This is the Season of the year when we offer family, friends, and colleagues various wishes and positive admonitions – Best wishes for the Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Have a prosperous New Year…Whatever phrases you use, you are letting them know that you hope all unfolds well for them during this special time of the year and in the New Year. For 2020 I suggest that we add another admonition my coauthor and I used as the title of an article: “Please Speak to Strangers!”
Published online by PYXERA Global, the sentiment is one we often remember as the opposite of what we were told as children. In fact, early in the article I recount a favorite family story when my Mom and Dad were saying good bye to me at O’Hare Airport so I could fly to New York to catch a student ship to Europe. I was participating in an Experiment in International Living Program in Germany. I did not know anyone in Germany or in my American group. Still, the last thing Mom said to me was “Sherry, remember, don’t speak to strangers!”
Despite her cautionary farewell, that exchange program living with a German family in Bad Godesberg was a transformative experience. I have been blessed with a rewarding career administering and evaluating exchange programs — speaking to strangers and preparing others to do so with cultural sensitivity. Just a few weeks ago en route home from working with IVLP alumni in Bahrain, I enjoyed another homestay (perhaps the 21st) with my “sister” (and her Dutch husband) from that first exchange program more than 50 years ago.
The professor in me cannot resist giving an assignment. If you are not familiar with the book: Strangers in Their Own Land by sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild, have a look at it. It explains at lot about why we find ourselves in the thought silos that we are in. As an admirer of Edward R. Murrow and his frequent observation that the most important distance in communication is “the last three feet”, I wish you all the best for the new year and many opportunities to speak to strangers. It is the only way we will come to understand, identify common interests, and, hopefully, learn to cooperate more productively.
Click here for the original article that Brittany Lynk and I coauthored where you’ll find a new photograph of Gisela and me taken earlier this month and an old one too.
Sherry L. Mueller, Ph.D.serves as an adjunct professor at the School of International Service (SIS), American University, Washington, D.C. She teaches an undergraduate course and a graduate Practicum entitled Cultural Diplomacy and International Exchange. Dr. Mueller provided leadership for the National Council for International Visitors (now Global Ties U.S.) since 1996, first as Executive Director and then as President until September 30, 2011.