“Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.” – Albert Einstein
During the summer of 2016 I spent one month in Leeds, England. I was a leader at an international summer camp called CISV, which is a non-profit organization that arranges camps for children of all different ages from all over the world. The main goal of the camps is to educate and inspire peace through building inter-cultural friendship, cooperation and understanding. By helping young participants develop the skills they need to become informed, responsible and active global citizens, it might be easier for them to deal with cultural diversity in their futures. This is related to the topic of the assignment: cultural heterogeneity. Therefore, I have decided to combine my proposal with the experience I have had as being a leader at the before mentioned camp. By using the knowledge I have gained throughout these first couple weeks of this course, my time abroad in England, and the skills that I will propose in the upcoming part of this essay, I will present some ideas to answer the question: in global communication, how do we cope with cultural heterogeneity?
Matei (2006), states that cultural heterogeneity is the exchange between different cultures, where regional and local ethnic identities are embraced even when global connections across regional and national borders become stronger. According to Elron (1998) heterogeneity can provide greater creativity, innovation and a diversity of perspectives. Furthermore, it can lead to a greater tolerance for uncertainty, strategic planning, openness and a propensity to undergo strategic change. Hence, this should be a culture we attempt to aspire towards, both locally and globally.
Doris Allen (1963), who was a progressive child psychologist and the founder of CISV, believed that by creating opportunities for children of different cultures, to come together, make friends and learn from one another. By starting the process of accepting each other as early in life as possible, coping with cultural heterogeneity can be more easily achieved. The younger we begin to build international knowledge, form cross-cultural friendships and understand differing cultural perspectives, the more successful we can become in embracing global citizenship in later life.
In his book Global Communication, Cees Hamelink (2015) provides some examples of skills you need to accomplish to create cultural heterogeneity between countries. In the following section I will describe these abilities by relating Hamelink’s analysis to my own personal experiences from the four weeks I spent living on a CISV camp with people from over a dozen different countries.
The first skill that is required for intercultural communication is developing the ability to accept the presence of different identities in the world. Step out of your safe, familiar bubble and open up your uncertainties to others. Secondly, self-awareness of one’s own cultural identity, cultural biases, values, and practices is important. This includes the capacity to ask yourself the question ‘how do others see me?’ During the camp we did an activity to develop this skill. All the participants were separated into their own countries and had to draw their countries name and flag on a big piece of paper. After the first five minutes, the posters were swapped around in the room. All the children had to discuss the countries within their delegations – containing one leader and four children – and had to draw and write all the stereotypes that came up into their minds about the country on the poster they had in front of them. At the end of the activity, we discussed each country and all the stereotypes that people came up with in one big group. The aim of the game was to dispel all the incorrect assumptions about some of the countries, which helped to create more equality and transparency within our group of different cultures. Moreover, the capacity to recognize cultural differences, in the sense of empathy, not necessarily sympathy is an essential element. For example: can you see the other through his or her eyes? Can you tolerate differences? By feeling secure about yourself, be empathetic or selfless to others, looking after each other instead of only yourself -or in the case of the camp not only your own delegation, but also the other children – a safer and cultural heterogeneous environment can be created. The last skill that is needed is the capacity to recognize one’s own cultural luggage: the conceptions, values, assumptions, biases, and stereotypes you carry with yourself.
To summarise, I believe that the abilities described above will be crucial to dealing with cultural heterogeneity. For me, CISV has been the living proof of the power of teaching these skills through many different types of activities, which could help children and adults to become global citizens. On this camp, twenty adults and forty children worked together to build a safe and strong environment, without the distinction of race, religion or politics so that they might grow to maturity conscious of their responsibilities as human beings. We embraced our differences instead of ignoring them, as we often see in the competitive and divisive world we live in. While it may not be possible to change the whole world in this way right away, I believe that by starting small and as early in live as possible we can make a big difference in the future.
About CISV International. (n.d.). Retrieved october 04, 2016, from: http://www.cisv.org/about-us/
Allen, D. T. (1963). Growth in attitudes favorable to peace. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly of Behavior and Development, 9(1), 27-38.
Elron, E. (1998). Top management teams within multinational corporations: Effects of cultural heterogeneity. The Leadership Quarterly, 8(4), 393-412.
Hamelink, C.J. (2015). Global Communication. Londen: SAGE.
Matei, S. A. (2006). Globalization and heterogenization: Cultural and civilizational clustering in telecommunicative space (1989–1999). Telematics and Informatics, 23(4), 316-331.