We live in a richly diverse world, where it could be argued that no single community is of one particular race, religion or culture.
In 2018, the International Air Transport Association released its 62nd annual report on travel statistics for 2017 (Rosen, 2019). The report showed that a record-breaking 4.1 billion passengers flew on scheduled airline services during this year (Rosen, 2019). This was shown to be more than 280 million more than the previous year – an increase of 7.3% (Rosen, 2019).Now, these are only statistics for flights, can you imagine how many people are on the move via ship, motor vehicle, foot and so on?
The world is changing into a ‘global village’ and congruently “becoming more and more interwoven and interdependent” (Moore and Barker, 2012). Our identity is formed by our social and environmental surroundings, the culture, values, beliefs and experiences we have.
Culture can be defined as “a historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols, a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which people communicate, perpetuate and develop their knowledge about and attitudes towards life” (Jackson, 2019). Culture also encapsulates and embodies factors such as religion, history, values, social organisations and language. Culture is undeniably present throughout every society, and in some way or another culture is what ultimately allows us to develop a sense of identity.
Culture and identity go hand in hand, through values, beliefs, thinking patterns and learned behaviour we come to share and learn. “Identity is the definition of ones-self” (Jackson, 2019), it is the way we perceive ourselves and how others come to know us. Identity is constructed through the connection of language, social structures, gender, cultural patterns and belief.
“Understanding others makes possible a better knowledge of oneself: any form of identity is complex, for individuals are defined in relation to other people – both individually and collectively – and the various groups to which they show allegiance, in a constantly shifting pattern” – UNESCO (1996) ‘Learning: The Treasure Within (Delors, 1996).
In 2013 Sorrels depicted cultural identity as “our situated sense of self that is shaped by our cultural experiences and social locations” (Jackson, 2019). While Bradford observed that “cultural identities are relational, that is, our emotional attachments to a particular group is impacted by how we believe others perceive our group” (Jackson, 2019).
For myself, in particular, understanding my cultural identity has not only allowed me to further understand where my beliefs and values have come from, but they have also allowed me to identify with subgroups that are like-minded. Growing up, it was a common occurrence that I was left out for being a ‘wog’, this was largely based around the rules implemented by my parents at a young age. Between year 5-9, my parents would often restrict where I was and was not allowed to go, and often would accompany me on outings with my friend’s. This was a time I did not understand why I ‘was being punished’ and often thought that I was ‘overprotected’. Over time I began to understand; that my parents had intended for me to through ‘yearly milestones’, they explained that while they were growing up their parents would heavily govern their habits and choices. This was not only because they were over-protective, but also the idea that with every year of maturing you are allowed to do one thing more than the year before. This not only taught us the value of our family, but it taught us the value of time.
Parenting varies from culture to culture, and it plays an important role in moulding children’s behaviour and thinking patterns(Huang, 2018). Reflecting now, I understand that not only my safety was considered but the value of each new moment is super important to me now. It allowed me to value the process of ‘growing up’, and presented itself as a major learning curve in the way I identify myself.
My cultural identity is influenced by two different cultures, Australian and Italian. While I am an Australian born, my childhood was always heavily influenced by my grandparents. During this time I began to learn the basic language of Calabrese Italian and my ancestral heritage. Erikson explains in order to understand cultural/ethnic identity; we must understand the extent of the individual’s engagement in the “developmental process of ethnic [and cultural] identity exploration” (Phinney et al., 2001). I have always been heavily engaged with my Italian cultural history, and as a part of this I have (unintentionally) valued this more than my Australian culture. Phinney further explains that “minority youths explore the meaning of being a member of an ethnic group within a larger society” (Phinney et al., 2001). I’ve learnt to appreciate that my values of family, religion and tradition are heavily emphasised amongst Italian tradition, rather this can be extremely different amongst many of my Australian friends.
This constant difference in my life has forced me to adapt to varying subgroups, i.e. my family, friends and the workplace. As I’ve grown up, I’ve become more and more conscious of what I say, what I do and my justification. This has been due to the constant questioning I’ve received when I’ve made an input throughout a conversation. Most recently my friends and I were talking about the value of marriage and ideally where we would like to conduct the ceremony. My response was in my family Church, not because I am overly religious, but due to its sentiment. Revisiting my grandparent’s hometown last year in Roccella Ionica, Calabria, Italy, enhanced understanding that my self-identity is an extension of my Italian heritage. I was taken back at how our family interacted with our circle and the wider community within our local town, and learn more about our family history. Amongst this little old town, the tradition was one of the central values all the locals and my family had. Speaking to generations of family and even my own extended family, couples were married in the same church, with the same ceremony. Why? Because apart of our culture we hone in on appreciating and thanking our ancestors for where we are today and commemorate those who have passed.
