I’ve been working with people in transition between countries for over 20 years. So it was a huge honor to use my experience to co-host a couple of Spanish Cultural Workshops with a group of displaced Ukrainians in Madrid. The sessions took place in October at the Biblioteca Angel Gonzalez and at the Instituto Internacional in Madrid. I presented the workshops in English and they were perfectly translated into Ukrainian by my co-host Iryna Shvartsblat.
Iryna herself had to flee the Russian invasion of Ukraine and it was her idea to set up these Spanish cultural workshops. She’d previously lived in the USA and Israel, so was aware of how important it is to develop cultural sensitivity. “Firstly I am so grateful that Almendra Staffa-Healey supported this idea. The intention was, together with the help of an experienced expert, to shed some light on the Spanish culture for the temporarily displaced Ukrainians in Madrid — in order to make the process of suddenly finding themselves in a new cultural environment at least a little more understandable. It’s a way for us to find ourselves and our curiosity,” she explained.
I always come at these sessions with the idea of teaching people to really think about their own cultural values because, by recognizing those, they’ll be more able to understand their personal reactions to new values that may seem ‘foreign’ to them.
“Concerning Ukraine and Ukrainians, from my perspective, I would share about the value of the freedom to live, to experience, to develop and to build one’s own life, society, and country according to our own choices, feelings, priorities and culture.” Iryna Shvartsblat.
The participants worked on some exercises followed by group discussions so they could get a real handle on what is important to them. Then we went through some of the main Spanish cultural norms — from their strong group orientation through to the powerful thread of tradition and stability that runs through all facets of Spanish life.
Lots of fascinating discussions were generated during the sessions. Such as how easy is it to get Spanish companies to take on new ideas if they tend to be bound to traditional ways of doing things? Is politics freely discussed in a Spanish office environment? Obviously making generalizations is always problematic and my favorite phrase of ‘it depends’ frequently came up! But I was able to give a good overview of how to conduct oneself within the context of a Spanish work situation. Both Spanish Cultural workshops went really well and the positive and grateful feedback from participants was fantastic to receive.
Bridging cultural divides
And, interestingly, as a consequence of these Spanish Cultural workshops, people are getting in touch with us. Tatiana Tsymbal who is based in Zurich was particularly interested in our strategies as she is working on similar workshops in Zurich, Switzerland. I gave her tips and advice so that she could set up Cultural workshops for Ukrainians in Switzerland. It’s so wonderful that our networks are expanding thanks to our common goal of helping others and bridging cultural differences. If you’re interested in setting up a similar workshop for your organization or company, don’t hesitate to reach out to me for more information.