Bridging the Gap of Cultural Unfamiliarity

Greg Buford dressed in 18th century garb as program participants in traditional Turkmen dresses stand to the side for a selfie taken by a young man wearing a suit and Turkmen cap.

Last year, during our visit to Mary in Turkmenistan, my wife and I discovered an interesting opportunity at Mary’s American Corner, one of four American Spaces supported by the U.S. in the country. While exploring the ancient Silk Road site of Merv, we learned more about the American Corner there, which aims to promote mutual understanding and provide information about American history, culture, and educational opportunities. Before leaving for Mary, however, we encountered a challenge.

Ms. Krupenikava, associated with the American Corner, expressed a need for someone to connect with a group of students. Despite my willingness, there was uncertainty about what to expect and how effective my interaction would be in this unfamiliar setting.

Given the request to visit the American Corner and introduce myself to a group of students, the task was to navigate this unfamiliar territory and make a meaningful connection with the audience. The challenge was to engage and convey valuable information in a way that resonated with the diverse crowd at the American Corner.

Greg talks to program participants in the America Space.

On the appointed day, I took the initiative to speak at the American Corner in Mary. I ended up speaking for two hours. I addressed an overflow crowd of adults and children, sharing insights about writing, the U.S., and my personal experiences, including how I met my wife on a dare as well as my challenges with the Foreign Service Officer exam. I actively engaged with the audience, shared jokes, and encouraged them to practice their English skills.

Encouraged by the positive response, I sought further involvement upon returning to the White City, actively participating in the American Center. This led to a series of activities, including judging contests, teaching various subjects, and eventually embarking on a speaking tour of all four American Spaces in Turkmenistan.

Greg Buford extending his hand for a handshake with a member of the American Spaces audience.

The engagement at the American Corner in Mary was so fulfilling that it sparked a continued involvement in promoting cultural exchange and education. I extended my contributions to American Spaces in Turkmenistan, judging contests, conducting workshops, and going on a speaking tour. The experience was not only personally rewarding but also contributed to fostering mutual understanding between cultures and enhancing educational opportunities in Turkmenistan.