In August of 2013, I moved to Madrid, Spain for a year as a prerequisite to fulfilling by my International Business degree. As the old adage goes, it was the best of times and it was the worst of times. It was one of the hardest experiences I’ve had to date but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I believe everyone should live aboard for a period of time, whether it’s for weeks, months or years. Over our next few cycles, I will be sharing some of the lessons I learned while living abroad.
Lesson 1: There’s a difference between being culturally sensitive and culturally aware
When I moved to Madrid, I arrived being culturally sensitive: trying not to offend anyone. However, after living abroad for a year and getting to really know people from other cultures and traveling to different places, I have learned that cultural sensitivity does not help you evolve into a citizen of the world. If you stay in the realm of cultural sensitivity, you will quickly find yourself only observing a culture, but not participating in it.
It is only once you’ve become culturally aware that can you consider yourself a global citizen. But how do you evolve from being culturally sensitive to culturally aware? It starts with asking open ended questions, trying to truly understand how and why people from other cultures respond to situations differently. My stay in Madrid, taught me how to look at circumstances holistically and put myself in someone else’s shoes before judging them on their actions and decisions.
In my opinion, being culturally sensitive makes you look at a situation uni-directionally and prevents you from looking at it from the other person’s perspective. A culturally aware person tries their hardest to put themselves in the position of other people before jumping to conclusions on why someone doesn’t want to do something, or why things are done a different way then they are used to. Stepping out of your comfort zone is never easy. Some days it will be the hardest thing you have to do, but it will challenge you and help you to appreciate other people so much more.
Three women going through life.