There are many reasons to learn about other cultures. While some may be ‘cramming’ to prepare for a business trip to China next week, I was thinking more about an interest in learning about another culture in general. Granted in today’s fast-paced purpose driven business world where meaning is communicated in 140 character snippets, learning “just because” may be out of fashion. But think about Bill Murray in Groundhog’s Day…faced with all the time in the world, he learned CPR, French, how to play the piano, and so much more, and transformed himself into an amazing and loveable person.
So here’s a start…
- 1. Date (or marry!) someone from another culture.
Okay, that may be a little drastic just to learn a little something about another culture, try just making new friends! You may be the one to suggest meeting for coffee or getting together with families, with people already in your life-parents at your child’s school, a co-worker, people you meet at a networking event. Of course you wouldn’t say “I’m doing this because you are from Estonia.” Most often you are connecting with people within your world, but who happen to be from a different culture. Focus on the commonalities that bring you together first.
- 2. Search the Internet for websites, blogs and more.
Find a few blogs (e.g. Google search ‘blogs’) about the culture you are exploring to get a ‘real person’s view,’ or check to see who’s on Twitter. But, always consider the source…First Voice is best for learning about life in another culture. If traveling for business, there are business etiquette sites, books, and even consultants who can prepare you for your international travel.
- 3. Attend a cultural event-an ethnic museum, restaurant, dance or theater performance, festival, art exhibit, etc.
You can find out about these via your local newspaper, or call the Consulate’s Office nearest you (sometimes this may be in another state, but they may still have information on upcoming events in cities they serve.) You can enrich the experience by reading and looking at maps ahead of time, or volunteer to help out, be it one time for an event or weekly for ongoing exhibits.
Particularly if organizations are not-for-profit, they like all not-for-profits could probably use help in your area of expertise, whether it be accounting, marketing, fixing things or general office/administrative support.
- 4. Take a class.
Cooking. Foreign Language. Geography. Art History. Literature. Dance. Any of these angles can be a hook to gain insight into another culture.
- 5. Spend Time/Take Time.
Learning another culture to the point of having empathy and connection cannot happen in one sitting. Approach learning from a variety of angles for a full-bodied, deeper appreciation.
- 6. Throw ethnocentrism, assumptions and stereotypes to the wind.
To prove a point, I randomly picked New Guinea, thinking I would follow my own advice, and run the results. What I found was probably the best reminder about your frame of mind in approaching another culture. Learning about another culture takes time, and you must be open to acknowledging what you don’t know, even if you feel foolish, thinking you should know it…Guinea is in Africa. New Guinea is half of an island north of Australia, and Papua New Guinea is a separate country, that makes up the other half of the island.
I didn’t know. What don’t you know about another culture? How will you find out?
I did #1! Not with the expressing intention of learning about another culture, sometimes these things happen in reverse 🙂
But I think the line “you must be open to acknowledging what you don’t know,” is critically important. That old saying “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” is very true. I found that a few years into it, my sense of confidence grew a bit too large and became limiting. Reminding myself that I’m only partway down the path with a ways to go still, acknowledging what I don’t know, is really helpful and keeps me on my toes, always ready to absorb more.
Love this post!
What do you think of deep involvement in one or two cultures (like you get with #1 & 4) vs. more of a scatter-shot approach (like from #2 & 3)? Is a thinner reading necessarily superficial?
I think things that are ‘thinner’ are great, and might even lead to an interest in or opportunity for deeper connections. Particularly because sometimes the opposite of trying to learn about other cultures, even if it’s via food, art, etc. is a more insular view of life–looking only at one’s own customs. I’m a firm believer, too, in creating opportunities to be “the other,” to purposely put yourself into the situation of being ‘the only one’ in a situation. While I am looking at this from the perspective of being Caucasian, I think there’s value for others as well (e.g. if someone who is African American is sometimes “only one” among cauciasians, there’s value in immersian in Indian, Japanese, etc.
So I stand by the idea of what I’ve heard to as Cultural Tourism, although I hope people will stick with evolution from appreciation to curiosity to empathy–as in once one learns a little about another culture, can you stick with it and deepen the experience.
The reason I use phrase “stand by” is almost I realize a little defensive, but I have heard criticism from people of color regarding people from the majority culture thinking that this ‘dabbling into culture’ is multicultural (I think of Carmen at Racialicious and her call that “enough of the celebrating!” or another colleague who is African American, who pointed out that while I might be learning and enjoying the ‘fun’ parts of culture, someone from that culture may have more urgent needs/inequities/issues, etc. that really need to be addressed now. They don’t necessarily want to wait as I go through the long process of learning.
Wooh–long answer, but I think you’ve got to start somewhere.
And, in some ways, it’s like if you buy a Toyota, suddenly you notice everyone has Toyota’s, you see it in the news more often, you notice it more, because you are engaged.
Even since randomly picking Guinea/New Guinea as ‘my culture’ to learn about, I’m much more connected and listening and trying to figure out what to do about the awful rapes and attacks of women in Guinea on 9/28. (Heard Guinea on the news, and immediately turned it up) I opened a door, and now I feel connected and want to go deeper.
(I haven’t re-read this, and I’m rushing right now, but I hope it makes sense!)
It does – thanks for the detailed reply!