Between Cultures

Part I: The “Happy Kenyan Spirit” in Germany
My name is Hawa Noor and I come from Nakuru, Kenya. I was a journalist in Kenya for three years after graduating in Mass Communication from the Islamic University in Uganda. I had already fallen in love with Germany due to earlier visits to see my sister, who lives in Aachen. This, together with my academic ambitions, made me interested in studying at a German university. So I applied for the DAAD scholarship and was successful. I moved to Leipzig at the beginning of 2008 where I did my language course. I then relocated to Magdeburg to start the Peace and Conflict programme.

There are aspects of my stay that are interesting to share. To begin with, I come from a “collectivist” culture, meaning the actions of its members are inter-dependent and issues are generally seen from the “group” perspective. So when this “happy Kenyan spirit” landed in Germany, it took me over four months before I started feeling lonely and missing home.

The effort I put into learning the German language helped a great deal because it made me understand the German mentality faster. I did this because as a Muslim, part of the religious teaching is to put effort into understanding other cultures and languages as a way to overcome prejudices. This kept me going and made life much easier.

All in all, I got accustomed to the German lifestyle, and it has made a lasting impression on me. No matter where I am, I apply German standards of doing things! Why? Because their values of strict timing, order and efficiency are great for achieving goals quickly.

Part II: The rocky road of reintegration
As a social scientist I was prepared for culture shock upon my return to Kenya. I did, nevertheless, encounter difficulties. Luckily I was able to understand these problems and responded proactively.

Take gender roles, for example: As much as we live in a globalized world, there are many traditionalists who are sceptical of the changing world dynamics. It is distressing to encounter people who are not willing to accept others as they are. I encountered such people and received “polite” advice on how to improve my behaviour.

I also experienced communication barriers – people did not understand what I was trying to say. I was naturally excited and curious to go back to old friends and to the laughter and smiles of home. Most importantly, I was eager to share my experiences and use them to bring about improvement in my country. But I was often disappointed. After two years in Kenya, I have learned to choose like-minded people and this has made life much more fun.

My working environment, with its many rules, offered perhaps the greatest challenge. The nature of my work, which is focused on bringing together different faith communities to promote peace, demands flexibility and understanding. I have received plenty of support, but I have also faced the personal prejudices and intolerance of others.

Knowing that I am not the only one going through such challenges, I remain wholly focused on my work – an intercultural project aimed at bringing together the West and Africa to promote cultural diversity and understanding.

Part III: Happy to be back
Returning to the heat was a very good thing. I do not miss the cold European weather at all. I developed a phobia of cold weather while I was holed away in Magdeburg. I lived alone, had a lot to do, and when I’d opened my curtains in winter, all I saw were grey buildings. It was a lonely time. Although Kenya in July can be cold and rainy, the experience is a different one.

Another positive aspect is the value is my education. I feel respected when I talk about my academic progress and this motivates me to do even better. As a part-time lecturer at the University of Nairobi, I am inspired by my students. I integrate as many multi-cultural aspects into my lessons as possible to promote understanding, tolerance and global citizenship.

I advise other alumni returning to their home countries not to be afraid and to be proud of their international exposure. Always put into practice – without minding how you are judged – the positive cultural values you have gathered on your journey.-whether east or west. And let promoting humanity and development be your guiding principle. I believe that if we were all as committed, strict with time and organized as most Germans – or as happy and welcoming as most Kenyans – the world would be a much better place!

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