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Cultural Awareness: When in Rome, do as the Romans do | Hamchetou Maiga Ba

Temps de lecture : 4 mn 🕗

Basketball has been my life. Thanks to basketball, I was able to not only be a part of many championship teams and win individual accolades, but I was fortunate to make new friends and family and travel to many countries around the world.

Growing up in Bamako, Mali, I never thought, at least initially, that I would have the privilege to see and travel to so many different countries. With time, things have evolved. We as athletes now have the opportunity to take our talents away from our beloved hometowns to almost anywhere in the world to discover new countries, new cultures, and make new friends along the way.

Adjusting and learning new languages and cultures became a key component of my success away from my hometown. Cultural awareness is very important and can tremendously impact one’s experience while in a new country or new culture.

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However, it’s easy to make mistakes when adjusting to life in a new place. Locals may be understanding, but it is important to make every effort to respect the cultural norms of your host country with the goal of “fitting in” in your new home.

As the saying goes: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” is one that when applied can positively impact one’s experience in a new country.

So, just as we may prepare for a game beforehand by having our scouting reports done and learning about the different tendencies of our opposing team and players,  we can do the same in regard to the country that we may be going to play in. Preparation, as always, is key and knowledge is power. So, I encourage you to take the time to discover and learn a bit about that new team and country before even going there. By doing your due diligence, you will have a greater chance to avoid culture shock.

“THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS TO DO SOME RESEARCH ON THE COUNTRY, CULTURE AND COMMUNITY YOU WILL BE LIVING IN.”

 

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When doing your research and asking others for advice, consider looking into the following: language, living accommodations, transportation, climate, immunizations, social norms, laws and punishment, the historical context, emergency contacts, etc. The single most important thing is to do some research on the country, culture and community you will be living in for the next several months or years. You will feel more confident when you arrive, which allows you to focus your attention on why you are moving in the first place – basketball.

  • Online research. While you shouldn’t trust everything that appears online, it can provide you with some interesting facts about the country, its history and culture. Start with a quick Wikipedia search. Be curious and try to dig further.
  • Talk to people who know the local and national customs. Speaking with people who have experienced your new country first-hand can provide you with invaluable insight. These could be players from that country, or international players having already played there.
  • Ask your national federation for advice. It might have information ready for players leaving their country. Furthermore, your national federation might have contacts in a foreign country that could give you priceless advice and help upon arrival.
  • Contact your Embassy and your Ministry of Foreign Affairs. These bodies usually have important information in your own language. Besides, it is always important to register yourself at your embassy upon arrival to a foreign country. You never know what could go wrong.
  • Use other tools to understand your cultural differences. Nowadays, there are many studies that analyze the differences among cultures. The most academically accepted is Hofstede’s and his 6 dimensions of national culture. You can use the free online tool to compare the cultures of different countries.

I was fortunate to actually live and play throughout my career for clubs in Senegal, United States, Spain, France and Czech Republic but also traveled to many other countries while competing in the EuroLeague Women, and with the national team at FIBA Women’s AfroBaskets, Olympics and FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup).

My mom used to fondly call me a chameleon for my ability to adapt to wherever I was and fitting in. Whether it was with my teammates or those around us, understanding the differences in the new country and appreciating it for what it was has made my stay in all these countries memorable.

 

I recall my very first time after I had come back from my season in Senegal to Mali, many said after an interview of mine on TV that it was as if it was a Senegalese person talking. I didn’t take offense to it as I knew my values and pride of being born in Mali but at the same time I had that ability to always adapt to my surroundings and the Senegalese people welcomed me and never treated me like a foreigner, though the language at times was a barrier.

Speaking of language, it will do you good if you can also take the time to learn the local language. It will definitely make the transition easier at times. In addition to the local language, it may be useful to develop your English skills, as many international sports organizations (like FIBA) operate in English due to the global nature of the sport. Furthermore, you will probably not be the only international player in your team.

I am forever grateful to God, to all my teammates, coaches, trainers, and my basketball community for wrapping their arms around me and making my basketball journey in all these places one that I will forever treasure. One of the beauties of sports is that there are no boundaries; hence, don’t limit yourself: explore and be a part of whichever new culture you may find yourself in!

Hamchetou Maiga Ba

Hamchetou Maiga Ba

The Mali star had an MVP effort while leading the national team to the FIBA Women’s AfroBasket 2007 crown. The forward played at six other AfroBaskets, the 2008 Olympics and the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2010. After her NCAA career with Old Dominion, Maiga Ba was selected 12th overall in the 2002 WNBA Draft by the Sacramento Monarchs, whom she captured the league title with in 2005. Maiga Ba also featured for Houston and Minnesota and finished her WNBA career in 2010. The Malian played for numerous clubs in Europe and competed in the EuroLeague Women.

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