Reflections I

By Cynthia Reiss

It’s Monday, July 18 and I am back home in the US reflecting on my week in Salzburg. There’ll be a variety of blogs to follow but I can say with confidence that though I have been to Europe over fifty times throughout my life, sometimes four a year…this may have been the most transformative experience.

Often, we think we’ve experienced a culture and country once we’ve visited it.  Yet, often, much of our experience is from our 4-star hotel looking out, visiting the major sites, and seeing it through the safe lens of a tourist. Though many of my trips have included conversations with the locals, this was the first time I had quite a few days to talk to Europeans about what they thought about us, talked to Americans from different parts of he country about what we thought about the way that Europeans thought about us, and an opportunity to dialogue about these perceptions at various times sometimes by accident, sometimes deliberately through the vehicle of the conference. Most beneficial was the ability to return and build on conversations with the same people and not feel obliged to keep the conversation “safe.” With both our European and American cohorts, the conversations  were, on many levels, very telling.  In our countries, institutions, families, let alone in cross-cultural group  communications, do we have places where we can dialogue honestly and reflect on the benefits or detriments of it later?

One lecture in particular made me think about the following things:
How do we make sense of other cultures? In an era where access to cultures and countries is so easy via skype, internet, media…do we not in fact necessarily know so much about other cultures in a way we were unable to decades past? OR is this immediate access to others really a superficial one that gives us the illusion of “knowing” about other cultures, when, in reality, we are at such a deficit? what does “knowing” mean? We get information yes, but information is not knowledge…

Just a few preliminary ruminations…more to come.

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