Thursday, August 31, 2006

The value of cultural proficiency

I had both a professional and personal revelation about the importance of cultural proficiency when I talked to my oldest daughter by telephone earlier this week. Devin is a Miami graduate in Marketing. After she completed her degree at Miami, she went on to pursue a culinary arts certificate from the Mid-West Culinary Institute, seeking to prepare herself for a career in catering and event management. During her Miami years, Devin worked at a local Oxford restaurant, first as a server and then as a manager. Her main involvements in college were her sorority and her work.

I provide Devin's background because at first blush you might think that Devin would not have had classes and experiences that prepared her for a multi-cultural world. The wonderful part of the story is that, indeed, she did. The proof of the acquired cultural proficiency she now has is that she now lives in Chicago and works for the Levy Corporation, a restaurant and catering/event organization. Her work is with an extremely diverse kitchen and catering staff, dealing with clients from every cultural and experiential background you can imagine. In the several months she has worked for Levy, Devin has planned and managed bar mitzvahs, weddings, funerals, and corporate dinners/receptions. She has become the person in the office to whom many of the more difficult cases are referred - culturally-based events, same-sex union ceremonies and receptions, or straight-laced business affairs. In all of these events, she exhibits leadership by helping others make decisions, by motivating others to do their best work, and by serving as a role model herself. My point is that Devin could not be successful unless she was responsive, respectful, and could relate to people from as broad a sweep of cultural backgrounds as you can imagine. To our delight and great pride, it is this very mix of people, the interesting nuance of relationships, and the fulfillment of service that has her calling us daily with stories we will never forget.

In all honesty, there wasn't much in Miami's classrooms that helped Devin gain cultural proficiency. Actually, it was living in Peabody Hall on the Western Campus as a first-year, working with a very diverse and connected staff in food and entertainment work, volunteering to take food left after her culinary classes to Over the Rhine in Cincinnati, and a curiosity and appreciation for people of all backgrounds. Cultural proficiency results from a breadth of experiences and can even be gained in the bubble of Miami and other places, regardless of our stereotypes about what these environments may or may not provide. I am only thankful that she was interested enough to welcome learning and that she is now putting what she learned to work in powerful and enjoyable ways!

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