Fostering an Inclusive Society by Cultivating Cultural Competence
The cultivation of cultural competence has always been an important part of education. In the "Mid- and Long-Term Plan for Non-Higher Education (2021-2030)" released by the Education and Youth Development Bureau of Macao, the first key direction "cultivating patriotism and international vision" mentioned that, "(students acquire) the skills of cross-cultural understanding and tolerance, communication and cooperation, etc., by strengthening abilities to use Mandarin, Portuguese and English." The goal is to enhance the competitiveness of students in Macao and cultivate citizens of the new era.
In fact, cultivating intercultural understanding not only enables a person to effectively communicate and interact with people from different cultural backgrounds, but also cultivates one's tolerance and empathy, which is an important part in building an inclusive society.
What is cultural competence?
When you hear the word "culture", what comes to your mind first? Probably something visible or specific, such as food, clothing, music, language, etc. Of course, these are all aspects of "culture", but "culture" is more about the invisible, more subtle things.
"Culture" refers to the values, beliefs and traditions taught by the people we belong to, and we also learn the behaviors and methods to act around those values, beliefs and traditions. Our culture is a set of unwritten rules that govern how we behave. It is the behavioral explanation of how a group realizes its values in order to survive and thrive.
A person with cultural competence or multicultural competence will be able to understand people from different cultural backgrounds, communicate and interact with them effectively. A culturally competent person is aware of the actions of people of a different culture, able to examine the values and accept cultural differences, possessing knowledge of their own and other cultures, and able to use verbal and non-verbal communication skills.
We share some common values around the world, such as honesty, equality and integrity, but our interpretation of how to live them can vary widely. The way we look at things is influenced by our cultures and identities. Our ability to understand the perspectives of others and bridge differences effectively is influenced by our level of cultural competence. The more culturally competent we become, the more curious we are to ask questions rather than judge and interpret from our own worldview and perspective. This is why cultural competence is so important in promoting inclusion.
How to cultivate cultural competence?
Cultural competence is not innate, and therefore, needs to be cultivated deliberately. The ways of cultivating cultural competence mainly revolves around the three Es - Exposure, Experience and Education.
The more you are exposed to people from different cultural backgrounds, the more you can develop the ability to communicate across cultures. For those who have experience learning foreign languages, it should not be difficult to understand this point. The reason why one may still feel unable to communicate with foreigners after studying languages for many years, is probably because of the lack of opportunities for practice. The more exposure you have, the more experience you can gain and slowly develop into skills.
However, it should be noted that even if a person often contacts people with different cultural backgrounds, he/she may not necessarily have a deep understanding of the cultural similarities and differences between oneself and the other. Therefore, it needs to be assisted by the third point - Education. Education can be achieved through workplace training, continuing education, research, museum visits, reading books, etc. For those who do not come into contact with people from different cultural backgrounds usually, they can also cultivate their cultural competence through education.
LECPA also carries out work in accordance with the 3Es, including holding regular gatherings to provide people with the opportunities to have cross-cultural dialogues(exposure), as well as practice foreign languages with native speakers(experience). Through organizing cultural activities and sharing cultural knowledge on social platforms(education), LECPA wants to cultivate local’s cultural competence, so as to build an inclusive society.
Author: Un Wa Lok, President of Language Exchange & Culture Promotion Association (LECPA)