Tag Archives: culture

A thought on Cultural Immersion

Next week, I will finish my exchange program at Dickinson College, and at this moment, some memories bubble to the surface. After packing my clothes and belongings, the smell of the yellow books borrowed from the library or the glimpse of photos from the first weeks in the US trigger the best and the worst moments I have had in my life so far.

Before coming to the US, I had planned to see many American attractions. I would see the Statue of Liberty, I would walk the Brooklyn bridge, I would jog in Central park, I would admire the Washington Monument, I would smell fist-hand Niagara Falls, I would visit many American museums… I had made a small list containing the top things to see and the top things to do, and they would include getting under the skin of the culture, like reading popular books or listening to popular songs, eating authentic food like Philly cheesesteak, chicken pot pie, or New York cheesecake. Living in an English- speaking country meant talking, reading, traveling, and hundreds of hours of conversation.

Cultural immersion and translation

Yes, translating implies that you have a thorough and accurate knowledge about both languages’ grammar, expressions, technical words, and linguistic theories. It means that you are able to transfer meaning from an original source language into a target language. The native speaker from the target language is going to read the translated text as if it were originally written for him.  When we translate, we put ourselves in the author’s shoes and we analyze the context and the purpose in which these words were written or spoken. By being exposed to the language first-hand, it is easier to understand the culture and to recreate the contexts in which these texts were produced.

A Different Concept

If you had asked me at the beginning of this year what “cultural immersion” meant, I would have answered that it meant traveling to another country, and an opportunity to learn the culture`s peculiarity. I would have stressed that traveling to an English- speaking country represented a possibility to “perfect” your language skills like a magical potion.

Now, I would say that “culture immersion” is about feeling the adrenaline of moving away from the comfort zone, learning from other people, observing places, and writing a story about yourself in a new place, meeting new people with thoughts different from your own, grabbing a bike and touring through nature and uncommon places, walking with no direction in mind and knowing the outskirts of a town or a city. It is the recollection of these cherished moments and the remembrance of the sounds, the smells, the sights, and the textures that shape my memories about the US.

Sharing quality time with new friends.
Sharing quality time with old and new friends.

Best and worst moments in the US

Culture immersion meant to me an opportunity to dive into the culture and to polish-off my English. After many months spent in here, I don’t feel ready to leave, and I actually won`t leave yet, because I have decided to take some more opportunities to travel.

The best moments that I have had were those in which I could share with American families and getting to know the culture in depth.

Cooking homemade empanadas and sharing philosofical thoughts about life.
Cooking homemade empanadas and sharing philosofical thoughts about life.
Gathering after hearing anecdotes and a cozy weekend with an American family.
A cozy weekend with an American family.
A special Thanksgiving with an American family, gathering around the fire and enjoying some s'mores and hot apple pies.
A special Thanksgiving with a friends’s family, gathering around the fire, and enjoying some s’mores and hot apple pies.

The worst moments that I have had are coming right now: packing my memories and my belongings, with the thought that, in a month or so, I will leave the country which was my home for the past months…

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I haven`t left yet, so I would like to share a video with you about my experience. I want to thank all my American friends and international friends with whom I spent unforgettable moments. As cheesy as it sounds, I am a different person because I opened my heart to a different culture and I let it enter my heart. Enjoy!

I hope you had enjoyed the video! Keep moving and you`ll embrace many adventures that await you. Life has many surprises that are hidden in the world, in the people, in the cultures, you just have open your heart to receive those gifts.

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Better Understanding of the American Culture

The American Dream, football, baseball, peanut butter, mac and cheese, chicken and waffles, pretzels, and many other aspects of American culture call the foreigner’s attention when they arrive to America, the land of opportunity. However, learning about a culture is completely different from being immersed in it. I have previously studied American culture and I anticipated that it would be gentle to adapt, however it was more difficult than I had thought it would be. Why? A concept I had heard from one of my friends appeared: I was experiencing “culture shock”.

Culture Shock

 The Merriam Webster dictionary defines culture shock as a sense of confusion and uncertainty sometimes with feelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to an alien culture or environment without adequate preparation.

The stages of culture shock are the following:

stages_of_culture_shock

When I found out I would be travelling to the United States I was really excited. I was filled with joy and thinking of my future trip must have made my face light up. I counted down the days and I made sure to have a proper farewell with my family and friends. I tried to imagine what the people would be like, to visualize how I would mature, what changes I would undergo. By the time I returned from the US, would I have made many friends, would I better understand the American culture? I couldn’t grasp what it would be like; I packed my clothes and hoped for the best.

A week before coming to America, I was in my comfort zone; I was reluctant to move to a country that I had only known through documentaries, films, novels, and short stories. I was leaving my home, Argentina, and I was unwilling to go to the US because I had everything I needed, or at least everything I thought I needed. I was afraid of the unknown.

