultant at Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. I am currently a postdoc at the Department of Leadership and Corporate Strategy at the University of Southern Denmark (www.sdu.dk/en). Since 2004 I have done extensive voluntary work in the intercultural field for the Young Society of Intercultural Education, Training and Research (Young SIETAR). One of my projects was to co-edit and co-author A Suitcase Full of Discoveries (2008), an intercultural storybook for children.
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