What is cultural awareness anyway?
Cultural awareness means not only having insight in othercultures but also having a solid understanding of our ownculture.
From our early childhood on, we are immersed in our own“culture”. We were told what to do, what to think and what toexpect in relation to other people and the environment around us. These cultural “lessons” set the tone for everything that wedo and how we do it today. Our culture has shaped us, whichmakes that we typically do not examine other cultures from anobjective point of view; we examine them based on what weknow and what feels right.
Youssef El Mousaoui, a Moroccan stand-up comedian in Belgium:Western people sometimes do not understand the behaviour of the Muslims, for example the fact that our women weir a veil, that we eat halaal food…But what do you Westerners do? Is not a tiny bit strange that one particular Sunday in the year, you get out in your gardens and go all crazy, searching feverishly for eggs laid by a rabbit?
But how do I build cultural awareness?
The most important qualities you need to acquire cultural awareness are an open mind and patience.
However understanding cultural differences does not come overnight. You will need time to recognize and truly understand the values and norms that drive human behavior.
If you happen to move abroad - into a country with a distinct culture - you will automatically take some distance from your own culture. You will not only get a new cultural experience, but - equally important- when you return home you will see your own culture with a different set of eyes. You will see and understand behavior that was implicit before as if looking at your own culture from the sideline.
However, also when you do not live abroad, you can develop excellent cross-cultural skills.
Many global companies provide "Cultural Awareness Training" for those employees that work in culturally diverse teams or their expat families. This is an excellent starting point, but it is not the only approach that works.