The Importance of Cultural Awareness

When thinking of the benefits of summer break, the first thing that comes to mind is the opportunity to vacation. College students are given three blissful months of a break which they really like to take advantage of, especially when it comes to the ever so popular post-grad Europe trip or the option to study abroad for a few weeks. Students are told what to bring with them, how to stay safe, and what the best cities and countries are to visit. However, what is rarely discussed are the different cultures and customs within those countries, and how students should act in order to be respectful of their surroundings. This is the idea behind cultural awareness.

So what really is cultural awareness? According to an article from the Culturosity Group LLC, it is a foundation of communication involving the ability to take a step back and become aware of your own cultural values, beliefs and perceptions. It might seem like an involved task, especially if you’re just going on a vacation. With that said, it is critical to understand the context of where you are going, and it’s super easy to find relevant cultural information online or offline. To start off: READ. Look through history books or travel guides on specific cities to understand its beginnings, population, and various cultural quirks. We are now living in an age where blogs are so popular and able to be used as tools to gain knowledge about other places. We even have at our fingertips the possibility to search for budget travel tips, tips to travel abroad solo, and cultural sensitivity advice. Simply put, we have the ability to learn from the comfort of our own homes almost instantly!

Blogs are not the only tool the Internet has provided us regarding traveling and cultural awareness. Policies, customs, and other similar information can be found on sites like Commisceo Global. Listed on the site are country guides, which have relevant statistics, society, culture, and business/daily etiquette insights for each country. The website features numerous countries, and while the information is minimal, it does provide you some basis for what you want to research next.

Another great option is taking advantage of other people’s experiences around you. Ask friends and family who have been abroad about their trips and what they would recommend doing (or more importantly, not doing). Ask about where they would suggest visiting and other fun stories about their visit. People love talking about their trips, and more importantly, bragging about all of the cool stuff they did. They would be happy to talk about it with anyone willing to engage!

Along with your own friends and family, your school is a great resource! There are travel agents whose job it is to help you go abroad, give you advice, and make sure you don’t make a fool of yourself. Take advantage of them because you’re paying thousands of dollars to go to college, so it might be worth getting something out of it! Just kidding, you’re obviously getting a degree and that’s great. Keep in mind that schools do have study abroad offices though (here is Chico State’s as an example). You can use these offices’ resources even if you are not specifically studying abroad. Go in to solicit advice and absorb their knowledge. You’ll be grateful in the end that you took the time.

Now that you know how to gain cultural awareness of the country you’re visiting, why is it so important? To begin with, it enhances your respect of other countries. If you actually know the reasoning behind why someone is the way they are, you inherently garner greater appreciation from them. Another reason this awareness is so important is because it will increase your experience in the country. One example of this is hand gestures. These greatly vary throughout the world and you really don’t want to be somewhere and put your hand up thinking you’re politely saying “thank you” (much like in America) but actually be giving an entirely different vibe. A great movie to check out to learn more about this is called Gestures from Around the World.

Learning about other cultures will also increase your global depth and your communication skills, which in turn can positively benefit your future. You will need to learn to get past language barriers and cultural differences in order to communicate. Having this ability will be super beneficial in working for an international business, simply traveling for work-related purposes, or even in job interviews. These cultural differences and language barriers will also test your ability to adapt to new situations. Finally, if you are specifically studying abroad, it will give you an entirely new way of learning. You may be taking classes in a different language, or your courses may be significantly smaller or bigger than your current ones, or you might not even be in a classroom at all. Either way, it will be new and give you a completely different experience than you’re used to.

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