By Rami Suleiman, American University of Beirut
Having lived outside my home country, Lebanon, for the majority of my life, I have always been fond of interacting with people from outside of my culture – transcending my comfort zone. The prospect of interacting with foreign cultures that I have only read of is what initially attracted me to the Business & Culture course. Needless to say, the course has exceeded my expectations, as I not only interacted with students from three different countries, but also had the privilege of working in a team with them – an experience that provided me with priceless insight.
Though working in a team and brainstorming exposed me to how culture impacts my peers’ thought processes, one of the main concepts that stuck with me is how each culture perceives itself. Prior to embarking on this course, I had not thought of evaluating and reflecting upon my own culture. With several of our projects centered around elaborating on our culture and presenting it to a foreign eye, I was able to gain a third-person point of view on my culture – deeply understanding how it shapes me. This was truly an eye-opening experience since I was able to understand how our collective experiences as Lebanese people have allowed us to share several identical traits.
On a similar note, observing my international peers present their own culture to us via presentations and group meetings allowed me to gain a deep understanding of how it impacts their own perception. With Americans priding themselves in individualism and Egyptians in history, I was able to learn about the traits that unite each culture’s people. With this collective identity in mind, I am able to better understand how people from other cultures perceive the world and the expectations they have for those around them. Thus, even when some assert that their culture does not impact them – as I had done prior to this course – I have learned that it is inevitable that one’s collective identity intertwines with their individual identity.
Even though it is easy to travel and talk to people from different cultures, as I have done in the past, the Business & Culture course has granted me something beyond that: the knowledge of how people perceive their own culture and its influence. This is something that could only be done through deep introspection and reflection – something which the course provided us the space to do through the My Culture presentations, guest speakers, and team building activities. Coupled with interesting teamwork activities, the knowledge gained from the course is invaluable, as it even encompasses information I learned about myself – pushing me to go beyond my comfort zone and challenge my preconceptions.