SkillsAct4Vet – Training

Module 1 - Before the mobility

Unit 4: CULTURAL AWARENESS

Short definition

Cultural awareness starts with recognition of differences and similarities that exist between two or more cultures. This leads to an individual’s ability to function and effectively manage behavior, attitudes, and communication in culturally diverse settings. In order to be culturally aware, a person should be sensitive to the needs and emotions of their own culture and that of the others. This sensitivity will eventually lead to respecting and tolerating cultural diversity and effectively communicating with the members of diverse cultural and social backgrounds.  

Difficulties to which this skill responds

Living abroad for shorter or longer time is challenging, especially in a setting where one has to collaborate with members of another cultural and social group, or even a multicultural group, as usually happens in the case of mobility experience abroad.

A mobility student, while abroad, will face different patterns of human behavior including practices, beliefs, values, rituals, customs, as well as behaviors in ethnic and religious terms. Recognizing and then understanding the nuances of other cultures is challenging, as it brings to the forth respective recognition of own culture’s nuances.

In order to communicate effectively, the mobility student has to embrace cultural diversity as an over-arching pattern, but also as manifested in everyday life and communication. That goes way beyond the language barrier, as it addresses cultural differences in race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, religion, beliefs, behavior patterns among members of a different community or organisation.

Cultivating cultural awareness is tackling major obstacles that can hinder communication and eventually mutual understanding and collaboration such as prejudices, bias (as a mental leaning for or against someone or a group of people), discrimination, or even bigotry or racism (attitudes of being intolerant).

Behavioral indicators

There are certain behavioral indicators, or behavioral patterns, that can help mobility students develop cultural awareness:

  • Motivating the self to learn about the host culture and observing/studying cultural etiquette and nuances (e.g. what people do when meeting, how they call each other, which gestures are accepted and which not, commensality practices, body language etc.)
  • Identifying cultural behaviors and practices of persons, which are valid for all the members of the host culture/society (seeking and identifying possible common cultural denominators)
  • Not being afraid when acting in a culturally ‘wrong’ way, but drawing conclusions from this kind of situations to better adapt and fine-tune own behavior vis-à-vis the new cultural setting (addressing your cultural ‘gaffes’ with humor in a constructive way)
  • Trying to ‘mirror’ customs and gestures of the people (behave in a similar way and observe feedback from others)
  • Recognizing and applying adjustments and adaptations needed in various social and professional situations (monitoring your behavior by observing what ‘works’ and what not and then applying it in everyday practice little by little)
  • Avoiding generalizations and deconstructing them through learning more about the host culture (recognize and dismantle stereotypes as non-justified generalisations)

Why is this skill important for mobility students and which sub-skills are associated with it

Cultural awareness is extremely important for mobility students in order to communicate and collaborate in a healthy and culturally acceptable way. Acquiring sensitivity to cultural differences can be translated to action that is culturally appropriate and cultivates cultural competence, that is, the ability to use experiential and interpersonal skills to favor understanding and appreciation of cultural patterns and differences. Cultural awareness is also important as a tool for self-reflection and self-criticism, as well as a tool for fighting stereotypes. Cultural awareness is promoting cultural diversity through non-judgmental and empathetic attitudes.

A set of certain sub-skills are associated with cultural awareness:

Infographic for the sub-skills with icons

Tolerance

Accepting the diversity of approaches, appearance, values and behaviors and having your own convictions, while at the same time accepting that others adhere to theirs.

Adaptability

Willingness and ability to learn new skills and behaviors, especially in the face of new and evolving circumstances and situations.

Openness

Ability to be open-minded, open to experience and willing to try new things.

Curiosity

The desire to know and learn about different aspects of life.

Empathy

Understanding what others are experiencing through awareness of their feelings and emotions.

How to use the Exercises

Further in this section, there are two exercises for the teacher designed to demonstrate the importance of cultural awareness. The first exercise is meant to be carried out individually, while the second one is a group activity. The exercises help to elaborate on cultural awareness as a soft skill, highlighting the concepts of uniqueness and difference as main elements of embracing cultural diversity.

Learning outcomes

Learning outcomes for the trainers:

  • Acquiring a definition of “Cultural awareness” within the context of mobility for students
  • Understanding behavioral elements linked to cultural awareness as a soft skill to be applied in short-term mobility experiences abroad
  • Recognising sub-skills within cultural awareness, which are related to students’ behaviors

The trainers will be able to guide students to:

  • Become culturally tolerant by fighting prejudices and stereotypes
  • Create a healthy and collaborative environment with members of different culturesUnderstand what they can bring into a co-working environment as cultural and social actors and how cultural diversity can function towards achieving common goals in a work-place setting
  • Understand what they can bring into a co-working environment as cultural and social actors and how cultural diversity can function towards achieving common goals in a workplace setting
  • Cultivate adaptability as an attitude that will help them in their professional career
  • Acquire global awareness as a soft skill in an interconnected world (ability to navigate and embrace cultural differences as future professionals, employees and social actors