We've written before about the value of enhancing one's well-roundedness and dedication to learning through experiential education and exposure to diverse cultures. The benefits run wide and deep, touching aspects of your personal, educational, and professional lives. Whether for the simple sake of learning, or to facilitate becoming an integrated member of the worldwide social and business communities, experiential and cultural research can play a strong role in your life.
Culture is All Around You
When it comes to experiencing culture, there's no doubt that traveling is one of the most effective outlets available. However, if you don’t have the time, money, or energy to plan a trip abroad, you have other options. In fact, you probably don’t even need to leave your hometown to experience other cultures!
Given the great diversity of America today, chances are that even the people you interact with on a daily basis represent a wide range of cultural heritage and experiences. Your friends, neighbors, and coworkers may include people of different national, regional, religious, or ethnic backgrounds, all within arm's reach. Take the time to get to know more about where they come from and what makes their own cultures unique. You might be surprised at the variety of people living right next to you.
Other types of cultural exploration can be self-guided. Consider spending a weekend learning about a different culture by taking part in one of the following activities:
- Visit your local museum. Learn about works of art from other countries, and read the biographies of all the artists. At the museum, you can even look at archaeological finds from distant lands and think about how they may have impacted particular cultures.
- Read a book. Find one that explains the history, accomplishments, or tribulations of different societies, and how they've evolved into the culture they are today. Putting some background perspective into a culture can help you understand how their customs, traditions, and food got to be the way they are today.
- Discover how other cultures express themselves… in music, film, and literature.
- Use Instagram's location feature to research what other countries and cultures are participating in.
- Find a documentary on Netflix or another streaming app to learn about different areas or people of the world.
- Watch a movie from a different culture to get a feel of their voice, tone, interests, customs, and styles.
- Listen to a culture podcast. Check out iTunes® for a list of all society and culture-themed podcasts.
- If you live in a place with established cultural areas, like Little Italy or Chinatown, spend some time there! Learn about the food they make and the music you hear while you're there.
- Do your research. Explore specific cultures that intrigue you and make a list of things you would like to learn about -- history, cuisine, even wildlife. You can also use sites like Country a Day to study up on different cultures. Challenge yourself to learn about a different place every day!
- Try new cuisine. Even food, as universal a human need as there is, offers chances to explore cultural variety and how it is expressed through cuisine. Seek out local ethnic restaurants or introduce a new food tradition into your own kitchen.
Cultural Meets Formal Education
A heightened awareness of cultural diversity can lead to expanded depth in your relationships and leisure-time pursuits, but it can also improve your formal education. It's no secret that culture plays a significant role in the way individuals learn and interact in classroom environments. When you approach your education with cultural empathy, you can broaden and enhance your experience, maximizing the impact your formal education will have on your life.
Another way you can enhance your formal education and explore other cultures is by learning another language. You can do this in the comfort of a classroom setting, or set your own pace by using apps like Duolingo to help you learn any number of languages. When you pick up another language, you actually improve a variety of your other cognitive and problem solving skills, too. Employing these skills can lead to higher performance in other classes. The benefits are seemingly endless!
Other online tools are great for increasing your cultural awareness and formal education. For instance, keeping up with sites like National Geographic can help you learn in depth about other countries and the things they face. Sites like BBC report on national news and have a culture section to help you learn about other resources. Sites like the BBC usually have an events section, too, so you can easily search upcoming cultural events in your area.
Culture & Your Career
In an increasingly globalized economy, expanded cultural comprehension isn't just good for the heart and soul, it's also good for business. As such, you might pursue a specific course of study designed to unlock cross-cultural career opportunities. Or, you might simply maintain a wide-open readiness for effective collaboration with people across vast backgrounds within any industry. Either way, embracing diversity in the workplace is something that modern businesses strive for in our interconnected world.
If you're already established in a career, learning about other cultures can increase your chances to move up in the company. For example, if you’re employed in a high-tech industry that works with clients around the globe, being able to speak their language or understand their customs could lead into a client-facing role. If your business plans to eventually expand to other countries, you may be able to assist in the transition -- or even move to the new country to help manage the office. No matter your role, learning about other cultures can give you huge insights to new opportunities within your job and around the world.
Expanding your cultural interests offers plenty of perks, including personal, educational, and even professional benefits. With so much to learn (and so much to gain), taking the time to learn about other cultures is an easy commitment to make. The world may be a big place, but your own cultural education can begin right in your own hometown. With a little exploration, there's no telling what you might discover. Take off on your next cultural exploration today.
Written by University Staff