by Rylan Vanacore | published Feb. 11th, 2022
Cultural 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 vast amount of information is at our fingertips, we are connected more than ever. With all the accessibility that we have to one another, it is more common to interact with different cultures outside of our own. In order to better understand one another, it is vital that we educate ourselves on other cultures.
The U.S.'s Relationship With Culture
The U.S. 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 white non-Hispanic. This is nearly a 10% drop from 2010, when the number was 61%.
The U.S. is becoming more and more diverse. This is especially prevalent at RIT, which has an estimated amount of nearly 2,000 international students.
With all the different cultures in the United States, you would expect the citizens to be more culturally aware. This is not the case most of the time.
Many people in the U.S. are unaware of what happens outside of their country. A study conducted by The Washington Post in 2016, showed that most people in the U.S. pay little attention to areas like Africa or Central Asia.
Nickesia Gordon, an associate professor at RIT’s School of Communication, weighed in on why some people in the U.S. don’t feel the need to pay attention to other countries.
“I think from a cultural perspective, there isn't really an incentive for some people to want to learn about the rest of the world,” Gordon said.
“I think from a cultural perspective, there isn't really an incentive for some people to want to learn about the rest of the world.”
Many people put the U.S. on a pedestal. A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center shows that in 2017, 85% of the U.S. population believes that the U.S. is one of the
There is also the issue that some people are unable to learn about different cultures due to lack of exposure.
“It may be difficult for people who live in smaller towns to get [cultural] exposure for a variety of reasons,” Gordon said. “So it's not necessarily a lack of motivation, but a lack of opportunity.”
Language is the cornerstone of every culture, it’s how we interact with one another.
Despite being a multicultural country, the U.S. falls behind when it comes to bilingualism in our population. A 2018 survey, it showed that only 20 percent of our population is bilingual.
Elisabetta D'Amanda, the principal lecturer at RIT’s Department of Modern Languages and Cultures, has had a lot of experience with languages in other countries and the U.S.
“I come from Europe, and everyone speaks multiple languages,” D'Amanda said. “In [the United States], it's kind of not important.”
There is less of an emphasis on learning multiple languages than there is in European countries, such as Italy which boasts around 34 spoken languages and related dialects, due to the significant amount of immigration within the country.
While a majority of people within the U.S. speak English as their primary language, there are areas where Spanish is primarily spoken.
“In Miami, I speak Spanish, I don't speak English. In Los Angeles, I speak a lot of Spanish because it's just there,” D'Amanda explained.
Language is an important skill to have, speaking multiple ones 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 more job opportunities.
“I can go and interview people on their research in their language,” D'Amanda said. “If you are in the science, you can do that. If you're in engineering, you can do that.”
Language is what connects us to different cultures, we are able to 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 that our world has to offer outside of the U.S. We should be eager to enrich ourselves in all that other cultures have to offer.
In 2021, there was a rise in reported hate crimes within the U.S. A lot of the reason for this was from ignorance and misconceptions placed on people of color. It is difficult to understand one another if we aren't 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 learning about other countries is an opportunity to grow or intercultural communication competence,” Gordon said. “It creates an opportunity for us to be more empathetic towards people and to think of them as human. It humanizes our interactions with other folks.”
When we open ourselves to other cultures we begin to care more and empathize with others. When we have a better understanding of different cultures, we feel more inclined to help and care about people.
This understanding leads us to appreciate one another more, be less hateful and more open.
Learning about other countries also helps us understand the issues that they face. For example, countries like Yemen and Somalia are currently facing some of the worst hunger crises seen throughout history. Instead of ignoring what's going on in these countries, we can educate ourselves on how to help make a difference for the people living there.
Our generation has been more open to educating ourselves when it comes to cultural awareness. With technology, we have an opportunity to immerse ourselves in every part of the world.
“[Learning about other cultures and languages] is not a priority, traditionally; that doesn't mean it's not changing because our young generation is changing it,” D'Amanda said. “It creates an opportunity for us to be more empathetic towards people and to think of them as human.”
“It creates an opportunity for us to be more empathetic towards people and to think of them as human.”