Olive Branch

Kim Asenbeck - Brazil


January 9, 2013

In Germany, next to my blonde-haired, blue-eyed cousins, I look like the child from the Jungle Book. Next to my Brazilian cousins, I look like a pale ghost. I’m too dark. I’m too light. In Germany, they tell me to take myself more seriously. In Brazil, they tell me to laugh a little. I don’t like beer. I don’t like soccer. In Brazil, I’m too German. In Germany, I’m too Brazilian.

On the cultural spectrum, the two countries couldn’t be further apart. While the preferred German greeting is a formal handshake, Brazil opts for a more intimate kiss on the cheek. When a Brazilian party is said to be starting at 5:00, it is understood that the guests will arrive around 6:00. Meanwhile, German guests would tend to arrive at 4:58.  (After all, “to be early is to be on time, and to be on time is to be late.”) While the German keyword is efficiency, the Brazilian equivalent is tranquility. To call this a clash of cultures would only scratch the surface.

I’m here in Brazil right now because I wanted to find a balance. I wanted to find the proverbial olive branch which would bring about an end to the culture war being waged within me. I wanted to assimilate in such a way which would allow me to fuse the many facets of my cultural identity. I wanted to find out who I am, and what I am. And I have learned.

I have learned that I am an ambassador. I am a globetrotter. I am a bridge between continents, an occasional diplomat. I am a mirror of my world. My heart beats for my brothers and sisters in Africa. My ears strain to hear the cries of a Chinese baby killed for being born a girl. My eyes twinkle with the light of the seas that connect us.

They call folks like me “Third Culture Kids.” We’re children of the world, and have a globalized, multi-cultural world view. We understand each other well, no matter our origins, because we all float in a space of cultural ambiguity. We’re not enough of this, and we’re all too much of that. We may not fit the mold as citizens of our respective countries, but we are undeniably Global Citizens.

My role as a Global Citizen, as I see it, can be summarized by two quotes. In the words of Herman Melville, “We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results.” Or, as Lao Tzu put it, “Go to the people: live with them, learn from them, love them, start with what they know, build with what they have. But of the best leaders, when the job is done, the task accomplished, the people will say, ‘We have done it ourselves.'” These words effectively summarize my philosophy as it relates to global citizenship, development, and leadership. They effectively summarize the purpose behind my Global Citizen Year, and my motivation for being here in Brazil right now.

At the end of the day, my culture war continues. My time thus far as a Global Citizen Year Fellow has taught me a great deal about myself, and a great deal about our world. Still, I find myself in cultural conflicts where it’s Germany vs. Brazil, and my mind is the battlefield. Yet as my understanding grows and the origins of these cultural differences become clearer, the olive branch seems to be almost within reach.

Kim Asenbeck