“If you differ from me, my brother, far from hurting me, you enrich me”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
When we were born, we have been linked to a certain culture, country, ethnic group and social group. Later on, during our education, we were more or less put in contact with other cultural and social groups. Or, rather, we didn’t all have the opportunity to socialize with people from different cultural and social backgrounds since our childhood.
On one hand, curiosity and desire to discover. On the other hand, fear from other’s differences. When it comes to socializing with people from other cultures, the human being is torn between those two contradictory trends. As a child, weren’t we curious about everything, led by the longing to discover everything around us? But didn’t the adults teach us to beware of the unknown, and the strangers?
Once they become an adult, many people keep or develop mistrust, and even defiance, toward other cultures. Some people simply don’t think about widening their social circle and just keep socializing with the same people. Yet, socializing with people from other cultures would be advantageous for all of us. Because meeting and socializing with people from everywhere make us richer, just like traveling.
Here is why:
To learn more about other cultures…
Meeting people from other cultures and connecting with them is a wonderful way to break down prejudices and stereotypes about them. It allows to break this border, most of the time invisible, that exists between different communities, even when they live inside the same city. Going to meet them with an open mind, free from any simplistic prejudices or stereotypes, is a great way to learn more about their culture. Others have so much to let us discover.
…and about our own culture
In a more unexpected way, intercultural relations allow us to learn more about our own culture. Through discussions and time spent together, we realize that the way we think and do things is not universal. We learn to put our culture into perspective. If some conceptions and ways of doing things seem natural to us, it’s only because they have been taught to us since our earliest childhood and we have been used to them. What seems natural, “normal”, for one is not for the other. “Normal”. This very term, with universalist overtones, actually refers to a very relative social norm. Then others hold out a mirror to get to know ourselves better.
To build enriching relationships
Meeting people from all over the world allows us to build fulfilling relationships. We get out of the routine and widen our social circle. Exchanging our point of view with someone from another culture is interesting and stimulating. What others have different to bring us makes us richer. Cross-cultural relationships are enriching, just like travels.
In this regard, feeding this type of relationship also allows us to travel somehow, without even changing places when people from other cultures come to our living place.
To practice foreign languages
Most of the time, people from other cultures speak foreign languages. Getting in touch with them is an excellent opportunity to practice and improve your language skills. For example, you can speak English with the American girl who is studying in the same class, or try out your Arabic skills with the Syrian man who runs a restaurant close to you. Sometimes, beautiful intercultural friendships start with the desire to practice foreign languages. We look for penpals to improve our language skills. As a result, we did not only improve, but we also made new friends.
To fight against ignorance, racism and xenophobia
So, socializing with foreign people, people from other cultures allows us to learn a lot of things about other cultures. It’s a beautiful way to fight against ignorance. This ignorance must be eradicated because it is responsible for the fear of others. And this fear is responsible for racism and xenophobia.
Etymologically, “xenophobia” means fear of strangers and foreigners.
In contact with foreigners, we discover their culture as it is in reality, and not as some speeches want us to believe it is. Learning more about other cultures allows us to deconstruct stereotypes. The more people will learn more about other cultures, the less they will be prone to adopt racist and xenophobic attitudes and behaviors.
To broaden our perspective
Building intercultural relationships and having rewarding discussions allows us to widen our point of view. We discover other ways of seeing things, another vision of the world. Each interaction is a good occasion to put into perspective our own culture. Sometimes, as we listen to the other’s perspective, we end up questioning some beliefs and changing our minds about some subjects.
For example, after hearing the story of a friend who lived his childhood in very poor conditions somewhere in Asia, and the great joy he felt the day he was given a bicycle made from upcycled parts, we can question the excesses of materialism in Western countries.
Our point of view goes widening, slowly eating our – sometimes unconscious but yet real –ethnocentricity.
The importance to socialize with people from other cultures since childhood
For all the reasons above, I think it is important to socialize with people from other cultures from an early age. It’s up to the parents to let their children discover the other cultures around the world. An excellent way to do so is that the parents themselves hang out with people from everywhere, thus setting a good example for their children. A child who has been in contact with foreigners will find it natural to meet people from other cultures and will have gained precious intercultural skills.
School is the other perfect place to teach interculturalism to children. Here as well, it’s a beautiful way to fight against prejudices, stereotypes, along with racism and xenophobia.
Finally, where possible, taking children on trips will allow him/her to start discovering other cultures and the beauty of the world.
So, go to meet people from other cultures, whether it is in your street or on the other side of the world.
What are you waiting for to get to know your Indian or Finnish neighbours?
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