Learning As I Go

This past week has been a lot. It was my first full week at my internship, so it was a full week of getting used to a new environment. I’ve enjoyed getting to know my supervisor well. Since it’s just us throughout the day, we’ve become familiar. She has been very patient with me as I take on new tasks and has given me a lot of positive encouragement along the way. I feel grateful to be under the wing of someone who is as passionate about what she does as she is caring.

During this past week, we answered many questions from her constituents. It has been fascinating seeing local politics from this angle. I do not typically attempt to communicate with my local politicians, even when I have an issue with something in the community; I often assume they will not care for my queries. However, from what I’ve witnessed so far, my supervisor has been very attentive to her constituents’ concerns in her role as county councilor. In most cases, she must appeal to someone higher up to answer these concerns; in her case, the Council itself. But in some instances, we have been able to help members of the community just through research or calling the right person.

Based on the number of communications I send in my internship, it has become of great importance to understand the nuances of Irish culture in regards to communication. This has not always been easy. My supervisor changes her tone depending on who she is communicating with via email or messaging apps, which is of course typical in the States as well. However, I am used to a somewhat uniform formality in emails in the States; this has not been the case abroad. Even when my supervisor is emailing a constituent or colleague, she may use a very relaxed tone. There have been a few times now in which I have been instructed to edit emails to reflect this tone. I believe this is a case of two cultural differences coming to a head; the Irish openness of communication and the low-context environment found in the Irish workplace. Meaning, when my supervisor tells me to respond to an email from a constituent “she knows well”, she is asking me to write with an informal tone that I may not normally emulate in email correspondences. Considering that crafting emails is a large part of my internship so far, this is something that I need to keep reminding myself.

Understanding, and expecting, the Irish way of communicating has followed me off the screen. Because my supervisor is running her reelection campaign to county council, we often go door-to-door dispersing leaflets promoting her leadership. This is nothing new to me; I did the same when I worked on a campaign in New Jersey in high school. However, what is different is the public’s response to receiving these pamphlets. The first day that my supervisor and I did this, I was very nervous; I had many a memory of leaning down to drop a pamphlet as a teenager, only to be met with the quick opening of the door and an interrogation of who I was, what I was doing, and why I had the audacity to be on said individual’s front porch (usually followed by a short speech on “politics these days”). That being said, when I approached a mailbox this week at the same time as the owner’s car pulled into the driveway, I swiftly turned around and walked to the next house. As the car came to a stop, the resident began to walk over to me. I braced myself, expecting a confrontation. The resident asked if I had dropped a letter off at their house. After I said no, to my surprise, they asked to receive one. This became a common occurrence as I continued to run into people while walking up to their home; open time, a woman even opened a window to thank me for dropping it off, telling me she’d pick it up soon. Even after I realized that the general culture in the area I was in, and the host country at large, was one of friendliness and hospitality, I still get nervous when dropping pamphlets, preparing for someone to be rude. While I understand that this is still very much a possibility, I am trying to understand as well that it is probably not as common here as back in New Jersey.

This experience has made me realize that over here, I may be perceived as rude I have been raised in an environment where communication is direct: no window dressing. When I’m ordering food, asking for direction, being asked for directions, and all the like, I tend to be rather blunt; I am used to not wanting to waste people’s time. It has made me begin to wonder if this is an example of me having trouble assimilating. It’s been hard to realize how much of the norms I am used to are international, and how many are specific to the States, or even just my particular region. I do not consider myself a rude person, but the more I communicate with locals who I consider overly friendly, I wonder if this is how I am perceived.

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