While creating my vision board recently, a word that stood out as significant to me and significant to others who reviewed my board was “ambassador.” I included it because I aspire to be a cultural ambassador. Not necessarily an ambassador in the traditional sense of the word, i.e., a U.S. ambassador, but in the broader sense of being a representative or promoter. There is nothing I enjoy more than learning about other cultures and teaching others about my own culture. Over the past few years, I have pursued ambassador-like work through several outlets, such as:
- English as a Second Language (ESL) Conversation Circle Leader with the University of Michigan English Language Institute: I met with international graduate students on a weekly basis to practice conversational English and teach them about United States customs. Each week we met at different venues (coffee shops, parks, cider mills, movie theaters, etc.) and discussed colloquial language and common activities that U.S. citizens like to do. It was rewarding to share my background and to learn about the backgrounds of my students through the process. We would compare language differences and customs and develop a greater sense of cultural understanding.
- Positively Cleveland: I attended a Positively Cleveland luncheon while interning in Cleveland two years ago. I learned the importance of speaking positively about where you live, as you are a representative. Those who have never visited your city may have preconceived notions that will not change unless you convince them otherwise. Positively Cleveland teaches the importance of having pride in where you are from (specifically Cleveland, in this case) and communicating that pride. A thought-provoking quote I came across on their website makes this idea hit home:
“If you don’t like what people are saying, change the conversation.”
- Teaching English as a Second Language at El Barrio with the Centers for Families and Children in Cleveland, Ohio: I lead ESL classes with Latin American adults preparing for the business world. I get to know each of the students individually and relate our lessons to their countries of origin. I talk about my background in the United States and relate to them with my experience learning the Spanish language. The students look to me as a representative voice of language and customs in the U.S. I take this as a great responsibility and want to have a positive influence on their perceptions of speaking English and living in the United States.
Thinking through this further, I realized that we all can be ambassadors. Every single one of us is an ambassador to our hometown, where we live now, our profession, and our individual cultures and customs. As we travel and meet new people, we represent the outlooks and perceptions of our origin. Considering ourselves to be ambassadors, it may change how we portray where we live and what we do. We should stop thinking about our actions on an individual level, but rather how they affect the locations and groups we represent. For example, if we are rude to others while we travel, the people may start to generalize about our home country, profession, and more. With an ambassador lens, we become more focused on how our actions affect others.
We are all ambassadors in our daily lives. It’s your choice. What would you like to represent and promote? What kind of ambassador are you?