Otherness – the basis for intercultural dialogue in a viable society.
Conducting research in Germany, may appear difficult for a Malagasy since historical links between the two countries are practically non-existent. For some people, such a situation may sharpen their curiosity about a culture, while others may react with distrust. Despite this lack of mutual knowledge existing at the beginning of the research project, the main aim was to establish a lasting intercultural dialogue based on otherness and to be involved in daily life. To achieve this end, the following questions were considered: how to open up to others in a foreign country and how to initiate youth into a intercultural situation.
It was indispensable to adopt an approach of participatory observation together with an intermediary mindset. The next step was to enter into contact with the observed party. This stage first of all involved the administrative aspects of cultural and educational organizations. Secondly, face-to-face communication was engaged with students around the theme of “the Other” through a Madagascar tale preceded by world greetings. In the same vein, participation in existing research projects in Germany, such as the “Schulkultur” project organized by the German Commission for UNESCO, was useful in bringing a foreign perspective to the schools funded through the project.
This immersion resulted in stronger relations with organizations such as KUGL and Kinderkulturkarawane. The latter, a cultural and educational organization sponsored by the German Commission for UNESCO, is an exemplary international platform for artistic work by young people from three continents. Annual tours are organized in German schools and organizations that share Kinderkulturkarawane’s intercultural and educational approach. Kinderkulturkarawane’s renown stems from its successful interdisciplinary approach to projects. It involves all social, tourism and commercial stakeholders in both the groups’ country of origin and in Germany, since the viability of a cooperation project depends on such participation. In addition, the German educational system shows a desire to fight social and racial discrimination. Face-to-face communication proved fruitful thanks to students’ interest in the sessions. This communication helped to strengthen participants’ intercultural skills and to familiarize students with other cultures. Opportunities for discussion enabled students to externalize their perceptions of otherness, one of the most remarkable being the notion of “war”. This perception demonstrated that youth are significant participants in the society of peace, equality and tolerance that the current community is working to build. These sessions also led students to the first step in intercultural dialogue, namely intercultural sensitivity. Similar sessions with young people should be repeated, or other cultural meetings should be organized in order to instil and sharpen intercultural sensitivity.
Keywords: otherness, intercultural dialogue, relationships, emotions, Germany.
5 July 2010