Cultural and Intercultural Awareness

Being able to develop cultural awareness begins by understanding what culture is. Culture is the values, beliefs, assumptions and ideas that a people and/or a society hold in common.

Although it is sometimes simple to notice the differences from one culture to another, it is not always easy to be conscious of how we behave in our own culture. When you enter into a culture different from your own, you are exposed to new sights, sounds, and ideas, people and feelings. Much time is spent experiencing this "New World". Understanding the new culture is very important but so is understanding your own culture. In fact, the more you understand about the origins of your own values, practices, and beliefs, the more you will be able to understand another culture.

Another great reason to develop cultural awareness is that it makes your entire experience as an exchange student more memorable. By opening your eyes to the new details of your surroundings you actually take in more of the experience and years later you'll be surprised to realize how vivid your memories of your exchange experience can be.

However you look at it, cultural awareness is essential to getting along in a new culture. The more effort you put into developing cultural awareness, the more successful you will be in your international exchange program. A special focus on cultural awareness should be made in the weeks and months before departing to prepare yourself for the upcoming exchange by reading, watching videos and intercultural programs, and by writing a journal of your thoughts and your expectations as an exchange student. Make a list of your expectations for the exchange experience and make brief written descriptions of how you will or would like to act in certain situations that may arise with friends, your host family or at school. Don't just wait until packing your suitcase to think what it will be like, be prepared and take measures to prepare yourself.

After your arrival it is interesting to compare your expectations written in your journal before departure with what you find after arrival. You will learn a lot about cultural awareness just by recognizing stereotypes that you had about your own culture and the new culture you are living in.

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