Cultivating Cultural Curiosity

Category: Organizations

cultural_curiosity"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."
-Mark Twain

I certainly don’t mean to sound like a snob, but I think Mr. Twain was spot on when he said this. However, I have met people over the years who have traveled to many places on this beautiful planet of ours and are still quite narrow in their thinking. I find that puzzling. How can that happen? Perhaps it has something to do with a person’s ability to be culturally curious.

Cultural curiosity is a wonderful thing. It is that which lures me down the nondescript alley several blocks away from the Eiffel Tower in Paris. It is the wonderment that forces me to watch the rice paddy farmer place each plant into the water and mud of his field outside Taichung, Taiwan. It's that same curiosity that makes me wonder how the dish in the photo (above, right) can be so popular with the locals. And yes, cultural curiosity entices me to try Balut in the Philippines…even if I do indeed know what it is.

To live in another culture and never truly experience it means we never really make the transition. Unknowingly, we place our lives on hold while living our lives vicariously somewhere else.

So does cultural curiosity just happen? Can it be developed, and if so how? It seems like some people are just born that way. It’s in their genes to ask questions, to seek out the unknown, to explore and ask questions. But not all culturally curious people are born that way. For most of us, it begins by taking a small risk. Maybe it is a short day trip from San Diego, California to Tijuana, Mexico...and we like it! The shopping was fun. The food didn’t make us sick. And we found the people to be friendly and helpful. For some it may be moving 'cold turkey' to another country as a career move that begins the cultural thirst. But regardless of what triggers it, it must be cultivated. It needs to be nurtured and fed until that curiosity becomes part of who we are.

Did you know that cultural curiosity is one of the essentials for successful international living? Without it we are fearful of the new culture and paralyzed by our lack of understanding. With it, we develop potential for fun and excitement, learn a lot more about the similarities of people and cultures rather than just seeing differences. With it, we transition faster and with more satisfaction when we move new to a place.

So, over to you! Can cultural curiosity be cultivated, and if so, how? I’d love to hear some of your stories and how you ventured out and took that big (or small) risk, in the name of cultural curiosity!

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