The benefits of cultural exchange
Ruth Hetherington, Lifestyle Editor, explores the joy of getting to know cultures different to our own.
I have just started au pairing. It’s un peu bizarre (a little strange)! In a good way, though. I study French and, as of October, I will be working in France; thus trying to have a solid grasp on the spoken language seemed logical. It also provided an opportunity to live abroad (and be paid!), which is something I have always wanted to do. I have always liked the idea of living somewhere entirely different, becoming immersed into a society of my choosing; having an in-depth understanding and knowledge of a place that is not necessarily my own. I think that’s so cool! And I think it’s good for us. I think it reminds us to stay open-minded and acknowledge that everyone has a different type of normal. There is so much to like too.
I have always liked the idea of living somewhere entirely different, becoming immersed into a society of my choosing; having an in-depth knowledge of a place that is not necessarily my own
Within my au pair family, the main exchange is, of course, language. I would argue though, it’s more than just ‘learning’ the language in the usual sense of the verb. It is an appreciation and a full education in all things French. It is a knowledge of what phrases they commonly use, the phrases we are taught in school that they actually never use, the fact that there are certain things that are almost the same as English and other things which are entirely different. The food, the design and layout of their towns, the things they love and detest – it’s an education in their culture and their day-to-day lives. It has certainly been an exceptional experience and I feel very lucky to have had it. Naturally there are things I miss about England but there are also things that I love here and will definitely adopt into my life back home.
I think an understanding and knowledge of different cultures, beyond their stereotypes, is invaluable. It is easy to dismiss what we don’t understand or consider it inferior to what we know. Don’t get me wrong: there is nothing wrong with pride (to an extent) or at least an attachment to something you’ve grown up with. But having learnt so much (in just three weeks!) about France, a country I have studied and thought I knew a lot about anyway, I think goes to show there is always more to know. Like I said, it’s an education! A very enjoyable one at that, and one that I hope in the future will enable me to connect with more people.
Having learnt so much (in just three weeks!) about France, a country I have studied and thought I knew a lot about anyway, I think goes to show there is always more to know
We really should try and engage with other cultures more than ever. I feel as though my point is obvious, but I also think it is rather easier to forget sometimes. In a world that is becoming ever more polarised, it feels essential to me that we try to learn to appreciate and understand cultural differences as much as we can. I’m not suggesting that we should all move abroad, live with a family from a foreign place and give up everything we know. There are endless ways you can engage with other cultures. Watch a foreign film or TV show, make a recipe from somewhere you’ve never been, visit cultural sites local or abroad. Perhaps more than anything, listen to people’s perspectives not only about their lives cultures, but also about your life and culture as well. You never know what you may discover; you might even like it!