Leaving your cultural comfort zone is a topic that seems to have been left out from the endless self-help articles I come across. The United States is a country of immigrants, and learning to plunge yourself into other cultures is not only an unspoken requirement to succeed in almost all professional fields, but it is also a surprisingly fun thing to do. I want to touch on the importance of diversifying. Be it college, your workplace, or even in your community, one often tends to gravitate toward people of their culture. It’s a fascinating thing to note that although you can be friends with a variety of people, you’re probably wont to relate most with those who come from a similar background. However, waving that white flag will do great things. Here are a few reasons why leaving your cultural comfort zone is important:
- “Expanding your horizons” doesn’t mean ordering Chinese takeout
Expanding your horizons, or emerging yourself in things you would not normally do, brings many outcomes. It means more than ordering Americanized Chinese, Mexican, or Italian foods. It means making friends with people of different cultures, it means attending a cultural festival and trying all of the foods, it means attending an LGBTQ poetry event, and it means doing these things with an open and inviting attitude. It allows you to experience the different parts of life and place yourself in the shoes of others. You may have assumptions about many groups of people, but spending time with them may shatter these pre-existing judgments, which is essentially the goal. It is always refreshing to see that there are reasons for ways of expression, that there is history behind art, and that there is love behind musical forms. It can be uncomfortable at first to put yourself in new shoes, but it will open your mind. Also, participating in cultural endeavors will definitely bring some zest in your day.
- Discover new favorites
Surrounding yourself with people from a totally contrasting environment does great things for your brain. For example, being surrounded by people who speak another language is great for making brain connections and stimulating your thought process. Hanging out with them and maybe accepting an invite to dine at an authentic Japanese, Portuguese, or Arab restaurant is a great way to try out non-Americanized foods that really hold the heart of the traditional foods. You never know, you may discover a favorite dish! Or maybe even a new favorite song or genre by listening to French dance, Japanese pop, Spanish rap, or Italian classical music. Discover the variety of flavors each culture holds. In addition, these new introductions to a new world may also spark an interest to travel to an unfamiliar country. Meeting people from unacquainted areas ignite captivating and bizarre conversations which bring interest to what you have yet to experience!
- Learn about yourself
You can learn a lot from just being around others of different backgrounds. You understand more about where you came from and how different that can be from what others are accustomed to. You also note how open you are to try new things. This may call for a new goal: maybe room for improvement in this area? In this day and age, diversity is a major component in many areas of business and organizations. Trying to improve your adaptation skills is definitely a great thing for you to improve. My goal for this school year was to meet people from other cultures. I wanted to meet other people on my college campus and befriend students who are not solely Hispanic. I realized that all of my friends were, in fact, Hispanic when I was asked this summer how the culture shock was since moving to college. I realized the culture shock was not as drastic as I had thought it to be. I was a bit bothered and disappointed by this epiphany and made the decision to expand my horizons. Two of my suitemates are Chinese and as a marvelous result, I have met Taiwanese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Indonesian, and even Arab and Indian individuals.
Here are a few tips on how to achieve doing this:
- Attend and/or join a diversity-specific club
There are many organizations that are misjudged to strictly pertain to a particular ethnicity, identification, background, or race but that’s not the case as people of all kinds are invited. For example, check out one of the following clubs that may pertain to a Latin, GSA, Caribbean, Democratic, Christian, Muslim, Republican, Eco-friendly, Vietnamese, or Chinese Student Association club. People of all beliefs and backgrounds are always welcome to these clubs and organizations. Not only do they lead to meeting different types of wonderful people, but it also allows you to be surrounded by something different, which might be a big step away from your comfort zone and a great start to where you want to be.
- Media switch
Believe it or not, media is a huge influencer. Begin with maybe switching up your music. You can surf the web for songs in different languages and maybe even another genre of music. Music says a lot about a culture. Listen to something different than your usual EDM or Country. Another shift you can make is to rent a foreign movie. Two of my favorite movies are actually foreign, and they are dramatic, original, and exciting. Subtitles may seem like a dreadful effort at first, but after a couple of minutes into the movie, you will hardly notice. Or maybe watch a T.V. series or show in another language. The last big step you can do to remove yourself from your cultural comfort zone is to attend a concert of a foreign band or a music group you would not usually attend. Check out different bands and musicians! Observe how they become in sync with the tunes and maybe open up your eyes to something that may catch your attention!
- In class, sit next to somebody that seems totally opposite from you
You may be in high school or you may be in college. And of course, we all have those teachers and professors who give assigned seats, but there is always that one class that lets you roam free. Sit next to a person you would usually never sit next to, someone who seems opposite of your interests and even race or background. Talk to them and listen to what they have to say. It is a wonderful feeling to just listen to others.
Leaving your cultural comfort zone is a fascinating thing. It can be a learning experience and even a normal part of life if you let it. Approach these steps with an open, positive mind, and purge your mind from pre-existing judgments. You may be in for a wonderful life-changing surprise!
Image: Catalina Casas