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The Mass Media

Experiencing cross-culturalization

Everyone of us knows a thing or two about culture. But what exactly is cultureE.B. Taylor, a 19th-century English anthropologist, defined culture as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, beliefs, arts, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society” [1]. 

Taylor’s definition emphasizes that culture is not just limited to tangible artifacts or material goods, but also includes the intangible aspects of a society such as ideas, values and social norms. Such aspects of culture are learned and transmitted from one generation to the next 

When we travel or interact with people across the world, we experience the way in which culture defines us. The most common example would be differences in food habits. For instance, Americans consume a lot of beef, whereas beef is mostly banned in India [2]Consuming dog meat might be inconceivable to most people in the West, but in certain regions, dog meat is consumed as part of traditional celebrations and festivals, such as the Yulin Dog Meat Festival in China [3]. Furthermore, Mopane worms are a staple in rural areas and a delicacy in cities of Southern Africa [4]. 

Being culturally aware helps us understand these differences and acknowledge them without pride or prejudice. As the U.S. Census Bureau has found40.7 percent of the population is non-White, and our population is getting more and more diverse [5]. Therefore, frequent cross-cultural exchanges are becoming a simple fact of life in this country. 

Behaviors and attitudes emanating from cultural upbringing can be hidden and unexpected. For instance, during the orientation session for management students, Dean of Management Venky Venkatachalam advised us to understand the cultural differences and follow appropriate norms such as being punctual. In Indian culture, time is flexible. It is common for people to arrive late to an event, though punctuality is followed in formal contexts such as important business meetings or appointments. 

One of the measures to understand different cultures is Hofstede’s Six Dimensions of Culture.” These are power distance, individualism versus collectivism,” “masculinity versus femininity, “uncertainty avoidance, “long-term versus short-term orientation” and “indulgence versus restraint” [9]. 

Power distance explains how distribution of power is accepted in society. For instance, education in many Asian nations is teachercentered rather than focusing on the students. In my personal experience, I found that student input and peer discussion during a lecture is acceptable in the U.S., where the same would be frowned upon in India. There the class must maintain silenceWhen answering a direct question, a student will usually stand up to speak. 

Many societies are collective, where individual aspirations take a back seat. “Collectivism” means that society places more importance on the needs of the whole group; people feel obligated to work together, valuing kinship and relationships with families as well as the communityFor example, the tradition of marriages being arranged by the families of the bride and groom prevails on the Indian subcontinent and in most of East Asia [7], whereas in the U.S., personal choice is emphasized to a much greater degree. 

Hofstede also explains how cultural perceptions of gender roles can define our decision making. For instance, “in masculine cultures managers are defined as more assertive and decisive, whereas feminine cultures breed more intuitive managers who negotiate disputes and encourage participation in decisions” [9]. This kind of cultural difference can easily impact intercultural workplaces in unpredictable ways. 

The American Psychological Association lists these following tips to be more culturally awarethink beyond race and ethnicity, learn by asking, make local connections, pay attention to non-verbal behaviors such as body language, and exchange personal stories or experiences [6]. 

Understanding these cultural dimensions can help us in understanding cultures and working out problems that may arise from cultural differences. Understanding other cultures can also aid in discovering practices in our own cultures that we might wish to change. For instance, many cultures which believe in highly traditional rolefor women discourage their discourse in society and confine them to specific roles—current Western cultures have found it proper to move away from this kind of treatment toward womenOne’s culture in general cannot inherently be more “perfect than others, but culture also should not be an excuse for hatred, misogyny and harmful behaviors. 

Often, our differences arise for unexpected reasons, and culture is often a large contributor. We should all keep in mind that what might appear to be a character flaw in someone might just be a cultural difference which hasn’t been addressed yet. For example, that coworker who keeps showing up late to meetings might just be used to his own culture, which sees time as much more flexible than your own culture. The APA tips can help you recognize and tackle these miscommunications. 

As students of UMass Bostonwhich is among the very most diverse colleges in the U.S[8]we shouldn’t miss the opportunity to interact with students from varied backgrounds and to learn their values, customs and beliefs. These interactions are the ones that will define our future attitudes, help us to understand and respect the diversities among us and get rid of potentially harmful practices and beliefs.

[1] E.B. Taylor’s definition of culture- 

[2] Beef in America and India- 

[3] Dog meat festival 

[4] Mopane worms- 

[5] Population July Data- 

[6] Tips to be culturally aware-  

[7] Arranged marriages- 

[8] UMass Boston third most diverse college- 

[9] Hofstede’s cultural dimension- 

About the Contributor
Charan Reddy, Opinions Writer