“Culture shock” is a common term that’s been thrown around over the years, peppered throughout casual conversations about traveling, study abroad programs, and other forms of cross-cultural exchange. It’s a term that, for the most part, comes with negative connotations; it implies that experiencing a new culture will throw off your “natural” balance and force you to confront some uncomfortable truths.
Some of that might be true; coming face-to-face with a culture that’s significantly different from yours does present a whole host of awkward situations and misunderstandings. After years of traveling the world for work, leisure, and family, however, I’ve realized that “culture shock” can be a positive force for individual growth and increased global empathy.
Studies show that multicultural learning, for instance, leads to increased adaptability and enhanced creativity. Other studies demonstrate that living abroad fosters increased appreciation and tolerance of cultural differences. As a Third Culture Adult (and former Third Culture Kid!), I learned how to navigate the differences between the United States and the Middle East—and built up a thriving business based on fostering that cross-cultural fluency in others.
Between work and family, however, it can be hard to make time for new experiences, let alone travel to another part of the world. Here are three easy ways to easily incorporate cross-cultural learning into your day-to-day:
- Pick up a new language.
Comment ça va? Anyong haseyo? How are you? Learning even the simplest of greetings in a foreign language can go a long way when you’re abroad, or simply interacting with someone from another country. Taking on a new language also positively challenges your brain and subsequently boosts your memory, problem solving, and multi-tasking capabilities. It can even improve your memory and avert Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Download the DuoLingo app for an easy way to practice new languages on the go. The app offers everything from Spanish to Vietnamese to Norwegian—and will add a Swahili course in December!
- Experience a new cuisine.
Sampling food from a different culture is one of the easiest (and most pleasing!) ways to engage in cross-cultural learning. Every flavorful bite of any country’s cuisine has years of history behind it; from the French bread on a Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwich to the heaps of cheese, noodles, and canned sausage in a bowl of Korean “war soup.” There’s always a story to be told.
Try shaking up your weekly routine with a trip to an Asian market, or a family dinner at a local Ethiopian food restaurant.
- Join a center—or create a meet-up!—for cultural appreciation.
New York City’s Japan Society has monthly film screenings for avid Japanese film buffs and curious visitors. The American Turkish Society hosts a series of forums on Turkish art, history, and politics. Cultural appreciation is clearly a widespread sentiment; find the community that’s right for you!
A simple Google search will turn up all kinds of meet-ups to share appreciation for and learnings from a variety of different cultures. If you can’t find the perfect network, create your own on websites like MeetUp.com.
Ultimately, in this day and age, we need cultural empathy more than ever. Incorporating regular, cross-cultural learning in your life can make a world of difference, for both your personal well-being and for a global movement towards increased tolerance and understanding.
So get out there and learn something new. All it takes is a bit of “culture shock” and a willingness to learn. Enjoy!