Tag Archives: Mozambique

Note for the Cross-Cultural Communicator: Bridging Languages and Cultures


Mozambician Wedding

Mozambician Wedding

As development professionals, diplomats, and citizens in the U.S. and abroad, what are some efficient communication strategies that we can use for reaching audiences and building understanding among people with values and cultural norms different from our own? Majo Aldana in her TKR October 9th post “Meet me where I’m at” provided excellent food for thought for how to share pertinent health information with people through using communication strategies that meet people “where they’re at” through considering their socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. Aldana emphasized that it is not enough to communicate with people in their first or native language; it is as important to integrate cultural context in interactions with people to achieve development objectives. As a person who has had to communicate in several foreign languages to reach common understanding, I wanted to share my recent experiences in the challenges of reaching people where they are at across language and cultural barriers.

1. Finding Common Ground
Last year, during a visit to a youth rehabilitation camp in Rwanda, I was reminded that cross-cultural communication requires taking into account cultural cues and context for eliciting open responses and achieving objectives. Our team visited this camp to get a better understanding of the situation of displaced youth in the country (youth who were typically living on the streets for various reasons) and see how these camps were equipping the youth with skills and support to reintegrate them into their communities. When we arrived at the camp, we conversed with the camp’s staff in French, one of Rwanda’s three official languages (French, English, and Kinyarwanda). However, I noticed that one of the staff members at the camp was a bit more reserved. He had once been a displaced youth, and I was curious about his perspective on the camp. So, I decided to change my approach when talking to him. Instead of sticking strictly to business, I switched from French to Kinyarwanda to ask him how his day had been. An instant smile came to his face. “You speak Kinyarwanda,” he said. I explained to him how I picked up a few expressions while visiting a friend’s village and I described my visit there. We then had an excellent conversation on his experience at the camp and the possibilities for youth in Rwanda.

2. Building Trust
In the past months, I had a similar experience in modifying my approach to language and culture to increase understanding and meet new friends at a Mozambican wedding. A friend invited me to partake in her family’s cheugiani celebration; the last part of a traditional Mozambican wedding, which involves traditional Mozambican outfits, dance, song, and presents at the groom’s house. I was the first American to ever visit her family’s house, and her family initially spoke to me in a more distant, formal manner in Portuguese. However, after I sat in the shade of a mango tree cleaning kale leaves with the women for a traditional Mozambique wedding dish and tempted to learn words in Changana (local Bantu dialect), those at the wedding were surprised with my knowledge of Mozambican food and culture. Laughter and stories ensued. Over time, I built trust with the women through sharing in their everyday activities. The women taught me about cultural norms for women in Mozambique, opportunities for youth, and perceptions about health and development.

In Rwanda and Mozambique, through sharing my experiences, incorporating local dialects in my speech, and keeping in mind cultural norms, I have found that people have been more open to sharing their experiences with me. Communicating with people in their first language is not enough for fostering understanding. Through building trust over time and finding common ground, it becomes easier communicate with people in spite of language differences and cultural norms.

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Springtime in Mozambique


Knowing that many of our readers are interested in pursuing research and various fellowships to work abroad, I thought it might be useful to describe my life as a Boren Fellow in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique.  It was quite an intense application process to express my intent for studying Portuguese in Mozambique and creating an affiliation with in-country organizations to support my research on media, youth, and state building, but the value of my time in Mozambique has greatly exceeded the tedious application process.

First of all, the Boren Fellowship is an intensive language fellowship. With my Boren funds, I am participating in the African Languages Initiative program in partnership with American Councils and the University of Florida. In this program, I take language classes for about 20 hours per week at Universidade Eduardo Mondlane, Mozambique’s premier higher education institution. Mozambican professors teach classes on conversation, grammar, politics, culture in really small, personalized classes of only Boren Fellows. In addition, I have a language partner here to assist in my transition to Mozambican life, I live with a local family, and my program has several excursions throughout the semester. For example, last month my group went to an African music festival, which took place seven hours by bus north of Maputo. It was an eventful weekend in a cabin on a lagoon off the Indian Ocean that included increased camaraderie with the five other Boren Fellows and Scholars in my program; a Mozambican equivalent of a tailgate party with thousands of music festival goers laughing, dancing, and grilling delicious food in the streets; and conversing in Portuguese and meeting new friends, which included a rat that decided to make its home in my bunk (actually that wasn’t quite a fun part!).  Continue reading

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Development and democracy in Sub-Saharan Africa: Rwanda and Mozambique


Last year, while interning and conducting research in Rwanda, I often
mused on the trade-offs in the country’s development and democratic
transformations. While Rwanda certainly has visible signs of
development, the country still ranks low for democratic freedoms, such
as freedom of speech. Now during my time in Mozambique, I pose the
same question. How do democracy and development relate in Sub-Saharan

In terms of recent economic developments, Rwanda has positive
indicators; it experiences steady GDP growth, low inflation rates,
increased financial access, and general macroeconomic stability.
According to the Government of Rwanda’s Vision 2020 plan, the GOR aims
to move the country to middle-income status by the year 2020.

However, Rwanda has far to go regarding of human development.
According to UNDP’s Human Development Index (HDI), Rwanda still ranks
below average for Sub-Saharan African countries with barriers in
health, education, and inequality, a sign that the country may not
reach its 2020 goals.  Continue reading

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