Why is cultural sensitivity important today and how to develop it
In an increasingly globalised world, being an international student is without a doubt particularly advantageous. It certainly carries more weight on your resume than that of a home-bred candidate. But what's equally important is the expectation to blend in with the culture of the host country in order to bring out the best in you. This post talks about why cultural sensitivity is important and suggests a few ways to be inclusive and sensitive to different cultures as an international student and also ways to cope with it.
What is Cultural sensitivity?
Cultural sensitivity is not merely an understanding of other cultures but finding the differences and dilemmas faced when cultures cross-breed. It is also about finding a common ground where one can build amiable living spaces together.
It is not very uncommon for students coming from varied countries to experience difficulties while adapting to the cultures of a new place. Some common challenges students face are language barriers which make them feel inferior and may even lead to discrimination among peers while during the adaptation process. Some cultural differences could be mind-boggling in the beginning and combined with the feeling of leaving behind one's home, it can be very stressful.
How to cope with the feeling of cultural inadequacy?
A new place, a new culture and a new life may trigger anxiety and fear. As one gets busy absorbing the newness of the place, reality starts to hit slowly. In the home country, things that have been trivial, and largely unnoticed, seem to be a huge deal in a foreign country. Things like driving, tone of speaking, waiting in a line, interacting with each other mostly form a part of a cultural cue and vary vastly in different countries.
The first stage is generally a sense of happiness and achievement; of having finally reached one's goal of becoming an international student studying abroad. You are happy, excited and can't wait to begin this new chapter of your life. But, slowly as you settle down, you see myriad differences between your culture and theirs. It may be difficult to get it initially, but you become comfortable as you get used to it. Slowly, this gives way to a better understanding of the cultural cues and you feel better prepared to face the new country in an effective way. As time passes, you get used to living in the new country. Slowly the country and its culture grow on you and you gel with the country as you have always been a part of it. Thus, the feeling of cultural inadequacy is not permanent and goes away once you open up your heart and mind to the new place.
Here are some tips to overcome the feeling of inadequacy and develop cultural sensitivity as a new student:
- Learn before you move
Before you move to a foreign country as a student, it is better to learn as much as possible about the culture of the host country. With digital media at large, there are numerous resources available like movies, shows, docuseries and even books and literature to describe and talk about a particular place. A few months before you move, thorough research and familiarity with the host country is a good place to start with. The feeling of oblivion and despair would reduce once there is a willingness to learn and adapt. It would be then easier to gel and begin afresh.
- Accept and connect
A lot of difficulties in settling down are generally faced when expectations are not met. A new student generally comes to a foreign country with very high expectations and faces dejection when these are not really present as expected. You have to come to a new country with an open mind and be more ready to accept than return with unfulfilled expectations. Instead of isolation, connecting with the locals and trying to mingle more would prove to be beneficial and would help you settle down well.
- Picking up the local language
Learning a new language may seem to be a daunting task. However, it proves to be a big advantage in a new place. A new language helps you to communicate well and automatically provides a sense of belonging to the new country. You may find it easier to make friends and travel to local places if you know the local language. A good start to learning a new language could be by buying a translation book and starting with some basics like greeting people, reading basic instructions, directions etc. It would also help you explore the cultures, food, clothing etc. and provide a sense of security instead of feeling left out and lonely.
- Connect with students from your country
The feeling of unfamiliarity is faced by all students who come from one country to another. In the same way, there must be students who have come from our home country and are sailing in the same boat as you. Connect with students who have come from your home country. There may be country wise student associations in your college which is a good place to start with. Once you get familiar with students from the same place as yours, settling down would be easier as you would have some sense of familiarity and belongingness.
- Seek help if you feel overwhelmed
A new place is scary and may leave you feeling bogged down. Seek help from professionals if you have feelings of anxiety, fear or depression. There are counsellors on board in universities who deal with students and are well equipped to help you. Talk to friends, family or your education counsellor and seek suitable help in order to overcome such feelings.
Studying in a new country is an exhilarating experience. You have to be open-minded and willing to adapt and embrace new cultures and practices. We at AECC have student counsellors, who are at your call at any available time. Feel free to reach out to any of our counsellors who would be willing to help you cross one barrier at a time and turn you into a truly global citizen.