21st century skills: tutors in the wild: Ermira Kamberi
Going outside the classroom and into 'the wild' of inter-cultural experiences abroad can bring personal growth and career opportunities. This is why Leiden University strives to enable students to develop so called "21st century skills" which are defined as "the ability to work in teams, international and intercultural skills, entrepreneurship and leadership qualities and digital competences".
But how do international experiences help your development and benefit your career? Tutors on the BA International Studies program are citizens of the world with experience conducting research, studying, working and living in different countries. How did it change them? And how do their experiences enrich their teaching on the BA International Studies program?
Ermira Kamberi is a tutor from our Communication Power and Culture of North America course. She has spent the last ten years living abroad, in six different countries. Here she tells us about her experience as an intern in Mumbai, India, "the most incredible culture, where the 'modern' and the 'traditional' compete and co-exist all at once," she says.
I had always wanted to visit India because part of my ancestry traces back there. When the opportunity arose to do an internship in Mumbai in 2012 I took it. It was working as a Project Assistant for the SMILE project, which helps underprivileged children and adolescents in their physical, psychosocial, and emotional development: essentially, it aims to confront and dispel fears and taboos about the body, puberty and sexual development.
I was responsible for communication between the doctors, who would conduct informal sessions with the students, and the schools. I helped prepare their presentation on child protection, gender, adolescence, and contraception/STIs. The students' level of curiosity proved just how relevant the project was. Unfortunately, sexual development is a taboo topic in many social circles in India.
India is diverse from a cultural, ethnic, and religious perspective. It is a country that challenges your patience, taste buds, and your values. It will certainly not leave you indifferent.
I discovered that I can blend in quite successfully with the local population. I recognised some of the cultural values I grew up with, which convinced me that there are often common denominators among seemingly very distant cultures. I realised that my beliefs about what is right and wrong can be different from someone else's simply because of the cultures we grew up in.
I was on a visit to the Elephanta Caves near Mumbai. There was a caste system in how much Indians and foreigners pay to enter the island: Indians pay around 25 times less. I took my chances, went to the counter, spoke a bit of broken English and with the help of my accurate pronunciation of the number “one” in Hindi, was able to pass as Indian. My Polish redhead friend Sonya wasn’t as lucky.
I often mention during my first tutorial of the semester the importance of keeping an open mind. Considering the diversity of students in the class, it is important that all students feel comfortable expressing their opinions without fear of being attacked. Only open communication can lead to a better understanding of each other, and to the realisation that there is not only one correct answer to a problem.
Make as many friends as you can from the host country, because they will provide you with knowledge about the culture, such as the DOs and DON’Ts, which are very useful. Remember that living abroad requires a change of mind-set: your cultural convictions may be quite different. Keep an open mind, and enjoy the local cuisine!