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Does Living in a Multicultural Environment Give You Cross Cultural Skills?

Does Living in a Multicultural Environment Give You Cross Cultural Skills?

As cross-cultural training specialists, we sometimes come across resistance from delegates who have been obligated to attend a cultural awareness session by their boss, HR or the Learning and Development department.

Resistance may stem from many factors, not least of which may be that the benefits and background to the training course have not been fully communicated.

Other factors may include the fact that the individual has limited experience nurturing and driving cross cultural relationships and therefore fails to see the challenges and opportunities of international engagement.

Interestingly however, a factor of resistance that we have encountered on a number of occasions is that:

‘I live in Multicultural Environment – I already have the skills’

It is not uncommon for us to encounter resistance from more junior staff members who feel that they have a natural cultural awareness due to having lived in a multicultural community.

Although individuals can certainly develop a natural ability to engage well cross culturally, it is not necessarily driven by an upbringing in a multicultural environment. Take for example, communities in which individuals of different ethnicities live side by side yet never interact. Individuals may live amongst each other for years yet fail to understand or fully recognise the ‘other’.  

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A recent documentary entitled ‘White Kid Brown Kid’ clearly demonstrated the way in which segregation, despite geographical closeness, can result in isolated multicultural areas. 

The programme followed two young girls living in Dewsbury (which is considered one of the least ethnically integrated areas in the UK).  The girls were chosen as ‘typical’ of the cultural and ethnic groups within which they lived. 

Farhana, 16, was part of a practicing Muslim British-Pakistani family, while Siobhan, (also 16) was part of a predominantly white neighbouring village. By removing the barriers erected by their respective communities and putting the girls into situations which facilitated the development of relationship, the girls were to quick to establish a friendship.They also took a positive interest in their respective cultural and ethnic differences and found synergy on many levels.

So, while it’s true that living in a multicultural community can naturally imbue a deep seeded awareness of culture, the ability to understand others and overcome potential difference, this is only possible where communities and groups truly and genuinely mix because unfortunately in the UK, Dewsbury is not unique.

A recent blog entitled ‘Death of Cockney and the Rise of Multicultural English’ illustrates one of the ways in which genuinely culturally diverse groups seek to establish commonalities. The more diverse a group is and the more open the cross engagement of the group, the more likely group members are to speak what is known as ‘Multicultural English’. Unfortunately, such levels of engagement and willingness to create synergy are less common in multicultural UK areas.  

Even where an individual has had considerable exposure to multicultural settings, cultural awareness training remains essential if that individual is required to communicate and interactive effectively across diverse cultures at a corporate level.

This is because cultural training helps individuals to look at culture differently.  It emphasises the need for an individual to understand themselves and their own cultural frameworks within which they operate. Quite often delegates are keen to understand all about the ‘other’ but fail to recognise that they come with their own cultural baggage.

Clearly, it is difficult to positively appreciate ‘others’ if one cannot understand themselves. Cultural training also helps individuals to respect and understand the opportunities and benefits embedded in cultural difference.  Finally, it also equips them with tools and strategies to get the most out of their cross- cultural relationships.  

So, even if individuals have grown up in truly multicultural environments, cultural awareness training takes them to a new place of understanding when it comes to culture which can only further benefit their existing natural adeptness.

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