In an ever so interconnected world, borders have become a formality and people carry along and across them their cultural heritage. Getting in touch with a new culture is, then, nearly unavoidable. 

So, since we are now likely to interact with someone with different backgrounds, cultural awareness is paramount to mutual understanding. 

Borders fade away

Migration of people is a very tangible reality, as current as it can be. Be it without a choice, for a new job or just to try something new, people move. And so do cultures.

I remember being in primary school and all my classmates came from the same town. Each had indeed their own personality, but overall we understood the world with one shared set of rules and criteria. 

Fast forward 11 years and my sister is now taking her first steps in school. This time around, a professor, a couple of dozen children and just as many new cultural viewpoints and traditions.

The context changed and so did the people involved. Blanket statements no longer applied, personal space and semiotics varied from one person to the other. Foreign smells and textures became familiar, colorful attire inspired curiosity and new festivities were celebrated. 

What is a culture and how can I learn one?

Colorful umbrella floating on a sunset sky. Each slice of the umbrella has a different color.
Image by @vnzpr on Unsplash

Envision an umbrella that each one of us carries. Each of the “slices” composing the tissue corresponds to a different aspect a culture embodies. These include religious beliefs, linguistic skills, social events and culinary preferences to name a few.

Each umbrella is customised for each person and not two of them are alike. 

Mastering how to “read” these different slices allows you, in case you accidentally exchanged or shared the umbrella, to be still comfortable and at ease in somebody else’s space.

To learn a new culture can be approached in several ways and you can decide which gives you the most satisfaction and results. 

In all fairness, the expression “learn a new culture” can add that academic feeling to an experience that has nothing to envy to finally drinking that sip of water on a warm day or sitting down after long hours standing.

I would rather use the term “to absorb”. Absorbing entails being immersed into something and little by little taking in portions of the context surrounding you. And, before you know it, that new knowledge translates into a more perceptive attitude.

So far, it seems easy enough…” you might think, “But how on earth can I absorb a culture from literally the other side of the world?”

Fear not, my friend! The answer is much simpler and accessible than what you might believe.

5 easy hacks to learn a culture effortlessly

The miracles of technology. Thanks partly to the recent pandemic, virtual space has been gaining more presence in our lives. Some might find it unorthodox, some might be suspicious and others embrace it fully. Nowadays plenty of virtual tours and travels are literally one click away. They are fun, immersive and aside from a small fee (at times), they are at everybody’s reach.

Celebrate it! Thanksgiving, Diwali or the Yi Peng Lantern Festival might not be marked on your calendar. However, these festivities have now reached far beyond their borders so why not learn about them by taking part in them. Rituals and their meaning feel much closer when actually experienced. So ask your friends what they celebrate and get on the festivity wagon.

Group of friends holding a lantern just before releasing it in the night sky.
Image by @iamsourabh on Unsplash

Read, Read, Read. (Or watch) Somebody dared to make it a challenge to travel the world and to learn new cultures by turning pages. Up to try it yourself? Libraries and eBooks are a juicy replacement for travel agencies. They are cheaper, you can leave for a new place at any time and the experience is just as intimate. Or maybe you are not so much into flipping pages? Movies, documentaries and reportages will also do the trick from the comfort of a sofa.

Ask overtly and reflect on stereotypes. Stereotypes can prepare you mentally for a disruption on how people perceive and act in a different setting. They do not, though, apply to everyone or everything. When in doubt or just out of natural curiosity, ask about the new culture and try to understand your counterpart’s story. Language groups are quite the perfect space to do so. At SPEAK a buddy’s hope is to shower their audience with facts and stories about their culture. And participants love learning all sorts of expressions and oddities about it. It also allows space for reflection and to grasp how nuanced each one of us is.

Get out and about. Travelling is probably the most obvious of tips and the most expensive as well. However, it does not have to be so. By choosing local stays and activities instead of tourist-oriented resorts, your wallet AND you will harvest the benefits of such options. Get in touch with locals in your travels or, if crossing a border is not really an option, dig in your city. Look for organizations who are involved in integration programs and take part in them. On top of being helpful to others, whole new cultures find their way into yours without leaving your town.

Become a more compassionate human

To learn a new culture is a process that requires time and genuine interest. It may feel uncomfortable at times but transformative and eye-opening also.

One of the greatest outcomes of learning a new culture is to realize not only how divergent but how similar one is from our own. Additionally, the more relatable something is, the easier it gets to act inclusively and respect another’s behavior or traditions.

Your own agenda will get busier with original events, your fridge will store foreign ingredients, your shelves will burst with exotic tales. Last but not least, your own attitude will become more sympathetic and compassionate.

Culture shock when getting in touch with an unknown scenario is still a possibility. It doesn’t have to be overwhelming though. Read here how to navigate one from a personal experience in Shanghai.

SPEAK is here to take your hand and walk the first steps into a new culture. Join our mission of spreading awareness and supporting active integration in a new country. Become a buddy and share your world or sign up as a participant in your city and start absorbing a new culture today.

Author: Valentina Rampazzo

Valentina is a polyglot and a culture deep diver. She has lived in 5 countries across Europe and has most recently joined SPEAK as a Copywriter Intern. Her passions are her plants, plant-based cooking and writing.

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