Breaking Out of Our Cultural Bubble
We're often afraid of what's different. It's easy to stick with what we know, especially when it comes to relationships. We stick to a core group of people that think, act, and do things like we do. We find meeting people from a different culture daunting, and sometimes we're just too close-minded to accept that getting to know people from other cultures could help us grow personally. The college that I attended had a fair amount of international students, and, in the course of my four years there, I didn't interact with very many of them. I have always regretted that. The few missionary kids that I knew well were great friends of mine, and I always wished I had spent more time with them, getting to know the worlds and culture they came from.
Culture doesn't always mean another world, though. It could just mean someone who came from a different part of America than you or grew up differently than you. My culture is different than people because I'm mixed, was home schooled, and grew up in a conservative household. (These things are usually called sub-cultures, but they still fall under the umbrella of culture). Each of these things shaped my values, ethics, viewpoints on different things, what I like or don't like, etc., from other people. When you consider what defines culture, which can be anything from language to beliefs, customs to works of arts, it can change substantially, even if you're just comparing two families that live in the same city.
Culture is Important:
One of the beautiful things about America is our diversity. Often times this diversity isn't celebrated. Families that have a diverse background sometimes try to hide it, whether it's from shame, dislike, or wanting to seem more American. We like to push this idea of being American and sticking to that, but what does being American even mean? America has always been a country filled with people from all types of different backgrounds. It's time to realize that truly being American means identifying with your own personal culture, embracing it, and then learning to accept other cultures.
In order to accept other cultures, we have to first accept our own. I have it fairly easy; I at least know one of my cultural backgrounds, which is my black half. However, I don't know much about my white half. As far as I know, I could be part French, Scottish, Irish, and many more. Some people may not think it's important to know these things, but when you know where you come from, certain things about yourself start to make more sense. Before being able to get to know other cultures, it's important to know your own and to have a strong connection to it. This will help you to be a more confident person because you have a connection to a group, and from there, you can form your own identity.
Accepting Other's Culture:
She had invited all of the black students on campus to come to her house. While technically this is part of my culture, it was still out of my comfort zone. Growing up I have always been in groups that are predominantly white, so I identify more with my white half. I had never been to anything like this, with people my own age, where everyone was black, so it was awkward. I soon realized how different I was, and while it was scary, I learned a lot from that one dinner and had a lot of fun. It was refreshing to be in a situation where things were different than what I was used too. Plus the food was delicious.
A problem that we have in America is, we can't get past differences. I've noticed that when immigrants come from other countries they're expected to leave their culture behind them. We accept other people's differences when it's beneficial to us, but the minute it becomes a problem, we expect them to change. We celebrate the differences that we like, but if there's something we don't like, we either ignore it or make them feel bad about it. Also, while American culture (or what is considered to be American culture like our consumerism, and commerce) is spread throughout various countries, but barely changed to fit the culture it's in, rarely is something brought into America, from another country, and not changed. Just look at things like Taco Bell, that is supposedly Mexican food but isn't accurate at all, or the television shows we've made that were adapted from shows in other countries.
What Can You Do Now:
Now you may be wondering: Well how do I break this routine and find ways to interact with other cultures? Well, one of the best ways is to go visit other countries. If you're still in college, it's the perfect time. Find out what study abroad trips your college offers and go on one. Most colleges offer financial aid for trips like that. I went to Ireland for my school's J-term, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. I not only got close to the people who went on the trip, but I also met interesting people in Ireland.
You could also try visiting other places in America. Maybe go on a road trip with friends to a state you've never been to. If you're currently looking at colleges, try to find one in a different state or area than where you live.
There are also ways you can get to know people from other cultures in whatever city you live. It could be as simple as joining some sort of club or program that's marketed for a different group of people than you're used to being around. Getting involved in volunteer and outreach programs is another way.
The most important thing you can do is be knowledgeable. Don't assume you know everything, and don't assume your friends do either. Go out and read about other cultures from reputable sources. Watch some documentaries, or if you are doing any of the above ideas, don't fall into a tourist trap and just go for a good time, souvenirs, and pictures. Go to learn something.
It's really up to you when it comes to meeting new people, and being open to the differences among different groups. It depends on the effort you put into it, but it all starts when you decide to break out of your cultural bubble and become open to the possibilities you never would have before. You'll be amazed at what you will learn from others and what you will learn about yourself.