The term multiculturalism can be defined as the preservation of different cultures and identities. This requires individuals to acknowledge the idea that different cultures, races, ethnicities, religious beliefs, societies—specifically minorities—deserve special recognition within a dominant culture. Multiculturalism is important because it can inspire minorities to contribute to the dominate culture that they belong to.
Picture this: you are a minority and have radically dissimilar religious and political views than the dominant culture. Let’s presume that you were approached by someone of the dominant culture just to be told how much they appreciate your uniqueness and acknowledge your differing beliefs. You would probably feel a whole lot more compelled to contribute to the dominate culture, more so than if you had been approached by someone who was condescending and close-minded.
Differences are what make each one of us remarkable. To acknowledge the endless differences between people and cultures is to actively and consciously breakdown the wall of ignorance. Multiculturalism is the antidote for ignorance. As Audre Lorde once said, “it is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those difference.” In other words, we must be open to multicultural learning in order to truly accept and appreciate the uniqueness of each culture.
There are four main stages to cultural adjustment. The first phase is known as, “The Honeymoon,” and is characterized by euphoria and excitement towards a new culture. You are intrigued with both the similarities and differences between the new culture and your home culture. Next is the culture shock stage. The novelty of the new culture has worn off and you may feel a sense of irritation or hostility. Your feelings during this stage may include small issues feeling like major catastrophes, as if you are completely helpless. The third phase is the “Gradual Adjustment” stage, when your perspective shifts and you find a deeper connection to the cultural. This is the stage when you start to appreciate your surroundings and make the most of your experience abroad. The final phase is referred to as the “Feeling at Home” stage. This stage is characterized by adaption and biculturalism. You may feel that you are now working to your full potential and have a deeper appreciation for the foreign culture than ever before.
Language is an important aspect of culture and identity. Gestures, body language, and expressions can differ greatly between cultures. For example, the Italian phrase, “ad ogni morte di papa,” translates to “every death of a Pope.” This hyperbole is used to describe a very rare situation, and is the equivalent of “once in a blue moon” in Western culture. This expression refers to the fact that the death of a Pope or Bishop is an unusual event that happens in distant time intervals.
Another famous Italian phrase is “in bocca al lupo,” which translates to “in the mouth of the wolf.” This idiomatic statement is the English equivalent of “break a leg.” In America, we would use this statement to wish an actor or musician good luck on their performance. However, Italians are very superstition about using such a phrase. It is often believed that if you wish someone “good luck” bad things will happen instead. The wolf reference was originally used by hunters as a way of wishing good luck in a dangerous situation. This reverse logic of using a negative situation to suggest good luck is common in numerous cultures, especially in European culture.
Culture is like an onion. To truly understand it, you must peel back all the layers. With each layer comes new meaning. On the outer layer you will see all the visual differences such as clothing, behaviors, symbols, and artifacts. If you peel back another layer, you will find the social norms, ethical values, and traditions that make up the core of the culture. Every culture varies in some extraordinary way. With seven billion people on our earth, diversity is inevitable. If we just opened our minds a little, there is no telling what we may find.