Orientation Course

Another Country

by Adrienne Shilling

An integral part of PALMS orientation course is a field trip. This is a chance to try out one’s newfound skills in Respectful Learning About People from Other Cultures. So it was that one “Direct”, one “Influencing” and two “Stabilising” [1] participants were delivered to an inner west Sydney suburb on a Wednesday in January.

Our brief was to consider, among other things (in about four hours, with $20 between us, no watches and no mobile phones): what cultural groups were predominant in the area; what we saw that was new; what surprised us; whether we noticed how people interacted or spoke to one another; how we were treated by people of a culture different from one’s own; and what confronted us. An easy enough challenge, we thought.

After being delivered, we held hands (metaphorically speaking) and hung around together in this “strange land” – the main street in Ashfield. Having previously worked in Ashfield for over a year, I felt confident as self- appointed “tour leader”. What followed however was quite humbling for me.

People from Northern China predominate in this area but there are those born in Vietnam, Thailand, and even Greece. Somewhat nervously, we approached an intriguing looking Chinese general store and tentatively began a conversation with “Helen”, a young Mandarin and Cantonese speaker who seemed delighted to discuss (in very clear English) the symbolism of the gold cat with the waving arm, why Chinese people send red New Year’s cards with large sums of money in them, how to pronounce basic Mandarin greetings and why Chinese weddings in Australia are so big on the colour white. In one hour I discovered more about this cultural group than I had in a whole year! I must have passed this shop over twenty times and it had never occurred to me to go in, let alone start such a conversation.

Emboldened by the exchange, we ventured into several more shops with similar purpose, concluding the adventure with lunch at the “Shanghai Nights” Restaurant. A delicious meal we shared, but most interesting was our (half in English, half in Mandarin) cooking/language lesson from the chefs. We learned how to say “just twirl it like this”, “it’s pork veal mince”, “thank you”, and “see you again”!

In both major encounters, we were privileged to experience the locals’ generosity of spirit, warmth, and willingness to share information about their culture and language. Most of our encounters were woven with laughter from all.

And to think: such experiences had been available to me over a year ago but I never knew! In half a day, I re-discovered “another country”. Just shows you how some proper orientation training can open your eyes to the cross-cultural experience.

Thank you Roger, Brendan and Christine for careful preparation, transport, and excellent debrief!

To discover your own psychological “type”, you’ll have to attend a PALMS orientation course