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Thursday, February 2, 2023

What does it mean to be intercultural?

By Sheena Jean-PierreSpecial to CSMS magazineThe idea of being intercultural is to use what has been learned from childhood and society, in reference to other cultural characteristics as well as one’s own, and project those cultural ideals back into society.  “Intercultural competence requires sufficient knowledge, suitable motivations, and skilled actions.  Each of these components alone is insufficient to achieve intercultural competence.”(1. page 76).    There are many cultural patterns within a society.  They all intertwine with each other—at home, in the neighborhood and at school. Proper knowledge of these various cultures makes a person more competent.     An implication made about an individual can be interpreted by others who hear it as a reference to their culture, not just the person who the comment was directed to.  For example, if an English speaking American were to see an African American and say, “She seems so dirty, how often does she take a shower?”      Anyone that overheard this unwarranted implication could be tempted to agree and then further those thoughts to be descriptive of the African American culture.  Because the implication was made due to one culture not having the proper knowledge of the characteristics of the other culture, it was perceived as degrading.  If the comment were to have been positive like, “She has such a healthy glow to her skin.”  The implication towards the African American woman and her culture would have been more intercultural competent.     If we as parents can become intercultural about other cultures besides our own, then we can instill this knowledge with motivation and proper action within our children. Children are brought up in homes that contain one affluent culture or, more than, two different cultures blended into one family.  Lustig and Koester quote Hofstede as saying that “people carry mental programs or “software of the mind” that is developed during childhood and reinforced by their culture.”(1. page 64).  The people’s own culture will reinforce their own specific values.  But, will they feel these values are accepted if expressed within society?  Arming children with multi-cultural knowledge and positive ways of responding to these differences makes them more apt to be intercultural competent.     Within a dominant culture and on a somewhat smaller scale, the neighborhood, children and adults can feel incompetent or inadequate when cultures collide.  The barrier can be language, religion, food preferences, work ethics and daily rituals.  If the dominant language in a given culture is English, and a family moves into this neighborhood whose main language is Spanish, they will suffer adjusting.  This Spanish speaking family is caught between two cultures.  Their Spanish language, religious beliefs, food and work ethic can all seem inadequate if the dominant culture/neighborhood is not intercultural.  The best outcome is that the dominant culture accepts the Spanish cultured family and uses proper actions to make them feel a part of this neighborhood. Feeling trapped between two cultures can lead to frustration and anger.     The administrators and teachers within the school system need to be properly educated about dealing with the many different cultures that collide on school grounds.  The culture of school is like a mini version of what adults deal with in society.  So many different children, all from assorted cultures, intermingle at school.  A child can be made to feel “different” or “unaccepted” unless the class and school, as a whole are intercultural competent.  Children can learn that it is acceptable to speak differently or have different skin color.  When learning about other cultures and countries, they can learn to be accepting of these differences as well.     Sufficient knowledge, motivation and action are all needed to attain intercultural competence. The more we know and understand about the different cultures that exist within society, the better prepared we are to educate the future-children.  Cultural knowledge begins in the home and continues on within the schools and ultimately society.   NoteSheena Jean-Pierre is a multicultural consultant who lives in suburban Atlanta. She is our correspondent there.Also see Embracing differences can only be a change for the better

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