The norms of a large clique are embedded within “culture” – a shared identity that defines one set, and delineates the other as separate. Navigating inter-culturally can be a challenge, especially if we have not strayed far from our roots. In another’s ethnic enclave, everything appears exotic – even something so simple as dialing a number, or using a bathroom. Cognitive flexibility (e.g., the ability to view events from multiple perspectives) is an acquired skill, one gleaned from diverse interaction and appreciation of difference. If you feel hamstrung by a cloistered upbringing, consider the following:
Make friends with those who are unfamiliar. Serve on a board in which you are minority (e.g, in terms of race/age/other characteristic) either in person, or in a virtual world. The metaverse Second Life enables participants to interact on Virtual Ability Island (either with or without a wheel chair), practice new languages, learn customs, and in the case of Sweden, visit a virtual embassy manned 24/7 by an employee who can provide passport/visa information. Sticking our toes within foreign cultures does not have to be expensive; it can instead consist of small steps to acclimate ourselves within foreign sounding food/places/music; like restaurants, DVDs featuring foreign countries (e.g., the “Visions of” series), television shows (see Rick Steves’ “Europe” on public television), foreign films, and actions such as befriending those who are not in our clique, striking up conversations with persons who look different (from ourselves), volunteering to acclimate new arrivals to the United States, teaching ESL classes, checking out international food fairs, experimenting with new dishes, dabbling within unfamiliar dialects.
These activities not only expand our horizons, but in addition our grey matter as well – with studies showing hippocampus expansion and positive impact on our language skills as a whole. Even foreign trips may not be out of reach, particularly if we stay at youth hostels or obtain a group rate. Fifteen Ways to Travel for Free lists some of following ways we can visit the land of our dreams for a fraction of the cost:
- House sit
- House swap
- Crew a yacht/cruise ship (can you teach a valuable skill, like bridge?)
- Organize a tour
Doing what is instinctively out of our comfort zone may seem like second skin (over time), and in the process, create a more cosmopolitan “we.”