Cultural Interpretations of Time, and When a Watch Doesn’t Matter

Most of my colleagues inside and outside of A.C.E. seemed to feel that summer never quite came this year.  While I was in Seattle most of the summer, I was also in Bozeman on two occasions in July and August, and in both places the warm days seemed to come and go, with unusual breaks of clouds and rain.  On the positive side, this has made everything greener than usual as well.  But now that we feel the Fall season approaching (you can almost smell the leaves turning color), everyone acts a bit bewildered about what happened to our summer.  But then September arrives and viola, it’s beautiful across the Northwest!  Suddenly, there’s hope for another month of sun and fun.

What made the summer exciting though, were the experiences of students from many different countries getting to enjoy the beauty of the Northwest for the first time, and in several locations we had groups of local elementary students studying foreign languages in summer language camps (in Arabic and Spanish).  In Seattle we welcomed additional groups of teachers from Korea, and youth ambassadors from Japan.  In Bozeman, students are arriving at the A.C.E. Language Institute from all over the world including those from Latin America, Turkey, Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and East Asia.  Late in August we said goodbye to our last short term group of students from Ishinomaki Senshu University with one final farewell party.  A group of young nursing students from Gunma Prefectural University wore their Yutaka (summer) kimonos to their farewell party – so cute!

With the coming of the Labor Day weekend, I decided it was time for a break so my wife and I drove to Canada for a short vacation.  While staying at a lovely Bed & Breakfast in Victoria, B.C., we met a couple who had moved from South Africa to Medicine Hat, Alberta.  You couldn’t find two spots at more extreme distance than that!  And as different as our families were in some respects (we’d never lived in the same country although between us we’ve lived in at least 7 countries on 4 continents), it was also funny to realize how similar we were too.  Both of our families have college-age daughters, and we share many of the same perspectives on parenting, travel, and education.  Both families have benefited so much from seeing different parts of the world, and our children have grown a lot personally from meeting people who experience life in ways unfamiliar to them.

One bit of humor I tucked away in my mind was a little anecdote from the husband, Ron.  He was on an expedition on the Zambezi River in Africa with a group of tourists a few years ago.  According to the schedule, the group was to be ready at 10 in the morning for a boat expedition.  The tourists gathered at the appointed time, milled around and….waited in the hot sun.  Finally an hour or so later, the local guides and their equipment began to appear.  Ron mentioned to the head guide that he was late. The guide smiled and asked him how he knew, so Ron pointed to his watch.

“Ah” said the guide “You have the watch, but I have the time!”

At that point, Ron realized that in “the bush”, his concern about time didn’t matter much.  What really mattered was his relationship to the guide.   The funny thing is, that even though it can be challenging for busy people who are tied to their watch to let go and forget about the time, once they adjust many people have just as much trouble adjusting back to the “normal” world of minutes and seconds.  I guess that’s why it’s so hard to return from a vacation!

Woody

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