How To Attain True Cultural Awareness

How to be culturally aware

Whether you’ve just left your home country for the first time, or are in-fact a seasoned travel veteran, embarking on a journey towards new lands is surely going to leave you with one hell of a culture shock.

We all know this, on some level, and so we do what we can to prepare. Studying the history of our new destination, their wars and religions, economies and traditions, to name a few.

Yet, it often seems like no matter what we do, the shock is still there once we arrive.

And so we are forced to ask, can we ever attain a true cultural awareness?

Perhaps, our difficulty in such endeavors lies not in our own inabilities, but rather, in the means by which we are attempting to insight said cultural awareness.

Perhaps, we must first ensure that we truly understand what cultural awareness is.

What Is Cultural Awareness?

What is the difference between cultural awareness and cultural sensitivity?

In order to do this, we absolutely must assume a complete comprehension of the terminology itself.

“Being aware that people from other cultures may perceive life differently,” is in fact not an entirely invalid definition. Such a conceptualization also serves little good in helping us to truly assume a role of cultural awareness.

The scope and depth of an honest cultural awareness certainly extends quite a bit further.

Something like,

Being conscious and disregarding potential biases that may be formed based on prior experiences. [Cultural awareness] is being aware that individuals possess unique ways of perceiving the world around them based on their cultural background and acknowledging those beliefs to benefit all individuals inclusively.

will better acquaint the psyche with a potentially tangible application.

Choosing to isolate cultural awareness through this much more descriptive lens then allows us to alleviate some of our more complex misunderstandings.

For example 

Ordering your coffee in an incredible rush, quickly swiping your credit card, and scurrying out of the cafe without giving the cashier so much as a glance, may seem common practice in America.

An American performing the same series of tasks whilst in the country of Thailand, may actually be perceived as incredibly rude.

Yet, with a proper understanding and resultant application of cultural awareness on both sides of such a moment, alleviating any and all potential ‘hazards’ is entirely within reason.

Here, our American can choose to ‘relax a bit’ and our Thai individual can likewise choose to work a bit faster.

This choice, and decision to assimilate culturally is what ultimately distinguishes cultural awareness as something distinctly different than a more basic cultural sensitivity.

Cultural Awareness vs. Cultural Sensitivity

Cultural Sensitivity? What is that?

Actually, I’m glad you asked.

Remember our more simple presumption of cultural awareness from above?

Being aware that people from other cultures may perceive life differently.

Well, this is something that actually runs more akin to cultural sensitivity.

And although to be culturally sensitive is in itself an advantageous act, it is quite distant from the true potential of cultural awareness.

Where someone who is culturally sensitive may indeed find themselves aware of some specific cultural difference, and be generally empathetic in the instance.

A true cultural awareness takes it a step further in that the difference is not only empathized, but assigned a specific value. Such that the culturally aware individual will consciously deviate from a normal path of action.

The advantages here begin to amplify rapidly, as this quickly becomes a state of mind any culture seeker should wish to find themselves within.

Attaining Cultural Awareness

How do you develop cultural awareness?

So what can we do to enhance our cultural awareness?

Well, initiating such a path, one towards attaining a true cultural awareness, is in fact quite simple.

Let’s break it down into four easy steps.

1. Rid your life of assumptions

It sounds simple, but it may not necessarily be so.

In fact, our own culture has no doubt embedded certain stereotypes into our subconscious that we must choose to actively address.

In doing so, let us acknowledge that we are all products of our environments.

Then, to remove ourselves from any assumptions that we may be making, as a direct result of our upbringing within a specific environment

2. Treat people as individuals

May we further resonate with the fact that we are all just people.

Each of us with our own life, our own environment, and our own resultant perspective.

If we can treat everyone whom we encounter as the individual that they are, then something like cultural awareness will become a secondary common practice.

3. Be understanding

With this, we must also be socially aware. We must also be understanding.

Understanding in that we may not have some specific knowledge, as would be necessary to properly comprehend a given moment.

No matter how much we think we know, there will always be something that we do not.

If we can come to terms with this assertion, then it will become much easier to leave our judgements, good or bad, behind.

4. Pursue global knowledge

And ultimately, may we all pursue a global knowledge base.

If you find yourself facing a difficulty in understanding why some person or persons are acting in some particular way, perhaps the confusion can be easily removed if you, yourself, initiate an attempt at understanding.

Certainly, it can.

There is no one to blame in our lack of cultural awareness, other than ourselves.

Pursue knowledge of different cultures. Pursue placing yourself inside such cultures. Allow yourself to think through the eyes of another, and acknowledge the lens that their environment has created.

Be understanding, and considerate of individual needs.

And in a moment of shock, take a deep breath, allowing the experience to be just that, an experience.

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Can you think of a time when you’ve experienced some overwhelming culture shock? Perhaps, you used some specific method for getting through it? Share your stories with us in the comments below!



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