by Rylan Vanacore | published on February 11, 2022
Artwork by TingYu Chang
VSCultural awareness is someone’s understanding of the difference between themselves and people from different countries or cultural backgrounds.
In the age of technology, where a large amount of information is at our fingertips, we are more connected than ever. With all the accessibility we have to each other, it is more common to interact with different cultures outside of our own. In order to understand each other better, it is essential to learn about other cultures.
America’s relationship with culture
The United States is one of the most racially and ethnically diverse countries in the world. In 2020, the United States Census documented that 54% of the population identified as non-Hispanic white. This is a drop of nearly 10% from 2010, when the number was 61%.
The United States is becoming more and more diverse. This is particularly prevalent at RIT, which has an estimated number of nearly 2,000 international students.
With all the different cultures in the United States, one would expect citizens to be more culturally aware. This is not the case most of the time.
Many people in the United States are unaware of what is happening outside their country. A study conducted by the Washington Post in 2016 showed that most people in the United States pay little attention to regions like Africa or Central Asia.
Nickesia Gordon, an associate professor at RIT’s School of Communication, explained why some people in the United States don’t feel the need to pay attention to other countries.
“I think culturally there’s not really an incentive for some people to want to learn more about the rest of the world,” Gordon said.
“I think culturally there’s not really an incentive for some people to want to learn more about the rest of the world.”
Many people put the United States on a pedestal. A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center shows that in 2017, 85% of the American population believe that the United States is one of the
There is also the problem that some people are unable to learn about different cultures due to lack of exposure.
“It can be difficult for people who live in small towns to get [cultural] exposure for various reasons,” Gordon said. “So it’s not necessarily a lack of motivation, but a lack of opportunities.”
Language is the cornerstone of any culture, it is how we interact with each other.
Despite being a multicultural country, the United States lags behind when it comes to bilingualism in our population. A 2018 survey showed that only 20% of our population is bilingual.
Elisabetta D’Amanda, a lecturer in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures at RIT, has a lot of experience with languages from other countries and the United States.
“I’m from Europe and everyone speaks multiple languages,” D’Amanda said. “In [the United States]it’s kind of not important.
There is less emphasis on learning multiple languages than in European countries, such as Italy, which has about 34 spoken languages and related dialects, due to the large immigration to the country.
While a majority of people in the United States speak English as their primary language, there are regions where Spanish is primarily spoken.
“In Miami, I speak Spanish, I don’t speak English. In LA, I speak a lot of Spanish because it’s right there,” D’Amanda explained.
Language is an important skill to have, speaking several can open many doors for people. It’s broader than people think, and many career fields benefit from being multilingual. Being fluent in multiple languages makes you more marketable and opens up more job opportunities.
“I can go out and interview people about their research in their language,” D’Amanda said. “If you’re into science, you can do it. If you’re into engineering, you can do it.
Language is what connects us to different cultures, we can learn more from people if we are able to communicate with them to better understand how they live.
Why we should care
There is so much our world has to offer outside of the United States. We should be eager to enrich ourselves with all that other cultures have to offer.
In 2021, there was an increase in reported hate crimes in the United States. Much of this is due to ignorance and misconceptions placed on people of color. It is difficult to understand each other if we are not culturally aware. Cultural ignorance can lead to hatred and bigotry because it makes it easier to justify hatred when there is a lack of cultural awareness.
“I think getting to know other countries is an opportunity to develop cross-cultural communication skills,” Gordon said. “It gives us the opportunity to be more empathetic towards people and see them as human. It humanizes our interactions with others.
When we open up to other cultures, we begin to care more about others and empathize with them. When we have a better understanding of different cultures, we feel more inclined to help and care for people.
This understanding leads us to appreciate ourselves more, to be less hateful and more open.
Getting to know other countries also helps us understand the problems they face. For example, countries like Yemen and Somalia are currently facing some of the worst hunger crises in history. Instead of ignoring what is happening in these countries, we can educate ourselves on how to help make a difference for the people who live there.
Our generation has been more open to educating us in cultural awareness. Thanks to technology, we have the opportunity to immerse ourselves in all parts of the world.
“[Learning about other cultures and languages] is not a priority, traditionally; that doesn’t mean it’s not changing because our younger generation is changing it,” D’Amanda said. “It creates an opportunity for us to be more empathetic towards people and see them as human.”
“It creates an opportunity for us to be more empathetic towards people and see them as human.”