Written by Madison Humble, Cross-Cultural Partner and Community Development Intern.
I had no idea what I had gotten myself into. In my last semester at a local college, I was matched as a Cross-Cultural Partner with Elizabeth, a mother of 6 from Burundi. Always a bit nervous to enter Elizabeth's home each week, I had feelings of doubt and often thought to myself: Is she bothered by our age gap? Am I intruding? Am I bringing enough to the table? Let me tell you, if you are a new Cross-Cultural Partner, these feelings of inadequacy are normal. My advice for you is to embrace the discomfort. Just like any relationship trust and familiarity take time.
I consider myself a fairly adventurous person, I love to get outdoors and explore. Initially, I had hoped to share these types of experiences with Elizabeth. However, I quickly realized that as a stay at home mother, not to mention pregnant and due in late December, adventure was a bit out of the question! I needed to change my game plan and was recognizing that my expectations and what I had envisioned were disconnected from the reality of our new relationship. That leads me to my second point of advice: don’t over anticipate what your partnership will look like. There is often a vast difference between expectations and reality so being flexible and adaptive are crucial for your cross-cultural partnerships!
Our friendship was unique, especially considering we are inside of a global pandemic, but doesn’t mean our relationship has any less of a value. I have come to know Elizabeth as a loving mother, a generous woman, someone with a good sense of humor, and a singer. She is all of these things and more.
During my first one-on-one with Elizabeth we tackled one of the first things on her list of goals she wanted to accomplish throughout the program, learning to bake a cake. Elizabeth has six children so they celebrate a lot of birthdays in a year! With the help of her kids we had a great time baking cupcakes together. Having an activity planned helped ease the nerves for both of us. From that day on we have slowly been learning more about each other and growing in our friendship.
One of my favorite memories was receiving a call from Elizabeth on Christmas Eve notifying me that she had delivered her baby just a few days prior. I was so excited and honored that she took the time to call me. This was during a “stay at home” mandate when we were connecting over the phone rather than meeting in person. As much as I was excited to see baby Grace, I had to wait a few weeks to meet her when things started to open back up. From then, the majority of our in person meetings included Grace. We chatted while I held her. At the beginning of our relationship I felt like I had to bring something to the table every week. I quickly learned that our relationship was going to be a bit more relaxed. Just by holding Grace for an hour or so I could give Elizabeth a bit of rest. Your partnership may be geared to accomplishing the goals you both stated at the beginning of the process, but even small acts and the simple gift of presence are enough for this friendship! Just show up and the rest will work out.
Most recently, Elizabeth taught me how to make “Samosas”, a savory pastry in which you stuff beef and veggies within a flour paper pocket. I enjoyed learning how to make this dish from her culture. We laughed as she taught me how to fold the flour paper to make it into the correct pocket shape. I kept messing up! Eventually I got it and we made about 30 between the two of us. My favorite thing about these partnerships is that you get to engage in cultural exchange. I taught Elizabeth how to make cake and she taught me how to make Samosas. Embrace and enjoy the cultural differences and curiously engage in hers!
Cross-cultural partnerships are a great way to meet people outside of your community. You get to engage in different cultures and become a part of each other's lives. Invest fully and enjoy the ride!
We invite you to take the next steps towards becoming a Cross-Cultural Partner by creating a Volunteer Profile and attending a Virtual Information Session and Cross-Cultural Partnership Training.