"The role of the curious – thirsty for knowledge"
Each year, more than 80 young professionals change their work place as participants in the CrossCulture Programme: Over a period of two to three months, they get to know the work routine in a different cultural setting. Most of them are from countries that are predominantly influenced by Islam. However, there are also Germans participating in the CrossCulture Programme, who then work for an organization in one of the 35 partaking countries. Nora Schlebusch is one of them. In this interview she talks about feelings of home, self-empowerment and her role as European woman in Tunisia.
Interview by Franziska Lengerer
ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen): You already lived in many different countries including the U.S., Kenia and the Netherlands. What does the concept „home“ mean to you?
Nora: Home is a place where I feel comfortable and where I’m surrounded by familiar people. At the moment that is the city of Essen. I know that I could also cope anywhere else though, and that other places could eventually become my “home”.
ifa: And you also enjoy travelling a lot – why?
Nora: I like being able to experience everyday life in other places and to get to know new and different perspectives. "Empowerment" is a very important term in this context. It stands for all approaches in psycho-social practice that encourage people to discover their own strengths and to help them become more self-determined and autonomous. Essentially, it is about deciding between possible strategies that might help with coping in a foreign surrounding.
ifa: Was this form of self-empowerment important during your three-month-long CrossCulture stay in Tunis?
Nora: Yes, that was very important. It helps a lot to actively engage in conversations with people, rather than keeping problems to oneself. My dear friend Amina was an important local reference person with whom I could exchange views. She was able to give me additional input on cultural aspects, and added her informed perspective to my impressions. Whenever there was a problem, it was also helpful to step out of the situation and to look for alternatives that had not been on my radar before. Improvisation is another important term – playing with one’s options.
ifa: How did you feel in your role as a European in Tunisia? Did you have any problems with that?
Nora: I try not to see myself as someone, who „comes and helps“. I prefer to be in the role of the curious, who is self-reflective and hungry for knowledge. Being able to offer solutions for each and every problem is not as important to me as to show real interest in backgrounds: What is the political framework? How does the local system work? How are social relations and social life organized?
ifa: In your CrossCulture application you mentioned the importance of reducing any stereotypes you might have. Do you think you were successful in this regard?
Nora: While I don’t think that I am free from stereotypes, I believe that reflecting and confronting them is as important. I constantly try to engage in new and challenging situations, and question my position. Discussions I had in Tunisia strongly supported this process of self-reflection. Therefore, I would respond to this question with a “yes”. I was able to learn a lot about myself and others.
ifa: Thank you for these interesting insights.