As we strive to embrace diversity, we will inevitably encounter cultures with which we are not familiar. Cultures can be based on geography, religion, nationality, language, or other identifiers that unite individuals who share common backgrounds. Perhaps you have never traveled to Asia, or you don’t speak Swahili. Fear not! You don’t need first-hand experience to promote cross-cultural awareness.
Though learning about a new culture can be overwhelming, true diversity relies on cross-cultural awareness—when we learn about our neighbors, we come to understand one another and rely on each other. Interpersonal dependence forms strong bonds and strong communities, enabling us all to thrive and succeed together. Similarly, cross-cultural awareness unites individuals from different backgrounds and allows us to relate and empathize with our fellow community members. If you are enthusiastic about promoting cross-cultural awareness in your own community, here are some easy ways to get started!
- Educate yourself
With access to the internet, we have a breadth of knowledge at our fingertips. When you encounter a language or cultural practice that you know little about, your first step is to research! There are many sources online that provide accessible, easy-to-understand information on different cultures, such as the Encyclopedia Britannica and National Geographic. You can use these sources to search geographic regions, religious groups, and many other topics. Be sure to use credible, recent sources. As a rule of thumb, research sites end in .org .edu or .gov. If you are seeking information on a specific or niche topic, Google Scholar provides free access to thousands of peer-reviewed scholarly journals in every field.
- Carefully assess your own biases
We all harbor judgments, big and small, that affect the way we view other cultures. As we strive to broaden our understandings, we must also think critically about our own internal prejudices. Why do I believe this? Where did I first hear this? Is this information supported by evidence? Are my beliefs harmful or belittling? These questions can be useful to ask as we expose ourselves to new perspectives. It is natural to approach the study of other cultures with preconceived notions; therefore, it is imperative that we address these biases so we can develop objective, non-judgmental viewpoints.
- Get involved!
The best way to learn about a new culture is to immerse yourself in it. While travel may not always be possible, your community may be diverse enough to support partial immersion. Conduct a quick Google search to learn about multicultural events in your area. See if your local library hosts social gatherings for particular ethnic or religious groups. Some of these events may be exclusive to members of that culture—don’t be discouraged. We all crave communion with others of shared backgrounds, and not every space is designed for education or outreach. Keep searching for opportunities to meet new people, and don’t be afraid to get uncomfortable! Encountering new lifestyles and belief systems can be jarring, but don’t let that stop you from learning what’s out there.
- Take accountability for your own education
Though it can be tempting to ask your coworker for an informative lecture on their culture, understand that this request can feel tiring and even invasive for minority individuals. People from minority cultures face constant questioning and judgment about their traditions. Besides, they are not obligated to teach you—you are! If you have a question for your coworker, first ask them if they are willing to educate you, and be willing to accept no for an answer. The responsibility of cross-cultural awareness does not fall on those from foreign cultures, but rather on those who remain ignorant about their global neighbors. Take accountability for what you don’t know—make a list of things you want to learn more about, and actively seek out information from trustworthy sources. If you show initiative in learning about your coworker’s culture, your coworker will likely be much more agreeable to your inquiries in the future.
- You don’t need to know everything
Finally, know that you don’t need to know everything! Our world is vast, and the cultures within it countless. Don’t expect to learn about every culture in great depth—rather, settle for knowing a little something about the cultures you encounter on a daily basis. By making this effort to know about the people in our community, we can help everyone feel welcomed and supported. If each of us takes small strides in promoting cross-cultural awareness, together, we can make our planet a happier, more accepting place to live.