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16-04-20

Interview with Samen Hier Cultural Ambassador, Saron

In our initiative Samen Hier, one of the tools that make the Samen Hier method so successful are the Cultural Ambassadors. Cultural Ambassadors are linked to Welcome Groups that have been matched to a newcomer in their city. They support the groups by sharing knowledge of different cultures and help to bridge the gap between any cultural differences, using their experience from years living in the Netherlands and other countries. They also support the groups and newcomers with any language barriers they may face, often speaking two or more languages, and are an important part of the Samen Hier community. To get a unique peek into what it is like to be a Cultural Ambassador, we spoke to Saron.

Saron has lived in the Netherlands for four years now, after moving from her motherland Eritrea. Since the start of Samen Hier, Saron has been active as a Cultural Ambassador. She has an inspiring and positive personality, which came in useful when she moved to Katwijk, a small seaside town west of Leiden. Since Katwijk is a closed Christian community, making contacts can be quite difficult. “Luckily, I am an easy-going and social person. Naturally, I learnt something new every day. If I learn something today, I like to see it in practice the next day.” With this positive attitude, Saron became an entrepreneur. She now gives trainings about cultural sensitivity for municipalities in the Netherlands, and other professionals that work with status holders.

Photo: Saron presenting at the Samen Hier Eritrea evening.

As a Cultural Ambassador, she does not only help with language barriers between Welcome Groups and status holders whom are studying Dutch. She also bridges cultural differences, and helps to prevent smaller and bigger misunderstandings. To new Welcome Groups, she says that there are no stupid questions: “By asking questions about another culture in relation to your own, you can learn so much. By doing so, you take a moment to realise your own cultural biases, which can prevent misunderstandings in the future”. For new Eritrean participants of Samen Hier she would like to say that it is okay to open up and speak more about themselves. Saron shares that this can be quite a hard task, considering that “in Eritrean culture, it remains a taboo to talk about yourself. By asking questions and telling about yourself, you create a safe and trusting environment, so that you can learn from each other’s perspectives”.

Disrespectful, or different perceptions?

“You can’t just simply understand another culture”, says Saron. “You can already notice this when for example, a Dutch person going on holiday to Germany or Belgium. Unknowingly, there can be quite some obstacles because we act out of our own cultural perspective. And Eritrea is a completely different culture.”

Earlier, she experienced a situation where an Eritrean participant invited the other Welcome Group members to have coffee over at his place. For those that do not know this: in Eritrean culture, there is a whole ceremony in preparing coffee for your guests. The Eritrean coffee ritual can take up to three hours! “The Dutch friends he invited thought it would be enough to plan in one hour in their agendas for the coffee date. So after only one hour of waiting for the coffee they decided to leave. The Eritrean man thought ‘Why’? And actually felt that it was quite disrespectful to leave before finishing the ceremony. Whilst the Dutch thought ‘Well, it’s a bit disrespectful to have us wait for an hour and still not give us any coffee!’.” Both groups apparently had different expectations of their coffee date and even respectively thought they were disrespectful. Not that surprising, according to Saron: “Respect has a different definition in both cultures. It’s actually a simple misunderstanding, but that’s how it starts.” Fortunately, Saron was able to properly explain the situation. “The participants can all adjust to each other that way. Look, you’ve just got two extremes, and the Cultural Ambassador can bring that in the middle, so both get an understanding for each other’s cultural interpretations and behavior.”

Cultural Ambassadors are crucial puzzle pieces to the Samen Hier network. They are always there for the groups and play a key role in connecting people of different cultures and languages. Perhaps especially when it concerns small instances, they can prevent misunderstandings, because they are the experts on the field of cultural sensitivity. All Samen Hier participants can easily contact a Cultural Ambassador by simply sending a text.

What can you do?

  • Did you get inspired to become a cultural ambassador for Samen Hier? Sent an email to info[at]samenhier.nl!
  • Or would you like to participate in Samen Hier and form a Welcome Group? In the latter half of 2020, new groups will start. Keep an eye on our social media and website for updates on when and where!