A New Core Anchor for a Different Voice: Connection
My educational experience in cross-cultural coaching at the Professional School of Psychology (PSP) actually began ten days prior to the start of the Bali class, when I arrived in Singapore to sightsee before our studies began. Traveling overseas solo for the first time, I was worried about being on my own, so had apprehensively made a dinner plan with a classmate for the first evening. I had only met this colleague in class on Zoom, and I worried I might be imposing on his time. I had heard Singapore was fairly westernized and imagined that like the USA it would be “every man for himself”.
My colleague was married and had four sons; I was certain he was busy. I imagined he was simply being polite or ingratiating himself to our professor by being nice to the only present American student, me. I also felt self-conscious as an American traveling overseas after the 2016 election of Donald Trump. Trump had run and become President on an anti-immigrant/foreigner platform. Although I was horrified about the election results, I felt I couldn’t expect kindness from Asians when my own country’s leader used such hateful rhetoric toward non-Americans. I was ashamed of my country and felt I would understand if people from other countries would want to keep their distance from me, a potential “ugly” American.
I arrived at my hotel and freshened up. In a few hours my classmate, Ivan, showed up to welcome me to his city and country. Having only conversed on a two-dimensional computer screen, I was surprised that we immediately recognized each other in our three-dimensional forms! Although we were virtual strangers, Ivan informed me he had taken some time off from work to accompany me around Singapore, stating I was “a guest in (his) country and that it was (his) intention to take (me) to all the famous sites in Singapore as well as some of (his) own favorite places”. I felt so safe and cared about and was deeply touched by his hospitality. I sadly thought to myself that foreign visitors to the United States are rarely treated with such kindness, especially in the current political climate.
That week, I learned that Ivan really likes all kinds of noodles and a dish called Chicken-Rice and I suspect I ate the best Chinese food in Singapore. Ivan told me about the history of his city and of his family and the story of how they came from China to Singapore. He told me about his parents, his sister, his wife and her family and about his sons. He asked me questions about my husband, children, parents and family background. Ivan is a Chinese Christian, formerly a Buddhist monk. My parents are from New York, I grew up in northern California and am of Jewish Eastern European, Irish Catholic, Revolutionary War Protestant and a small percentage of Native American descent. Basically, a product of the American melting pot who practices Judaism.
Over the next three days, we talked about our spiritual beliefs and our psychotherapy practices. We also learned that we both had studied martial arts which had greatly influenced our lives and spirituality. We were from different parts of the planet, different cultures and spoke vastly different languages with different alphabets, yet we had so much in common and connected like a brother and sister who had known each other their whole lives. During our three days together, Ivan and I talked and laughed and cemented a deep friendship and professional relationship that has sustained us not only through our doctoral program experience but also through personal tragedies and losses. This friendship, as well as other important connections I have made at PSP, have been the most important part of my graduate school experience. Was my academic education at PSP excellent? Yes! Was the cross-cultural perspective illuminating, unique and inspiring? Yes! But what sustained me, what really mattered to me were the intimate connections.