i have been thinking a lot about culture this week, which directly relates to the outfit i'm wearing today. you don't see me wear pants that often, but when i do it's either because i'm going to visit someone in a part of town that i don't feel comfortable in and want to "blend in" as much as possible (ie: not drawing attention to myself by wearing high heels, bare legs, long flowy hair) or more likely, i'm meeting with one of my culturally-diverse clients and i know i'll need to remove my shoes before entering their house so i want to be wearing socks and shoes.
my mind has definitely opened up with the opportunities i have had to work with culturally-diverse clients. i've had (or have) clients who speak arabic, hmong, oromo, somali, vietnamese, spanish, russian, cantonese, karen, nepali, punjabi, and a rare dialect from liberia called sapo. today i met with a client who speaks cambodian. i've learned to veer from my assessment and focus first on asking the uncomfortable (for me) questions about their immigration to the united states, typically as refugees, and their family system. i've learned that through those tough questions comes trust. one of the best days of my career thus far was when a karen man played me a church hymn on the accordion while his wife sang along. the same client loaned me dvds depicting the ongoing wars in his home country and what life was like for refugees, including himself. i've had a nepalese client make me a traditional noodle dish and spiced tea with milk. i've had countless clients refuse to let me leave their home without giving me something, a can of coke or an apple. by that point, i usually realize that the purpose of the visit wasn't about my interview at all but was to open up my worldview a little wider.
i've been working through an online module training course this week about cultural diversity. one section i read yesterday talked about how our cultural values inform every part of our day – how we dress, how we act, and how we react. all of this is informed by our culture, so when you come in contact with others, there are always multiple “cultures” present. i think that is why cultural competency is so necessary and why i adjust parts of me (someone who likes to wear skirts with bare legs and no socks) to respect the culture of my clients when i know we are going to interact. i don't think it means i always need to mask my culture, but i have the competency to know when it should be and that it always goes beyond just removing my shoes.
i feel really blessed to have the job that i do and to have these opportunities to interact with different people, so thank you for letting me share a bit of that with you today, along with this not-so-smashing outfit...
are there certain aspects of your career that prompt you to dress slightly different than you ordinarily would?