By Ludmila (Mila) Rusakova Golovine
Humankind has never lived in such a fast-paced, accessible world. A person can get on a plane and within 24 hours be anywhere around the globe. Similarly, access to information has never been as easy or as fast as it is today. The Internet allows people to communicate from various countries in real time and at a relatively low cost. Concurrently, governments have been breaking down trade barriers and reducing impediments to foreign investments for the last few decades. All of these factors have culminated in the phenomenon that is now commonly referred to as globalization. This phenomenon has dramatic implications not just for business but also for personal growth and well-being.
In the past when the Internet was non-existent and trade was more restricted by national interests, an individual did not have to worry about being multicultural. In fact, government and society stressed conformity. Bear in mind that for the last two hundred years the prevailing model of civilization has been the nation-state, a geographically delineated area inhabited by a group with a common language and culture. While nation-states are still the norm and the vast majority of countries stress official languages, the eased flow of communication has facilitated cross-cultural contact as well as international business opportunities. Nevertheless, in order to take full advantage of these new opportunities for contacts and business, the individual must step out of his or her comfort zone.
The major impediment to becoming multicultural is ethnocentrism. This concept is an individual’s natural way of viewing the world from the point of view of his or her own culture. The obvious dilemma is: “How does one become multicultural having grown up in an ethnocentric environment?” While it does take hard work and patience, this goal is not that difficult to attain. All that is necessary is to have an open mind, a willingness to learn, and a desire to respect the differences between cultures.
As mentioned previously, the Internet is an excellent source of information. That does not mean that there is not false information on the web; however there are reputable news sites on the Internet which are excellent sources of staying abreast of what is going on in the world. Sadly, most Americans do not keep up with world news or they sporadically catch bits and pieces of it. When encountering a person from a different culture, an individual can make quite an impression just by being informed on world affairs. While in American culture enthusiasm is respected, comprehension is appreciated much more in most other cultures. If you can demonstrate that you are informed about the world, you can gain great respect from your foreign peers.
Taking a language class is another excellent way to become multicultural. Bear in mind that language is more than just words or ideas. It is an expression of mentality. Moreover, it reflects how the speaker views the world and how the language has been impacted by the culture’s history. In short, language is the ultimate key to unlocking the secrets of a culture. In addition, once an individual is able to say even a few words of another person’s language, the latter becomes extremely impressed and even grateful that the individual took the time to investigate their culture so deeply.
Traveling is an excellent means of becoming multicultural. Nothing grants authenticity to a speaker like the words “I saw” or “When I was there.” It means so much more than simply “I heard” or “l read.” In addition, traveling to a different country can introduce an individual not just to the mentality but also to the way of life of another culture. Here again, people of another culture respect those who have been to their country and experienced their way of life. It is almost as though they think. “You are one of us now.” Also, do not forget that traveling is fun. Becoming multicultural is not supposed to be drudgery.
The final question is: “How does something that is so seemingly personal aid in business?” The answer is “immeasurably”. For most of the world, personal relationships are more important in business decisions than the initial terms of a prospective venture. Consequently, in the beginning of a negotiation with a foreign delegation they will spend more time getting to know the person with whom they want to do business than actually talking about the details of a deal. It is at this point where an individual can truly demonstrate his or her cultural knowledge. The impression that is left not only reflects on the individual but the company as a whole. Therefore, if you can display that you are multicultural, your business will be perceived as multicultural as well.