Culture Trading - the importance of the stories of others

BY SAKURA YONEYAMA (staff writer)

Photos of Spain, Sakura's current place of residence

I would like to think that the people I surround myself with are diverse, bright people--the kind of people that enjoy sitting around a table while simply sharing stories of their past experiences.

However, until recently, I realized that I don’t often take in the stories that my friends so passionately discuss; I listened to them, but simply did so that I could be the next one to speak. Only after I applied to be a writer for the Diversity Story and started writing articles did I actually stop to examine and process how the experiences that my friends shared with me affected not just me, but everyone at that table.

One of my closest friends is a girl from Colombia; I previously interviewed her once for one of my articles. She often talks about her life in Canada and in Colombia, describing her cousin the biologist, and the crazy winters they had in Canada in great detail. Every time she spoke about her past and her culture, I was able to take a small peek into that era of her life. Every story was a trip to a moment or two from her childhood.

For example, I remember how once I had her read a script I was writing for my oral exam for Spanish class. I was required to insert some vocabulary words related to a beach, so I wrote about getting ice cream on a hot sunny day at the sweltering beach. As my friend read over my speech, at one point, she made a confused face, and told me that “cucurucho” (which means ‘cone’ in Spanish) is not a word that is often used. My Spanish friend, who was also reading over my script, butts in and disagrees, claiming that it is indeed a common word. This is merely a small detail in a sea of languages and words, but her statement gave me even more clarity of how culture and countries cause a language to morph and change, resulting in subtle differences like the “cucurucho” term.

Another friend of mine is, like me, Japanese, and I first met her on the school bus. She is half-Japanese, and is extremely outgoing and kind. Our first conversation was over our shared culture. Our friendship started when she tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I was Japanese. We bonded over many topics: Tokyo, Japanese food, and shared feelings of nostalgia and happiness. She told me about her grandparents in Japan, and her excitement to be going back this summer.

A conversation that first revolved around a shared culture morphed into a conversation about books, and soon became a friendship.

Through this shared culture and our mutual feelings of wanting to share a piece of ourselves, we were able to forge a valuable friendship. If she hadn’t spoken to me, I would probably never have been friends with her because we are in separate grades. Sitting on the bus and listening to her talk excitedly about the streets of Shibuya facilitated in building a strong connection with someone who has so much to say.

Furthermore, connections and an impact can be made by simply sharing a culture, even if that culture is not your own. When I first met one of my closest friends here in Spain, we talked a lot about the places we’ve lived in, and we soon found out that both of us had once called Brazil our home. She lived in Rio for several years, and I lived in Sao Paulo for 3 years. I felt that that discovery was the first connection I made with her, and we bonded closely over the culture and country we loved and enjoyed. What makes me even more grateful for this bond is the initiative we took as a result of our shared culture. She was a part of the Global Citizens club, a club dedicated to volunteering and helping the community of Madrid. Her invitation was the push I needed to join this new community. Both of us were aware of the poverty and corruption we witnessed in Brazil. As a result, we are now the co-presidents of The Global Citizens Club, and we both bring forward ideas and ways to help our community. Sharing our knowledge and experiences of Brazil and its cultures not only led us to bond and become best friends, but also moved us to change the world for the better.

These small stories are merely examples of the countless ways the people around me continue to inspire and move me. I live in a world of webs, of shared memories and thoughts, and of new experiences and feelings. With a new academic year starting, I hope to branch out more and find more ways to share and collect fragments of cultures.

Sharing culturally diverse stories to educate, inspire, and empower others