Becoming a Person through Intercultural Communication

A White American’s Experiences in Asia and Africa

In: Intercultural Mirrors

Abstract

Martin Buber’s philosophy of dialogue provides the conceptual framework for understanding the influence of intercultural communication on my identity development. For Buber, the self is relational, and it is only through our encounters with others that we build a self. In line with Buber’s philosophy, I describe my experiences in Asia and Africa over a period of nearly 25 years that led to significant changes in my perception of self. Two major phases of identity development are traced. The first is one of taking advantage of my position as a white American and relating to nonwhite peoples on my terms and treating them as less developed. The second is the phase when I began to understand the historical predicament of non-Western cultures and how Western colonialism and other forms of domination formed the background of my intercultural interactions. At that point, intercultural communication became a vehicle for reaching out to those who are different and to move from an identity that relied on feelings of superiority toward cultural others to an identity based more on mutuality and giving. I ended up attempting to integrate what was valuable from my original cultural background with what I had learned from the cultures of Asia and Africa. This perspective enabled me to see myself as both a unique individual and as a member of larger communities that I could choose to enter, leave, and re-enter.