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Building Cultural Awareness with Lisa Velázquez

Feature Article: Cross-Cultural Awareness – Is it Personal or Cultural?

By Lisa Velázquez, Cultural Transition Coach

Living in a foreign country provides us with many experiences – meeting new people, visiting exotic places, tasting different foods, and communicating in a new language. However, the most valuable experience, I believe, is getting to know yourself better while away from everything familiar. From little on we have absorbed and assimilated countless experiences, and have become predominantly familiar with our own cultural group. In a foreign setting, we are challenged by more frequent differences, and through these will find out what is unique about us. We will find out how we are different from and also similar to others in the new culture and our own culture by becoming aware of our personal likes and dislikes.

It is only natural that we look at the world through our own cultural glasses, tinted by our upbringing, and our background. By living in a foreign country we have the unique opportunity to widen our view. We can compare and contrast our personal worldview with a different way of life, different values and beliefs. The new culture becomes a mirror that challenges us to view the part of ourselves and of our own culture that has previously been hidden from our conscious view.

The anthropologist Edward T. Hall says:

"[The] great gift that the members of the human race have for each other is not exotic experiences but an opportunity to achieve awareness of the structure of their own system, which can be accomplished only by interacting with others who do not share that system" (Beyond Culture, pg. 44).

To this I would like to add, that in addition to achieving awareness of the structure of our own culture, we also gain insight into our own personal structure since we all are unique in a very personal way. We'll find out what is truly important to us by experiencing its absence. We'll become aware of our preferred or habitual way of communicating by being exposed to a new style of communication. We may realize that the concept of time, or punctuality, is not viewed the same everywhere, and what our preferred way is, and so on.

So, living in a foreign country will not only give us insight into the new culture, but more importantly, will give us deeper understanding of our own familiar cultural and personal make-up. Reflection on these insights in return will help us to fully honor and appreciate our cross-cultural experience and enable us to integrate this experience into our core being. I believe, this will make us more tolerant and less judgmental and allow us to feel our interconnectedness to the rest of the world.

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Lisa Velazquez is a certified personal coach specializing in Cultural Transition who helps individuals and families adjust to a new culture through one-on-one coaching, group coaching, and presentations on cultural topics to interested groups. For more information visit lisavel.com and sign up for your free "Three Simple Techniques for a Successful Adjustment to a New Culture" PDF and for the free monthly newsletter "Building Cultural Awareness".

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