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Rated: E · Essay · Educational · #1928586
This essay addresses the importance of being culturally aware.
It is a brisk, windy morning, and you are walking alone along the shore, hoping to catch a glimpse of the sunrise amidst dense layers of fog. You hear the faint drone of a cargo ship on the horizon, yet the fog limits your visibility to a mere twenty feet. Though the sun rises, its light is imperceptible to you, and instead you form a mental image of a beautiful dawn on the beach. Disappointed, you return home with an incomplete experience of a natural phenomenon.

From encountering McDonald’s in the most desolate places in Africa to purchasing expensive Japanese electronics at an airport, we are constantly bombarded by icons of the world around us. However, we are so self-absorbed that we disregard other cultures for a comfortable domestic life. During the contemporary worldwide conflicts such as Sudanese genocide and the Iraq War, few Americans can locate Sudan and Iraq. Additionally, the ignorant are culturally prejudiced and maintain that their views are correct regarding the rights of people of other races. Because people are ignorant and unwilling to change, the world remains socially and politically disconnected, leaving many shrouded in an impenetrable veil of fog.

I have been interested in geography from a young age. When I was six, my father traveled on a business trip to Singapore, and I asked my mom where exactly this mysterious location was. In response to my inquiry, my mom whirled around the globe to Southeast Asia and pointed to the minuscule spot at the end of the Malay Peninsula. Immediately, some of the fog dispelled, and I saw a portion of the sun peeking over the horizon. Since my early introduction to geography, I became fascinated with the locations of countries and the distinct cultures of people around the world. Often, I studied an atlas for hours memorizing the countries and capitals and rereading cultural notes in the margins. Each time I read, the sun’s rays shined more intensely through the fog, giving me a more complete view of my surroundings.

Eventually, I began traveling to the same places I was studying in the atlas. My first international journey of which I have vivid memories was to London. During the vacation, I became fascinated with the history of the mummies in the British Museum and of the crowned jewels in the Tower of London. I was also amused by cultural peculiarities; I learned that lemonade was actually lemon soda and that a boot was not a garment worn on the foot. When I returned home, I was immediately struck with wanderlust and yearned to visit more places. Since then, I have traveled to non-English speaking destinations. When I visited Paris, I was allured by the culinary excellence and the rich history of the French aristocracy. What amazed me most was that amidst the urban jungle of subway stations and honking cars was the charming atmosphere of a quaint village in the countryside. The vacation far exceeded my expectations, and I dreaded the daunting redeye flight home. In short, my international adventures provided me with valuable experiences that no atlas could recreate.

Although many Americans can afford to travel abroad, some do not. One reason that Americans stay at home is that they are not culturally intrigued. Another reason is that many people are only comfortable with what is familiar to them; human beings are creatures of habit and often shun everything that deviates from routine. Some Americans are xenophobic and respond irrationally events such as illegal immigration. A counterargument arises that we should not reprimand people who do not have the opportunity to travel abroad. Still, we should all endeavor to increase our awareness of other cultures. From a humanitarian perspective, we must understand the cultural environments of other nations to aid their citizens. From an economist’s perspective, it is important to heed attention to cultural nuances so that manufacturers earn profit by exporting products to other countries.

During high school, I had the opportunity to further augment by global education by participating in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. The European-based program promises a global education and the ability to consider actions and consequences from multiple perspectives. Throughout the program, I studied literary works by Albert Camus, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Milan Kundera. Often, IB provided opportunities to become engaged in learning. These activities allowed me to connect from cultures seemingly divergent from my own and sympathize with all of the people involved. Rather than merely learning about the highlights of World War II, I participated in a reenactment of the Nuremberg trials. Although the program was at times intellectually challenging and frustrating, I was left with a clearer view of the horizon and the ability to view situations from multiple perspectives.

Although many schools in the United States offer foreign languages, a large percent of Americans disagree about the necessity of learning another language. This figure astonished me because it highlighted how prejudiced people can become. In contrast, I find amusement in increasing the number of languages in which I can count to ten. Foreign language classes not only expose students to grammar and syntax, but they also highlight cultures that speak the language. When I learned French in high school, I often was more intrigued by the art and music of French impressionism than by conjugating irregular verbs in the pluperfect.

Cultural ignorance arises from faults in the educational system. In a culturally dull classroom, you might see students arriving late, texting during class, or disrespecting the teacher. In a distracting environment, it is difficult for teachers to instruct their students about global affairs. Additionally, many students are apathetic and are more concerned about weekend activities than with profound cultural issues. During an age when teachers’ overly optimistic comments praise their students, those students are gaining the notion that they are more important than those around them. In a culturally minded classroom, you might see students and teachers engage in discussions of global controversy or presenting projects from a historical era of a foreign country.

People will remain in the fog until they acquire the intellectual curiosity to expand their comfort zones and see beyond the horizon. Although my cultural experiences have dissolved some of the fog around me, I still have much to learn about the world and what lies beyond the horizon. For instance, visiting iconic landmarks such as Tower Bridge and the Arc de Triomphe does not generally give one a complete image of another culture. Though it may be initially difficult to overcome the fear of the unknown and to break cultural stereotypes, the long-term effects justify the short-term discomfort. By becoming more culturally aware, we will augment our understanding of those around us and be able to make more sensitive and productive decisions.
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