I’ve got to admit, after struggling to connect with last week’s theology based book examining evangelicalism, I was pretty excited to dig into Erin Meyer’s book, The Culture Map. And it did not disappoint…Meyer’s book is relevant, pragmatic, and based on years of study and experience. It is directly connected to global leadership and the impact of culture in all personal, business, and team interactions. I think my biggest disappointment is that I did not know about this gem of a resource until this semester. I’m working on a Track 02 dissertation – developing an artifact which will be an evidenced based, outcome driven, resilience factor assessment tool (Likert scale) – and administered to refugees quarterly in their first year of resettlement in Columbus, Ohio. After familiarizing myself with Meyer’s work, I’m hopeful The Culture Map will influence and enhance the development of my tool. The core of Meyer’s work is about understanding and assessing culture, specific to eight “scales”.
Meyer’s claims you can improve relationships by considering where you and international partners fall on each of these scales:
- Communicating: explicit vs. implicit
- Evaluating: direct negative feedback vs. indirect negative feedback
- Persuading: deductive vs. inductive
- Leading: egalitarian vs. hierarchical
- Deciding: consensual vs. top down
- Trusting: task vs. relationship
- Disagreeing: confrontational vs. avoid confrontation
- Scheduling: structured vs. flexible
And while this book is written specifically for international business relations, I plan to apply the same cultural lens to refugee relationships in their new community of resettlement, all the while looking at how these eight scales impact their capacity for resilience and their resilience outcome(s). It will be essential to evaluate existing programs and resources (based on the eight scales) developed specifically for Somali refugees in Columbus, Ohio. Are these factors even considered? Are the existing programs and resources culturally appropriate? My research problem states “Research indicates policies, resources, cultural attitudes and biases contribute to Somalian refugees struggle with resettlement in Columbus, Ohio.” Perhaps these scales are my missing link to creating a tool that meets Erin Meyer’s standard of cultural relativity!
Even though I was willing to purchase the Erin Meyer Personal Bundle to map out Somali culture, it wasn’t an option since it isn’t available on the “the list”. There are some African nations – Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe – included in the bundle, but Somalia, unfortunately, is not. If I were to take an educated guess on which of these countries most resembles the culture of Somalia, I would earmark Kenya. (@Dave Watermulder, prior Peace Corp resident of Kenya, feel free to correct me if I’m completely off base) It is geographically a neighbor, (as is Ethiopia), and has similar demographics (https://www.indexmundi.com/factbook/compare/somalia.kenya). Kenya, unlike Ethiopia, has been a military support to Somalia. In fact the two countries have “agreed to cooperate on security, trade, tourism and immigration.” And as I watched videos of Meyer’s presentations and how Kenya was culturally mapped, I was not surprised at the disparity between American culture and Kenyan culture (as also applied to Somali culture).
In the United States, an estimated 45,000 Somalis currently live in Columbus, Ohio…second only in number to the greater Minneapolis area. Culturally, Somalis are “traditionally nomadic” and after word spread back to Somalia of the Minneapolis region, the community flourished. The same phenomenon was duplicated in Columbus, Ohio “the young vibe and energy of progress and growth are intoxicating,” notes “SomaliWarlord” on a Reddit thread about his life here. “Oh and The Bucks!” (Even the Somali’s love The OSU Bucks!!!) But researchers have also found a high risk of depression and stress among Somali immigrants in Columbus, especially in adolescents who are trying to forge their identity amid two vastly different cultures.” This finding connected to refugee depression and its link to identity and resettlement is the focus of my research (resilience).
So what “culture” and “experiences” do Somali’s arrive in Columbus with? Here’s a snapshot:
The Somali story is one of hardship, pain and sacrifice. And it is about duty, ethics, and morality. As my friend, Mama Fadumo, told me one day, “We are Somalis. We don’t expect comfort anymore. We expect hardship and struggle. And we survive.”
The Somali narrative is starkly different from the American narrative. Somali’s who resettle in the United States have well-documented adverse experiences spanning from violence (torture, rape, death of loved ones), starvation and poverty, to racial/ethnic discrimination. Somali’s are 99.8% Muslim (majority Sunni) who practice Islam – which has a “much more comprehensive role in life than is typical in the America’s or Europe.” As an example of cultural challenges, the following examples of cultural differences are identified by CRIS on their website: “In Somalia, extended families live together and parents always have family to take care of their children. In the U.S., it is hard for parents to adjust to paying for daycare. Using the right hand to shake hands is considered polite. Somali women usually cover their entire bodies and sometimes wear veils.” When examining the trauma history, cultural differences, and faith practices of Somali refugees, it’s not surprising that resettlement into the United States presents challenges.
An additional barrier to refugee resilience is the attitudes of service providers. Research indicates that most service providers hold deep-seated prejudices against migrants. These prejudices appear when such individuals behave as though “they know better what the family needs than the family itself knows”. In two field research interviews of refugee providers, a bias of Somali culture was noted. An educator in Columbus believes “they [Somali refugees] don’t try to fit in to the community at all”, subsequently creating community barriers of acceptance. This educator further expounded that the struggles the Central Ohio Somalians experienced in Columbus City Schools was due to their unwillingness to assimilate. “Muslim rituals, such as prayer five times daily, became problematic in the school system” This same belief was reiterated by a program coordinator of refugee services…
I could go on and on about biases, but I believe this to be true – there is still a lot of work to be done [for helping professionals] in the construct of cultural relativity. Perhaps Erin Meyer’s text, The Culture Map, is an excellent place to start – looking at factors of relationship and communication in how programs and resources are developed for Somali refugees in Columbus. And that is a paradigm I plan to build my artifact around. I’ve been put in check. Have you?
 Park, Yoosun, et al. “U.S. Social Work Practitioners’ Attitudes Towards Immigrants and Immigration: Results From an Online Survey.” Journal Of Immigrant & Refugee Studies 9, no. 4 (October 2011): 367-392.
 *Name withheld for privacy – anonymous interview with Jean Ollis, April 19, 2018