Culture is often compared to an iceberg. On the surface, we can all see obvious differences in cultures, such as languages, buildings, or foods, but beneath the surface lies a less obvious series of deeper differences. At the deeper level, there may be differences in values, norms, expectations, beliefs, and more. When discovering this deeper level, considering how aspects of your own identity may interact with aspects of local culture may help you more easily adjust to your new social environment.
Cultural Affinity & Identities
Being thoughtful about differences as you explore a new culture is not only important for your safety, but also important for your well-being. Depending on how easy it is for you to identify with your host culture – your level of cultural affinity – adjusting to a new culture may feel easier or more difficult, but no matter how closely you relate to your host culture, there are always likely to be some surprising differences.
These differences are often related to our social identities.
An Exercise in Identities:
What characteristics make you who you are? How do you identify yourself? How might those identities produce different interactions in your host country than they do in Canada?
We all have multiple social identities, related to ethnicity, class, gender, occupation, and many more. These identities frequently intersect, influencing not only our perceptions and actions, but also the amount of power and control we feel we have in particular situations. Not only do these identities influence how we relate to those around us, but they can also influence our safety overseas.
For example, in Canada you might not consider yourself wealthy, but others may perceive you as wealthy while you are overseas. Similarly, your physical appearance may result in very different behavioural expectations overseas than in Canada. In other words, how you identify yourself in Canada may not match with how people perceive you in other places.