As our country is becoming more international, we meet people from other cultures in our schools, workplaces and neighborhoods.
There are many different aspects of a culture that affect the way we live and interact with others. Some of these cultural aspects are easy to detect, such as the way we speak, the food we eat or the holidays we observe. Other features are hidden under the surface, like the value we place on family, our attitude towards work and study or our idea of time and punctuality. When we live or work with people from different cultures, these hidden aspects can have a great impact on the way we understand and interact with each other.
The model of the cultural iceberg1 helps us understand just how much there is to our own culture, as well as to the cultures of others, that we are often not aware of. Just like we only see the tip of the iceberg above the water, while the majority of the ice is hidden underneath, there are many aspects to a culture that we do not usually see or are aware of.
Each of us acts based on our cultural background and we also interpret the actions of others according to our values and understandings. However, someone from a different cultural background might see and understand the same situation very differently. If we do not learn about each other’s culture, this can lead to misunderstandings and conflict. We must learn to be culturally intelligent, which means to have “knowledge or understanding of how a person from a particular country, race, religion, etc. lives and behaves”2. Having open conversations about each other’s cultures and participating in cultural activities is a great way to get to know new cultures.
Understanding each other’s culture is essential in living and working in harmony. Even the business world has understood the great impact culture has on the way people work together and cultural intelligence is now considered “essential for anyone who wants to do business internationally”3. When we are open to learn and understand about other cultures, we are not only able to avoid misunderstandings and conflict, but we will gain a wider horizon, get more experience and see that we can learn a lot from each other and celebrate our differences.
-By Rith Sang
1 Anthropologist Edward T. Hall developed the Cultural Iceberg Model in the 1970s
2 Cambridge dictionary on Cultural Intelligence
3 Cambridge dictionary on Cultural Intelligence