Honeymoon

 The day of my trip came and I travelled to the US with my hopes and dreams held tightly in my backpack. I longed for improving my American accent and to better understand the American culture. The first three weeks I arrived to this country I felt as if I were in a bubble. Everything I saw was marvellous and new and shiny. I admired the American flag and the reverence that all Americans seemed to have when they referred to their country. I was fond of the amicable people I met on the bus, on the street, in the markets. I cherished the landscapes when I cycled through parks with my friends. I delighted in trying new foods such as waffles or New York City cheesecake. I even loved waking up early in the mornings with sunlight on my forehead and the church bells ringing.

Crisis

 The fourth week, I felt somehow alone and I found myself cranky and critical of the United States. I missed my home, my friends, and especially my food. I cherished drinking mate, or eating an asado with my family on a Sunday while drinking a good Malbec. I longed to eat Argentinean meat. I highlighted all the cultural differences that the United States did not have and that Argentina did have to offer me. The United States had a lot of junk food, more individualistic people as compared to the warmth of Argentinean people, more strict rules than the ones I have been used to, especially about punctuality. In short, different values. The activity of working was more important than spending quality time with your family.

Adjustment

I stopped looking at my culture and I started appreciating the bright side of the American culture. The people were more organized and they scheduled some trips months in advance. Meetings with friends were punctual and I felt comfortable about respecting time schedules and having everything organized.

Biculturalism

After experiencing three months in the United States I can fully grasp some cultural concepts that might seem similar in both countries. However, I don’t consider that I have dual cultural identity yet.

 Siesta / Nap

Argentinean siesta is not the same than taking a nap. The first one is to sleep during a one to three hours from 2pm to 5 pm and the second one is shorter (like 40 minutes), and not more than one hour. American people do not need siesta because they go to bed earlier than Argentineans (a typical bedtime for Argentineans would be at 11- 12 am and they would also wake up early at 6 or 7am). Also in some regions of Argentina, the shops close during siesta time.

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Asado / barbecue

Argentinean asado consists of a long and relaxed social and family gathering, generally on Sundays. The meat is cooked on a grill called parrilla and the person who cooks is generally a man. American barbecue is also a social gathering that does not occur that often and during a shorter period. The meat is cooked on a gas grill and thy generally cook sausages and hamburguers.

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Sobremesa/ Coffee Clutch

Sobremesa is time people spend sitting at the table while talking to the other people who shared the meal with you. Sobremesa is a cultural custom in most Spanish speaking countries. Coffe clutch or coffee klatch is a casual conversation when having a coffee. This custom is not commonly practised in the United States.

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Final thought

Experiencing culture shock was the best circumstance I could have undergone in life. Not only have I learned about my culture and the American culture, but I have also gained a deep understanding of myself. I became more tolerant about other people`s thoughts and beliefs and I could see life from other perspectives. I learned how to open my heart and show my true colors.

Traduttore, Tradittore: Translation Ethics and Mistranslations

The Italian saying “traduttore, tradittore”, which in English means “translator, traitor” was my first encounter with translation issues. During my freshmen year in the English- Spanish Translation Program, one of my teachers introduced us to this saying, which made me think about translation, but I still didn’t fully grasp its meaning. Why would translators purposefully betray people if their purpose is to bridge cultural gaps and facilitate communication? Can mistranslations have a profound impact on the client`s business and image?

Before delving into mistranslations and some of their potentially damaging effects, it is crucial to define ethics.

What is ethics?

I believe ethics is about putting ourselves in another person`s shoes and thus, thinking about the implications of our actions on society. In the conference of Ethics and Interpreter Training, Mona Baker,an Egyptian professor of translation studies, expresses that “ethics is about the implications of everybody in any kind of encounter”. If we want to be professionals, we have to behave as such. If you schedule an appointment with a doctor, you instill your trust in them and you assume they will take care of you. You implicitly know if any health problem arises, they will do their best to diagnose and treat it. The same situation occurs with translators. The client trusts the translator, who, of course, will work to the best of their knowledge to aid in communication. However, what happens when you accept a job for which you are not prepared?

The following video is a dramatization that portrays an ironic situation of an interpreter who, instead of helping the client, causes him to experience an uncomfortable moment in front of his company`s CEOs.

Funny video, but not so amusing when you are the client. Although these situations extreme and rarely happen, it would now be important to clarify what is mistranslation.

Mistranslation     

Mistranslation implies something deeper than a bad translation; it implies the partial or total loss of the intended meaning of a message. While there could be some minor deviations in meaning like omissions, additions, bad choice of words, unclear ideas and ungrammatical sentences, some major mistakes may have financial and legal or political implications.

Faulty translations may deeply affect the clients. It is not wrong to say no if we are not qualified for or if we think we are not going to meet the tight deadline. In order to avoid mistranslations, we have to make sure we proof read and edit the text effectively, showing our professionalism and expertise.

If you liked this post, you cannot miss next week`s post on cultural differences, neologisms and when to borrow terms. Please feel free to comment. I am looking forward to reading your opinion about this topic.