This series of articles comes as a response to the numerous questions that people ask me during my work as cultural diversity coach, consultant and trainer. These questions are asked in different forms but can all be simply put as, “How do you become multicultural?” In this three-part article we intend to provide a few useful clues on learning, adapting and bridging cultures.
During my years teaching cultures and languages to Peace Corps volunteers and U.S. diplomats assigned to work overseas, the most frequently expressed regrets from these adults were, “I wish I had learned another language and showed more interest in world cultures when I was younger.” This concern carried more weight for those who were required to reach a certain level of language and culture proficiency as a requirement to be confirmed for their overseas (and sometimes domestic) positions. They were right.
We do not have the time or the room here to explain why children learn languages and adapt to cultures faster and easier than adults do. Let’s rather discuss what adults can do to internalize new skills and better your life interactions with others in an irreversibly diverse community like Lee’s Summit, and in an increasingly global world.
Whether you have lived your whole life in this community and can express yourself in only one language and see the world through Lee’s Summit culture eyes, or have travelled all over the world and have experienced a multitude of languages and cultures, you too can become multicultural and multilingual, to the extent which will allow you to survive in new cultures and enjoy life better. Yes, you will almost never become fully bicultural no matter how long you immerse yourself in another culture or language. If you have heard me talk, you certainly know that I have an accent that some characterize as “heavy.”
The first thing to remember is that results of cultures and language learning are summative and not subtractive. In other words, no matter how long you immerse yourself in a new culture or learning a new language, you do not lose elements of your native culture or language. The new learning process ends up making you a person who sees the world in a multitude of ways and makes you able to adapt in two different environments.
The next learning strategy to use to learn about other cultures is to understand your own culture. Knowing and sharing your own culture is one of the best ways of learning and comparing elements of cultures. Share a lot, don’t just ask questions. When asking a question, remember the history of your own culture and do not make a fool of yourself. For example, so many times people ask me if we celebrate Thanksgiving in Africa with turkeys. No, the Pilgrims only came to America, not all over the world.
Avoid developing internal assumptions that may be hurtful to your mind. For example, when people around you communicate in a language that you don’t understand, don’t assume that they are talking about you; you are not the center of the universe, and should not consider yourself as the only topic of conversation. Unless they are specifically looking at you, are laughing and nodding their heads, do not worry about them or what they are talking about.
Emmanuel Ngomsi, Ph.D.is President of All World Languages and Cultures, Inc. He educates and coaches on issues of cultures and diversity. He can be reached at info@universalhighways. com