International Education Week: Cross-Cultural Conversations in the 21st Century
On Monday, accredited consultant/adviser and “cultural translator” Tayo Rockson, with origins from Nigeria, came to Skidmore to deliver a talk on the significance of the International Education Week. Rockson’s passion for education, and specifically cross-culture communication, came from his experience as a ‘Third Culture Kid’—someone who spent the majority of his or her youth in a country with a culture different from their parents—as well as admiration for his father’s intellect in global knowledge as a diplomat.
The talk began with an emphasis on finding commonalities amongst individuals who initially appear different. Rockson used a personal example from when he was young and sought out knowledge in basketball to find commonalities with his peers. Being “on the court” transcended nationalistic and ethnic differences. This brought forth three general values that Rockson currently believes are essential in making meaningful exchange and being agents that could change the world: educate, don’t perpetuate, communicate.
Education addresses the need to call for self-reflection of analyzing personal experiences, biases, and comfort level within one’s environment. The perpetuation of stereotypes and assumptions was introduced by another personal example of when Rockson was at school in the United States. Within his first week as a freshman, he was met with insensitive jokes and inaccurate beliefs about his ethnicity. Rockson concluded his speech by emphasizing that breaking the cycle of having comfort over courage is necessary in order to promote a higher understanding of the world. The lack thereof leads to silence, which he argues, is as violent as those perpetuating ignorance.
The speaker opened up the room for questions. One question brought forward was the concern of having the burden of teaching ignorant individuals (and its potentially exhausting effects). Rockson’s reply, which is arguably contradictory to his initial message of communicating outside of comfort, was that educating others was not obligatory. Another question addressed social media and its use in terms of global citizenship, which Rockson spoke favorably of. The use of social media, he explained, is an undervalued platform that is used as a resource for people to share their stories and form tribe-like communities based on shared experience. Members of the audience additionally shared their own experiences with navigating across cultures and the importance of having these conversations.
The talk overall generated a typical lecture to students that encompassed major concepts, but failed to specifically address interpersonal methods. Additionally, the talk undermined potential challenges of communication by exclusively describing superficial methods of finding commonalities (like food and music), and neglecting to discuss dialogue amongst individuals who come from cultures that uphold fundamentally different values. Despite this, Rockson did deliver a heartfelt message of broadening perspectives and promoting the urgency of exchange in a privileged time where students have access to varying ideals and narratives around the globe.
This talk was part of Skidmore’s Office of Off-Campus Study & Exchanges launch in ‘International Education Week,’ starting Monday, Nov. 13.