Solving 21st Century Problems Demands Intercultural Competence

This RGLP session focused on Capoeira, a Brazilian martial art, something I had never heard of before. As the instructor, Fabio “Fua” Nascimento, led us through a number of activities, I started to piece together what Capoeira was: both the physical activity, and the cultural history and significance behind it. 

One of the parts of the program that I found especially thought-provoking was the partner-dance component.  Each person was paired with a partner of the opposite sex, and our instructor stressed the importance of physical closeness, in order to communicate via body language, rather than spoken words.  We were all awkward and self-conscious in the beginning, but by the end of the dancing segment, I felt as though we had gotten into the swing of things, so to speak.

I was able to attribute the initial discomfort I felt to the cultural values that I grew up with, which shaped my perception of concepts such as personal space and intimacy.  I felt comfortable enough to even transcend most of my discomfort, and to begin to enjoy the dancing.  However, when I began to consider the reasons behind my own discomfort, I began to wonder how people from other cultures would react to the situation, where perhaps concepts of intimacy and personal space differ greatly from the suburban Massachusetts culture that I was brought up in, or the Dartmouth culture I have experienced for the past three years.  I also wondered whether our program was structured by our instructor specifically for Dartmouth students, or if he would employ the same program structure for all different cultural groups, and if that would affect its efficacy.

All in all, I found the experience fun, challenging, and again, thought-provoking.  I think it was a valuable reminder of the challenges and discomforts that one experiences when faced with cultural immersion, and an exercise in developing intercultural fluency through being directly situated in a full-immersion situation. 

- Submitted by Aiko Laski ’17, Rockefeller Global Leaderhip Program Participant