Cultural competence: a "must have" skill when exploring diversity

When we fail to be culturally aware we are stuck in an ethnocentric dialogue

We are all capable of acknowledging our character within our society which is determined by culture. In reality, the world as "we see it" can vary substantially across cultures and groups of people.

Collectiveness — in terms of diversity — can lead to understanding within our own inclusive group, but as conflict with other cultural groups. A collective identity guarantees unreserved competence that can interfere with cultural intelligence.

On a daily basis we might stumble upon situations where our ideas and thoughts are challenged. As college students, we meet people from different parts of the world. Some might feel troubled when facing diversity, while others embrace and take advantage of these experiences. We have the opportunity to elaborate on our own cultural knowledge as well explore and understand how other people interpret the world. 

ASU Latin American studies professor Lorena Cuya Gavilano offers her students a broad understanding of intercultural competence. 

"One of the biggest challenges people face when communicating inter-culturally is to consider that other people do not see the world the same way we do," she said. 

In intercultural communication we must consider factors that influence the interaction as well as the effectiveness of the dialogue. Each person approaches the situation considering his or her own experience. Learning to manage such dialogue takes determination, knowledge, strategy and action — as scholar David Livermore explains in his book Leading with Cultural Intelligence. 



Living in an homogenous society might be a challenge for anybody who wants to become culturally competent and explore other cultures. Staying within our own comfort zone and surrounding ourselves by what is the norm will only lead to ethnocentrism.

We must avoid ethnocentric sentiments in intercultural communication. A person who is considered to be culturally intelligent, considers diversity and all accountable factors before making a decision that affects others.

Gavilano said intercultural competence goes beyond listening: "It implies thinking from a different point of view emphasizing with other feelings and perspectives, and, most importantly, trying to come to terms with what seems different to us." 

Cultural competence when put into practice can become very beneficial. This skill might imply negligence towards one's own culture but it allows us to reevaluate how we see ourselves and how how we see and interpret the world — recognizing that there is more to be considered.

When exploring different methods on how to achieve culture competence, we allow ourselves to benefit others, society and ourselves within our own biased perceptions. 

Culture is a prominent and determinant element in today's society. Minority groups as well as communities that have been segregated in the past, acquire cultural knowledge to better understand the world as they know it today.

If cultural competence allows us to better understand other people, more people should aim to explore this overlooked concept. Besides understanding ourselves and what has influenced our current identity, cultural awareness is one step closer to coexistence as well as general knowledge. 

Currently in the U.S. groups of new cultural identity are emerging and growing at a large rate. According to The Pew Research Center, Asian-Americans are the fastest growing racial group in the U.S. 

Americans of Mexican account for  11 percent of the overall U.S. population in 2012. Young Mexican Americans encounter cross-culture communication among family members that belong to different immigration generation, therefore questioning their identity

These growing minority groups are at an early stage of culture awareness. Consequently, the U.S.' identity is affected as a whole. It is no longer just a diverse country founded on equality. The U.S. is now a country where identity is explored and established.

Gavilanos is very hopeful that younger generations are more culturally progressive and tolerant: "Some of them (young generations) may be more fed on social resentment." 

She hopes younger generations will face this conflict in this year's elections in order to explore more this concept. 

We must recognize these differences and try our best to accept them, just as we deal with our own personal identity whether it be ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, etc.  Although we are unavoidably biased by culture, developing as cultural competence allows us to acknowledge and understand others. 

It's important for us as a society to recognize that diversity should not be a reason to live segregated based on culture and similarities. We shouldn't isolate, judge or marginalize people because of our inability to understand. 

Diversity is our most instructive way to expand our knowledge and outgrow our ethnocentrism. The world "as we see it" is not the only way to interpret things. 


Reach the columnist at cmsanti1@asu.edu or follow @santiagoc_17 on Twitter.

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Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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