It seems that so much in my life has been preparing me for my role as Executive Director even before I applied to work at the World Awareness Children’s Museum.
One lesson I learned early in my life, a lesson that has helped me tremendously while working at a cultural museum like I am now, is that it’s important to open myself up to experiences outside of my own culture.
In April 2013, I was fortunate to be able to leave my job for a month and backpack through Europe. I packed everything into a hiking backpack, hopped on a plane, and landed in Santorini, Greece. I spent the month traveling all over the place: Athens, Greece; Budapest, Hungary; Bratislava, Slovakia; Prague, Czech Republic; Vienna, Austria; Dublin, Ireland; and the Isle of Wight, England. I was young, excited, and undeterred by the idea of sharing a hostel room with 11 strangers.
Ekklisia Panagia Platsani, Oia, Santorini, Greece, April 2013. Photo credit: Bethanie Muska Lawrence.
One of my goals for this trip was to experience cultures that were different from my own. The most vivid memory I have of this is from the beginning of my travels, while I was on the island of Santorini, Greece.
The owner of our hostel told me about the Sunday morning Greek Orthodox church service on the island cliffside, right outside of our hostel in Oia. I woke up very early that morning to wind so strong it made me worried to walk to the church on the cliffs. However, I braved the gales and arrived safely. The service was all in Greek, which I expected, and was also mostly sung instead of spoken, which I hadn’t expected.
Once during the service, a woman came and spoke to me in Greek, but I told her I was sorry, I didn’t speak Greek. A few minutes later, another woman came over to me, started speaking in Greek, and touched my knee because I’d had my legs crossed. Apparently, that was not appropriate at this Greek Orthodox service. I had no idea! I was so embarrassed because, on top of doing the wrong thing by crossing my legs, I was very conspicuously foreign, and I was the only one not wearing black. This was a very different experience for me and even though I felt so out of place, the people at the church service were incredibly nice and even offered me treats (that they usually reserved for children) as I was leaving.
I learned a lot from this experience. I had, for the first time, felt what it was like to be an outsider with regards to my culture. It has helped me act more graciously towards people who are of a different culture than my own. It also allowed me to see the beauty in cultures that are different from my own, even if I don’t quite understand the meaning behind the rites and traditions.
Anytime I teach children at the museum about different cultures, I encourage them to be curious, not scared. There are so many wonderful things to see and learn from people all over the world; all we have to do is look!
Author: Bethanie Lawrence, Executive Director