Cultural Understanding and Why it is Important During the COVID Crisis

Posted by on April 15, 2020 · Leave a Comment  

In the modern day and age, there is a great push to have a better understanding of our unique cultural heritage, while at the same time celebrating the things that unite us as a nation and as a people. We live in an increasingly global society. Things like the global refugee crisis have created an entirely new class of people growing up in strange lands, speaking both their native language and the new language, but lacking in terms of cultural understanding and even to some degree, cultural sensitivity.

Many more people, most notably in the US, Canada and some of the European nations, have grown up in bilingual households. Unfortunately, even growing up in a bilingual household can leave unwanted gaps in a fuller and more comprehensive cultural understanding due to communicating informally at home. It is very common for people to hear analogies that they do not understand, but this is even more common in bilingual homes. Why? It’s because the common expressions and figures of speech that are used when may lack any real-world meaning. This can be especially true for the youth who have never visited their ancestral homelands. There is no real ability to listen with a comprehensive cultural understanding or a culturally relevant perspective.

Linguistic and Cultural Understanding and Why is it Important During the Current Crisis

Being intimately familiar with a single language does not necessarily give someone a full sense of awareness about a culture, much less a comprehensive cultural understanding. Cultural understanding or a cultural awareness is all about understanding the nuance and societal standards of a different land and its people. Even someone who is intimately familiar with the language of a particular location may be completely unaware of its culture.

Perhaps you are capable enough in both languages to be able to translate Spanish into English and English into Spanish, but is that really enough? Being able to speak Spanish does not give someone the ability to fully comprehend what the running of the bulls in Barcelona is like, or the unique taste of the fruit bowls, heavily dusted with dried, ground chili peppers purchased from the street vendors in Mexico. What are the local sights, sounds and smells where your family came from? What would it take to have a better understanding of not just your cultural heritage, but the actual meaning behind that heritage, from someone who is intimately familiar with the local area.

Being able to speak English does not give someone a feel for the excitement in the air in Times Square in New York City any more than it prepares them for a spot of Fish and Chips or Bangers and Mash in England. Like most languages, English has a great many variations each with their own linguistic and cultural characteristics and heritage. Even expressing something as relatively simple as directions, will often create confusions and even misdirection when advising someone from Britain on a location as opposed to the same language that has a different meaning in the Americas.

A full cultural understanding will reveal all of those previously hidden meanings for those old analogies, and the opportunity to get to know and understand the sounds, sights and smells of the location. The only way to truly understand the cultural history and back ground is to experience the culture first hand (which hint: is a huge part of Discover Corps’ mission and impact). The end results can often be both shocking and amazing all at the same time.

Why is Cultural and Lingual History Important In Times of Peace and Pandemic

The only way to experience an awakening as it were, would be to visit the lands of your cultural heritage. How many people are there that you know personally who brag about their cultural heritage, yet when asked, know virtually nothing about where their ancestors arrived from?

On Cinco De Mayo, many people of Hispanic or Latino descent claim to be Mexican. Chances are pretty good, however, that if anyone claims that this is “Mexican Independence Day”, they know absolutely nothing about Mexico, its culture or its people, no matter how well they may speak Spanish (in reality, Cinco De Mayo is a celebration of the defeat of Maximilian in Puebla, a victory that turned the tide in the Mexican War for Independence. Sixteenth of Septiembre or September is the actual Mexican Independence Day).

Why Use Guided Trips from Discover Corps During the Pandemic?

The guided trips from Discover Corps are especially great in that they provide the person with an opportunity to look at their cultural heritage up close and personal. These trips also provide these individuals with people who are intimately familiar, not only with the linguistic nature of their heritage, but who live and work and enjoy life in the same areas. These guides from Discover Corps provide people with everything they need to make a full, cultural connection with a local community and at the same time, gain a more meaningful cultural understanding of the language and the land.

Anyone with enough money can travel to places like Japan, Thailand or even Cuba and stay in all the fancy resorts, but what will they have at the end of their travel experience? Their wallet will be much lighter to carry, they will have the same hotel experience no matter where they go and eat the same foods. Using the guided trips from Discover Corps will allow the cultural traveler to actively engage in immersive tourism and dive deep into local projects happening around the world.

Speaking with the people who live there is going to be a vastly different experience than speaking to the employees of a five-star resort. Eating foods from the street vendors in Mexico or Guatemala or Belize will open up new experiences in addition to a new understanding about a culture.

DNA, Linguistic and Cultural Understanding and World Tour Travels

DNA testing may seem like an odd way to decide the route for your long-planned world tour, but is it such a far-fetched idea at the end of the day? What better way is there to determine the best places to visit around the world than to visit all of your ethnic and cultural ancestral lands? Just imagine a world tour that allows you to visit the ancestral homes of virtually all of your family tree.

According to this article from Technology Review almost three out of ten people have already taken a DNA test as of 2019. It is estimated that by the end of 2020, the top four DNA testing services companies online will house the DNA results for more than one hundred million people, or roughly three out of every ten Americans.

DNA testing will allow you to determine more precise locations for your heritage. Okay, so you came from Africa, but from where exactly? A trip to Tanzania is going to be very different than a trip to South Africa, with different people, different tribes, different cultures and different experiences. How do you know what part of Africa was your ancestral homeland though? The answer is as easy as a simple DNA test.

Travel In The Age of COVID 19

There is a lot of concern at present about the impact of COVID 19 on global travel, tours and other areas of the travel industry. While this is a legitimate concern, it is also imperative to remember that different areas of the world are having their own unique and specific problems, and you can help even by traveling in the future. Learn more about how you can donate to the organizations Discover Corps supports and how you can save on future travel here.  

Laurence Ian Sumando is a freelance writer penning pieces on business, marketing, languages, and is also a passionate learner of languages.

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