Wellness Wednesday: Developing a Multicultural View of Human Diversity During Study Abroad

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Our expert on expat emotional health Melissa Doman, M.A., LGPC, NCC serves up another informative Wellness Wednesday post!  Read on to learn how study abroad contributes to the important development of a multicultural worldview of human diversity. 

President Jimmy Carter once said, “we become not a melting pot, but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams.” This beautiful combination of words really encompasses the natural beauty of multiculturalism and diversity of the human condition. Exposure to cultures, people, and beliefs different from your own is one of the most invaluable experiences you will ever have in your life. I want to help call attention to one of the most important character developments you are experiencing during your time studying abroad: how your international exposure is shaping your worldview of human diversity.  You are not just experiencing new things – you are learning as well.

Developing your knowledge and sensitivity to differences of those around you serve you so well in your personal life and in your professional career. You may not realize it, but studying in a different country and living your daily life in another culture is expanding and changing the lens you view your entire life through. Within your personal life, you might find that during and after study abroad, you may pose questions and challenge yourself to think more broadly about general human behavior, how you interact with one person, or how a group of people interact with each other. You are fortunate to get first hand experience through experiential learning about diversity as opposed to just studying it in textbooks. Doing something, versus simply reading about something, goes miles further than you could ever be aware of.

In terms of your career path, as I noted in my post last month, studying abroad can potentially change your career path for the better. You can bet your bottom dollar that a significant number of jobs, specifically those that are people-oriented and service oriented, usually have criteria demanding these skills. Such phrases may include descriptions like, “must possess familiarity and sensitivity to different multicultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds.” Employers are acutely aware of the fact that multicultural sensitivity through cultural immersion is a rare skill for potential employees to have. This is an invaluable skill that you’ve picked up during your travels! Respect it and use it the best ways you can.

egypt 2Some additional benefits you may notice from experiencing diversity in a foreign context first hand are:

  1. Increased patience when encountering difference
  2. Curiosity and a voracious hunger for knowledge about the unknown
  3. Appreciation of uniqueness
  4. Finding common ground and unity between yourself and someone very different
  5. Helping to ‘pay it forward’ by educating friends back home on your experiences

It’s so exciting to take what you once knew about yourself and how you viewed your environment and enhance it by what you’re now experiencing and seeing. It fundamentally alters how you process things. It could range from something small to something substantial. It could be subtle nuances of how people communicate to each other through tone of voice, the connotations of a phrase, different body language, cultural meanings, or how family processes are interpreted. Try to soak it all in.

In a previous posting, I mentioned the importance of self-reflection during study abroad. This is an example of what I mentioned! Take note of these changes you observe in how you process things and relate to your environment around you. You may be starkly surprised in your ‘before’ and ‘after’ version of yourself.  I leave you with the words of the American Philosopher, Mortimer Adler, who described this experiential process best. “The purpose of learning is growth, and our minds, unlike our bodies, can continue growing as long as we live.”

 

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