Diversity and cultural exchange
Following a preparatory course in Uganda by FK Norway (who funds this program) and then in South Africa with the Africa Alliance of YMCA (who coordinates), I arrived in my new home country, Zimbabwe on 16 February 2017. For the following nine months, Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, will be my home. This trip has just begun, and I’m sure that the next months will give me challenges and experiences that will shape my future.
Both in Uganda and in South Africa we discussed diversity and cultural inequalities. Understanding that we should meet new people and cultures with an open mind and embrace and adapt to their everyday lives. This is not my first meeting with African culture, but it does not mean that it was just easy to move into a new culture that is very different from my own.
As the only white resident in Glen Norah, a high-density area here in Harare, I will never be able to accommodate the locals 100 percent. I know that, as the only white person and being a newcomer, I create some fuss and I can hear people talk about me because I still hear the word “murungu” (white person) mentioned in conversations. To many people in this area, this is the first time they see a white person and many of the youngest children in the neighbourhood were very sceptical and reserved in the beginning. Even though I am temporarily stationed here, I try to adapt in different ways. I can greet, introduce myself and tell what I’m going to do and what I’ve done speaking the Shona language, which is the most widely used Bantu language and the native language here in Zimbabwe. In addition, I try to be as open and attentive even though it still is very unnatural for me to greet people I do not know while walking the streets.
Importance of YAC
YAC focuses largely on personal development and developing future leaders. Personally, I have never before reflected much over who I am as a person, my personality and what I want to achieve as I have in these past two months. It’s easier to meet new people and cultures when you have a clearer picture of who you are and why you behave the way you do. At the beginning we were asked the question “who are you?”. In January, I had trouble answering that question, but today I answer that “I’m an open, committed person that is eager to learn, with a genuine interest in the well-being of others”.
I look at YAC as an amazing opportunity to travel, experience and develop. I know that by the end of this year, I will be left with unique experiences, knowledge and deeper awareness of myself, Zimbabwe, YMCA and different cultures. I have also met countless of wonderful people that I would not have met without this opportunity.
Source: Marte Steiro, 24, Norwegian YAC participant 2017