Meet the Crew: Prachi Mehrotra

 The Invisible Culture of an Indian American

india america flag

I would like to introduce Prachi Mehrotra who works here at Invisible Culture. Since she was raised by Indian parents here in the United States, she walks the line between many worlds – traditional India, the United States, tech culture and generational culture (including a boss who remembers when cassettes were all the rage). I am delighted that she has been generous enough to share her experiences here as a guest blogger, so I look forward to hosting her stories from time to time. Hopefully by hearing about what it is like to straddle two (if not more) cultural worlds, we can all gain insights into this classic U.S. American experience that isn’t necessarily shared by all. Thank you Prachi…

Hi, my name is Prachi Mehrotra and I am currently a sophomore at studying at New York University. Over the past few months, I have been working for Invisible Culture under the training and guidance of Katherine. Through my experiences thus far with Invisible Culture, I have learned a lot about the differences, as well as the intersections, among cultures across the world. As a first generation Indian American, I have learned a lot about the importance of accepting different cultures and understanding how they may differ from my own.

My mother tells me a story that when I was younger and entering pre-school I didn’t know the word for water in English, only Hindi. Before that, my family primarily spoke Hindi at home. Though I knew English, I didn’t go to it as my first language. When I got to school, where no one spoke Hindi, I kept asking for “pani,” and the teachers couldn’t figure out what I was asking for. They finally figured it out with the help of my mom, but it definitely caused some problems at first.

At three years old, I didn’t understand that language could be a barrier between cultures. Though in the business world and beyond, we look to translations to bypass this problem, language is a very obvious and important part of any culture that sometimes we do not consider enough.

This is just one example of many of how invisible culture was present in my life. Growing up as in Indian in America has taught me a lot about these two distinct cultures, where they overlap, and how together they define me. Through my posts, I will explore and uncover more about my experiences and understanding of how these two cultures are different and how they work together.

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iC University

graduation

 

I’ll never forget the first time Invisible Culture was made visible to me. I was 11 years old at a water park in Florida, when a girl standing in line behind me asked,

“You wanna be my friend?” She had a deep southern drawl, which was unfamiliar to my New York ears.

I responded, “Sure, but you have such a strong accent.”

To which she replied, “I don’t have an accent, you have an accent!” I thought to myself, “I don’t have an aix ceent.” Wait a minute here…

In a blink I had my first cross-cultural “aha” moment: To her my way of speaking was strange. As I started to process this I struggled with the concept that she thought that her accent was normal.

And then it dawned on me: I am not the center of the universe. I stood there with my mouth half opened. The way I see the world isn’t the only way to see the world? My truth isn’t the only truth. I looked at her and felt a complete mix of emotions.   Shock. Horror. Pause. Wait, really? I didn’t know if I was crushed or giddy. The moment passed and we played all day, but the experience was not easily forgotten.

The next day on the long drive back to New York I thought about that interaction a lot. I felt betrayed and enlightened at the same time. I felt as if a door had been opened to a world that didn’t have a physical location. It was a door that led to multiple perspectives and open minds. It was a moment of awakening for me that has lasted a lifetime – the first of many and hopefully not my last.

So why do I tell this story? Because it is the beginning of the school year in the northern hemisphere and as we prepare to get back to school schedules I can’t help but reflect back on iCs blog and the comments I have received back from so many of you. Human-interest stories like the one about the Taxi driver or the Peruvian “CEO” seem to be popular, but many also ask about what it is exactly that I do and I am often at a loss to explain it in words.

In fact, words are ill-suited for the task of explaining how Invisible Culture impact our daily lives or what Invisible Culture actually is. Nonetheless, I will endeavor to write blogs from time to time that are a good starting point for explaining the unexplainable. Words (visible culture) are insufficient to have the impact that my interaction had, that said, they are a starting point.

One of the cornerstones of my industry of Intercultural Communications Training is that in order for true, accurate and ethical cultural learning to occur, it has to be experiential. You can’t teach culture. The process of me going through the experience of interacting with someone different is what opened my eyes, not someone telling me we are all different, not me saying I respect differences, not a grown up telling me to open my eyes. We all have bias by nature. It is what keeps us safe in our worlds, but it is also what gets us into trouble when we have to coexist with people who are not the same or do not have the same reference points that we do.

Everybody is the center of his or her own universe. Everybody will see the world based on his or her unique experiences. Everybody has been taught or has learned something that they believe to be good or bad. Everybody, to a certain extent, believes that their world view is correct and everybody, regardless of whether they are conscious of it or not, has something at stake when that idea is challenged. Hence, the need for a more experiential approach and my disclaimer: when I write about the basics of iC in my little iC University it will not be an end all be all, so much as, hopefully, a starting point for discussion.

Children are excused from an ethnocentric approach to seeing the world, especially those that aren’t exposed to too many people outside of their primary communities, but adults have less of an excuse. The world is changing. Newcomers are an inevitability. Every new person, whether from another country, town, age, educational, career or financial background, represents a culture unto themselves and as my favorite quote from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel goes, “Culture is like a wave. Resist it and it will knock you down. Dive straight in and you will come out the other side.”

I hope you continue to join me as we dive deeper into Invisible Culture.

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Welcome!

Dear friends, family and colleagues,

I am delighted to invite you to join me in celebrating the online presence of my work as an Interculturalist via my new site – InvisibleCulture.com.

Invisible Culture (iC) primarily focuses on equipping business leaders on how to work effectively across cultures, but is also enthusiastic about supporting:

  • Intellectually curious travelers who want to dig deeper when embarking on their global adventures,
  • Organizations in making realistic assessments and action plans on how culture is impacting and can maximize their potentials, and
  • Youth in exploring their identities in a multi-cultural world.

 

 

The site will provide basic information like bio, services and contacts, but will also feature my culture blog, Ask Kath. Finally there is a section titled Cultural Resources  for country by country links to “visible” cultural facts as a starting point for learning. I invite you to add your recommendations as the lists are ever growing.

Whether you work with people from another culture, enjoy traveling or simply want to be able to see the world through a new lens, then join the iC mailing list for occasional newsletters, announcements and general nuggets of cultural information.

And don’t forget, if you have any questions about culture, you can always AskKath.

Warmly,

Katherine

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