It is said that language contains the soul of a people–their culture, their heritage, their values. And, just as how languages differ from each other completely, so do the cultures of every nation. Although advancements in technology have made it easier to communicate across countries, communication does not necessarily constitute a deeper connection or understanding of the other person. Which is why in this modern age, promoting a culture of instant-gratification and apathy also comes the growing necessity of interpersonal and intercultural education.
Speaking as an exchange student, completely immersing yourself in another culture is an extremely difficult thing to do. Despite the fact that you speak different languages, there are also customs, mannerisms, and ideals that may be completely different from what you have been used to all your life. Cultural immersion requires a rewiring of your brain – what you may have thought was normal, may be altogether crazy in another part of the world or vice versa.
Culture is a complex thing. It can differ from each other entirely, yet both its foundations and the fact that it is present in every country are universal. I have seen first-hand how, in spite of the differences in perspective and values, people from all parts of the world can work together toward a common good.
But this is only possible if we are able to understand where these other cultures are coming from, and acknowledge that while our principles or lifestyles may differ, we are all worthy of the same amount of respect.
While cultural immersion may be an extreme example of intercultural education, it exemplifies a characteristic that I believe to be lacking in modern society– empathy. There are many other ways in which we can promote both intercultural understanding and empathy: taking the time to talk to different people from different backgrounds, making the effort to hear both sides of the story before making judgements, or simply by keeping yourself updated on the news happening around the world.
The significance of an intercultural community has been growing, and will continue to grow as our society reaches a more global society and a better understanding of our universal responsibility; and as it grows, so does the importance of empathy. To be able to understand the feelings of others, where they are coming from, and the influences their upbringing and culture have on their perspective and principles is a valuable and irreplaceable skill – one that will take you far, as it has become so easy to get caught up in yourself that you forget about others.
Published: December 10, 2019
Written by Caleigh Mei Tan, current WYA Asia Pacific Regional Intern
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