One fine Monday morning of a regular 3CMGM week a new professor arrived. This time, we were so fortunate to be taught about Intercultural Awareness in a Business Context (IAB) by the wonderful, inspiring and kind Banu Golesorkhi.
Her class started with a great message: the next day, we would be visiting the Jewish Quarter in Antwerp. The goal? To see how we would react when we are confronted with a completely different culture and mentality. Because, obviously, you cannot understand a new culture in half a day. You can only observe how you yourself feel about it. And how I felt about it, was not what really I expected.
Why did we even visit the Jewish Quarter? IAB is a class meant to “open our minds” and help us immerse ourselves into all the world’s cultures, societies and business contexts so we can have a successful international career. Sounds fancy, huh?
As a Belgian, and more specifically as a five-year student in Antwerp, I have seen the orthodox Jews around a lot in the streets. We all mind our own business, and we don’t bother each other. That’s how it’s always been and I’ve never given much thought about it.
So on a sunny Tuesday morning, we walked around in the Jewish Quarter and visited a synagogue. There we learned about the Jewish ways, rules and religion. I had a lot of questions and didn’t hesitate to ask them!
We learned why Jewish women wear wigs, why the Jews sell their house once a year and how you can become a rabbi. I got to hold my first Torah, which is amazing for an ex-literature student! And I ate my first kosher meal, which was more filling than I expected and not at all like vegetarian food! For half the 3CMGM class it was their first encounter ever with a real Jew. Some were not sure what to think about it and others could not understand how they could reject half the Bible.
So what did I think? Like I said, my reaction to this culture was both what I expected… and it was extremely surprising. As someone who travels, couchsurfs, airbnbs and has stayed in four host families in as many countries, I am very open to learn from other cultures. I actively search for locals who want to offer me a place to stay.
From each culture that I have had the chance to get to know more in depth, I have picked up some things and made them my own. But I noticed that there is nothing from the Jewish culture that I seem to want to adopt. None of their ways seems to be ‘my thing’.
So, really, there is only one conclusion: I think I need to go and live with Jews for a while.
(This article was written by me in assignment for AMSlife, the student platform of Antwerp Management School of which I was a pioneering ambassador and leader.)