There are many things that have helped me become culturally literate in my own culture in the United States, and the more time I spend in Belgium, the more I realize how culturally literate I was at home. Obviously at home I have a ton of interaction with my own culture. From having a job, to friends and family, to driving my own car around town, those all involve being culturally literate. To be culturally literate you must interact with the culture, which is something at home that I don't even realize I'm doing, but I am doing it all the time in the U.S. Also I feel another way I am culturally literate in the U.S. is by knowing, understanding, and using 'slang' terms, especially my culture in the south. Words such as "y'all", "over yonder", etc. that are only specific to my region and culture.
In Belgium, I feel like there are many gaps to fill until I feel more culturally literate here. First of all, their is a huge language barrier here for me. I grew up taking many years of Spanish in middle and high school, then decided to switch over to German in college. Now I am in a French speaking country!!! So before I can even understand informal content in Belgium, I must first learn more of the language. Every day here can be a struggle when trying to read metro signs to get to specific places, and I find it especially hard in the grocery store. I can't read the labels on ANYTHING so that makes it very difficult, more difficult than I thought it would be. Even when cooking, when have to switch everything over to the metric system but we've survived so far and haven't poisoned ourselves yet :) The good news is though, I am taking a french course while I'm over here; it started a couple of weeks ago. I can already feel some of the cultural boundaries breaking down with issues that I had been struggling with. I am excited to learn more of the language so that I can get around more easily for the remaining time that I am living in Belgium.
What has helped me become somewhat culturally literate are the Belgian friends that I made while living at Clemson. I lived in the Cultural Exchange Community (CEC) in Calhoun Courts and there are MANY Belgians that come to Clemson to study abroad. I became great friends with several of them and have already seen some of them while here. My next door neighbor at Clemson, Renau, came and picked me up one of my first nights in Belgium and took me out for a night on the town which I could not have appreciated more. He got me my first Belgian beer, taught me a lot about the culture, we got REAL French fries (they actually orginiated in Belgium!! Who knew??), and took me to a town here called Ghent, about an hour away from where I live. We explored the city while he explained many things to me. Then we went to downtown Brussels and had a great time.
My Belgian friend Renau and me
First taste of real french fries...incredible!!
I look forward to become more and more culturally literate while I'm in Belgium!!