Understanding and respecting diversity is important in your own country and abroad. The reason I include the element of "Respecting," is, just because you "understand" a culture does not mean that you are showing respect for it, which you should. What do I mean? For example, making inappropriate comments or jokes about a culture's religious beliefs or style of dress is not respectful and can cause hurt feelings.
As a part of Elon's LEAD program, I have come to understand that there are some aspects of our identities that we chose and others we did not or cannot choose. For example you did not and cannot choose--your race, ethnicity, where you were born (location and economic status), and your gender (at least when you are born). Aspects of your identity you can choose are your personal beliefs and values, your religion, etc.
Understanding your identity is key, also knowing the benefits and set-backs of each of these aspects. When one or more of your identity aspects is generally accepted or favored in a society, you are less likely to think about or care how this effects others who do not identify the same are you. For example, if you are a white, upper-class, Christian male in America, you may not consider how your identity serves as a societal advantage over a Middle-Eastern, working-class, Muslim male in America or a black, middle-class female in America. This works the same when we travel to other countries.
In countries outside of the United States, identities are often different and the identity aspects we put emphasize on, are not necessarily the same as other cultures. For example, in other cultures the identity of a woman may not be highly esteemed or women may be extremely reverenced because they are the child-bearers of the earth. In another culture being what we call a "stay-at-home-mom," might be the norm and in fact expected of the women.
Whatever a culture's identities, master statuses and traditions, we ought to seek to understand and respect them. When you do this you will learn more than you ever thought you could and will become a better leader.
In my personal life understanding diversity has been a central mission for this reason. In the real world, most people do not look like us, act like us and think like us. For me, as a leader and a communications major, I MUST master the art of interpreting different cultures and effectively communicating with them. The more your understand and respect diversity, the more you can work with others. On my non-profit board, I have a couple of Jewish members. Though I am not Jewish, I seek to strengthen my understanding of their culture and traditions, so that I can acknowledge them and relate to them better.
In Ghana, I know that dance is a highly exalted form of communication in their culture, as well as sharing food out of the same bowls, playing soccer and showing love for people by being physically intimate (i.e. giving hugs and shaking hands). I plan to embrace these aspects
My name is Yasmine Arrington. I am a senior Strategic Communications and History double-major at Elon University. January 2014 I will be heading to Ghana to dance and share with the people of Ghana. Please follow my journey pre, during and post via this blog.