Thursday, July 22, 2010

Signing Off

I returned to Kansas almost two months ago and have been surprised by how quickly I am adapting to life here. I have been surprised by the ease with which I have shifted gears. Everyone has been so kind here. They say, "You must be dealing with such intense culture shock after a year in Bangladesh." My blunt response to these sympathies takes me back to third grade when folks would tell me, "It's not your fault your parents are divorcing." I would respond, "I know it's not my fault! Why do you keep saying that to me?"

Yes, I am dealing with some degree of adjustment issues; but it's not Bangladesh itself that has me grasping to analyze and define my experience. I felt significantly more culture shock after returning to the United States after living in Spain and Italy and a two month stint in Guatemala. I think this reaction (or lack thereof) has a lot to do with the fact that I did not want to come home from those other places. After a year at the Asian University for Women in Bangladesh, however, I was physically, emotionally, and mentally prepared to return home.

No, it's not American excess or the ease of living and getting around that has me feeling unstable. I don't find myself berating myself or others for eating fast food, driving big cars, or being uninformed. Instead, I have turned my energies toward appreciating my freedoms and privileges more than ever. Sure, I don't like giving the government a lot of my money, but I do appreciate having access to water I can drink, roads I can drive on, sewers that are covered, reliable mail service, and a clean, safe health clinic I can go to while I'm waiting to get a job. For the most part, as an American woman, I can go to school where I want, wear what I want, say what I want, work where I want, get married/be single/date if I want. I am privy to possibilities that are very different from what the majority of university students, former colleagues, and friends in Bangladesh--men and women--are allowed. Forgive me if this smacks of being overly optimistic or idealistic--I do realize that America has it's problems and it's not a utopia. But I must say that right now, I feel sincerely blessed to be an American woman in America.

As you can see, I'm still trying to get my bearings and process an intense year at a start-up university in a third world country. This process has given me a better perspective on my life as a young female American worker. I better understand the purpose of hierarchy, governance, management, due process, and checks and balances. I see how creativity and entrepreneurial skills flourish in the right environment. I see clearly how top-down organizational culture can cripple effort, decision making, and responsibility. I feel like my time at AUW was a crash course in management, infrastructure, and capacity building.

From my comfortable home in Kansas, I better appreciate the power of shared experiences, friendship, laughter, patience, and optimism that surrounded me in Bangladesh. I'm truly thankful to those who keep a noble vision and mission close to their hearts. Onek dhonnobad to my dear friends, co-workers, and believers in Bangladesh and beyond.

Signing off,
Summer Lewis

Feel free to email me if you have questions about living Bangladesh and/or working at the Asian University for Women:


  1. Summer, thanks so much for articulating the odd sensation of wanting to come home after an experience abroad, which was new for me, too. Your appreciation of social and physical infrastructure is right on target. (I felt the hankering for the USA slipping away as we sashayed through Germany and Austria, where free expression and mobility are augmented by ubiquitous rail transport and good urban design!) How well, too, you have expressed the importance of principles and esprit de corps in organizations. Great post!

  2. I found this really helpful to my works, it was quite the brain massage. Summer is now here so we don't have a problem, just days at the beach and nights with friends.
    Thanks for your post.

    call Bangladesh

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