As I sit here contemplating my life’s decisions in utter shock that I am more of my parents than I like to admit. I wonder, am I acculturating more into my Italian culture than I am enculturation into Australian culture? I think yes, while it is completely unintentional I find myself belonging to my Italian heritage with an intermix of my Australian culture and values. Casmir (1984) defines this as “the image of the self and the culture intertwined in the individual’s total conception of reality” (Moore and Barker, 2012). Kim (2008) explains that individuals who identify themselves between two cultures can achieve an intercultural identity described as “an open-ended, adaptive, and transformative self-other orientation” (Moore and Barker, 2012).
Approaching the last days of my university life I begin to consider what lies ahead for me, what obstacles are awaiting me, and what lengths I am capable of reaching. One element that resonated with me in particular during my cultural identity discovery was the reoccurring elements of cultural competence. Cultural competence centres itself on the will and actions of individuals that help to build a better understanding and relationship of each other (Make it our business, 2019). Finding a common ground to respect and be open to different cultural perspectives and equality is an integral trait to hold in a vastly diverse multicultural world. Growing up for me, I was always taught the values of others and to give each individual the same respect that I would expect. I love meeting and interacting with people of different cultures, and being immersed in multiculturalism I find myself thriving on diversity and a single commonality that unites us all, may it be work, experience etc. Having your own cultural awareness, can keep us from projecting our values onto others. Therefore, preparing yourself, especially in cases where you will be interacting with others from different cultures, you must be culturally aware of how you act.
A prime example of this is verbal communication. As a freelancer, you come into contact with a wide range of different people from different cultures, and common conversation may not always occur in the ‘normal fashion’. During a conversation with a European woman, I was conscious of my language and articulation, greetings, and the way I held myself. Once our meeting was over, I received an email of gratitude, explaining that she had not met a young university student who was able to hold a ‘mature and diverse’ conversation. She told me that she valued our time together and that she was looking forward to progressing in our business venture.
But there was little me sitting in complete and utter shock trying to remember what I did I did to impress this woman…. I still can’t find you an answer, other than I was myself and I was culturally conscious of our interaction and my own personality.
I am an Australian born Italian, with a rather large mouth that can literally talk your ear off for hours. I hold central values of my family, friends, beliefs and work ethic with no other intention than to please others before myself. I’ve been taught to be socially aware of the world around me and how others perceive me. But how? My cultural identity and upbringing.
Lastly, cultural identity is truly a rabbit hole. Upon discovery, acknowledgement and social interactions, your cultural identity influences your every word and choice. I believe that acknowledging this, it will not only give you a better understanding of yourself but it will allow you to grow as an individual and become more culturally aware in the world that we live in.
Delors, J. (1996). Learning: The Treasure within. Report to UNESCO of the International Commission on Education for the twenty-first-Century, Paris UNESCO 1996. Internationales Jahrbuch der Erwachsenenbildung, 24(1).
Huang, C. (2018). How culture influences children’s development. [online] The Conversation. Available at: https://theconversation.com/how-culture-influences-childrens-development-99791 [Accessed 17 Jun. 2019].
Jackson, J. (2019). INTRODUCING LANGUAGE AND INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION. 1st ed. [S.l.]: ROUTLEDGE.
Make it our business. (2019). What does it mean to be culturally competent? | Make It Our Business. [online] Available at: http://makeitourbusiness.ca/blog/what-does-it-mean-be-culturally-competent [Accessed 17 Jun. 2019].
Moore, A. and Barker, G. (2012). Confused or multicultural: Third culture individuals’ cultural identity. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 36(4), pp.553-562.
Oldster, K. (2019). Dead Toad Scrolls Quotes. [online] Goodreads. Available at: https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/51850408-dead-toad-scrolls [Accessed 17 Jun. 2019].
Phinney, J., Romero, I., Nava, M. and Huang, D. (2001). The Role of Language, Parents, and Peers in Ethnic Identity Among Adolescents in Immigrant Families. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 30(2), pp.135-153.
Rosen, E. (2019). Over 4 Billion Passengers Flew In 2017 Setting New Travel Record. [online] Forbes. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/ericrosen/2018/09/08/over-4-billion-passengers-flew-in-2017-setting-new-travel-record/#2ddd5daf255b [Accessed 17 Jun. 2019].
Zimmermann, K. (2019). What Is Culture?. [online] Live Science. Available at: https://www.livescience.com/21478-what-is-culture-definition-of-culture.html [Accessed 17 Jun. 2019].