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Breaking the language barrier

Language and culture

Larry D Lumsden

Having travelled the world in various capacities, I must say I have come to the conclusion that conversing with people of different languages and cultures are by far the most interesting experience that can sometimes be fun and at times scary. In the last year, I have had a first-hand experience in living, working, studying, eating and at times dating in the midst of a huge language and cultural barrier. Take for example living here in the Netherlands there is so much to learn and understand if you are to make it in this culture.

In September last year I began learning Dutch at Alfa-College and that in itself has been a journey… one where my fellow classmate are from various counties. Further, I spend a long time in an AZC where I was a roommate in the midst of people from different cultures and language. Yet further, I am currently a volunteer at COC and our group is the embodiment of a cultural and language melting pot.

In this blog I will seek to explore these encounters and share some of my own experiences.


COC Asylum volunteer group

Members of the COC volunteer group

But first let me express sincere thanks to the organizing committee of the COC (Asylum Group) who speaks to the topic of today’s blog. Led by Nick Kemps, this group of which I am a proud part work tirelessly to support and at time console each and every member. Our group meet each month to plan and execute the next month meeting but that’s not the end of our task. During the month, we spend our time responding to emails, meeting new intakes, visiting AZC’s and many other agenda items that keep our group moving forward. Despite the various cultures and languages, we have found ways to integrate it all and communicate a common language for a common purpose.

Meanwhile…at school I have found this to also be true. When I first enrolled I was told don’t expect to get any such help from teachers as they all speak Dutch. I must say having started my Dutch lessons it has been a learning experience not just on the “Nederlandse Taal” (Dutch language) but the culture and the little do’s and dont’s here in the Netherlands. Like for one thing I was told to always be on time: “Dutch people hate late appointments” this turned out to be true. So why did I use this as an example? Well in each culture I have encountered I have found the response to time is different. Some people arrive before time while some are always late. Yet still there are others who miss appointments and don’t call or text.

But returning to my class, I have integrated with students from Syria, Eritrea, Russia, Sudan, Iran and Iraq to name a few. And although there exist some serious disagreements especially when it comes to LGBT rights and freedoms there have been some common ground. Teachers have gone above and beyond in ensuring this diversity issue is dealt with in a clear and understandable manner. In fact, last year on national diversity day one of my teachers wore a rainbow-flag tie to explain what the day was all about.

That brings me to our monthly COC meetings. At these meetings, you are guaranteed to meet and greet with people from many countries that include but are not limited to Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Russia, Sierra Leon, Burundi, etc. In one of our session recently we ask each member to tell a personal story of something that remains in their minds with use of drawing. Now what better way to say something when there is a language barrier? Some of the drawling tell of the same struggle faced by other members of the LGBT community. It’s like the title of a Whitney Houston song “SAME SCRIPT DIFFERENT CAST”

Let’s take a look at some of those stories.

We have also started acting, singing, meditation and dancing workshops at our monthly meetings and it’s amazing to see the level of participation from each member of the group.

I guess in conclusion one can say one of the unique thing about communicating universally is through emotions and art. When we cry, everyone understands what that means, when we laugh everyone understands what that means. Love is universal, sorrow is universal so too is pain and suffering. So too is heartbreak. And what about movies and TV shows…I have seen people sat through and entire movie not being able to understand what is being said and still have the ability to follow the movie and more than that understand it.

In the final analysis let’s learn to appreciate each other and appreciate and accept each other’s culture. You may not like it but learn to live and let live.

Later this month on April 27, we will join with the rest of Netherlands to celebrate King Willem Alexander’s Birthday.(Koningsdag). So, let’s all say “fijne verjaardag Koning Willem-Alexander”

We would like to invite you to send us your own personal stories and comments. You can reach us by sending an e-mail to asiel@cocgd.nl. You can also read Larry’s previous blogs of March 2017 here and December 2016 here.