Cultural Awareness – Cultural Competence

We can define cultural awareness as the ability and also willingness to objectively examine the values, beliefs, traditions and perceptions within our own and other cultures. In other words, the ability to walk in someone else’s shoes in terms of culture and also understand and accept  cultural differences from the one we are accustomed with. With the growth of converging markets and with the advent of technology, cultural awareness has become an important aspect of business, politics and society. To be culturally aware is to understand that cultural differences among individuals from various cultures and to be sensitive and to and treat with respect those differences in our interaction with people whose beliefs and traditions may be different from our own.

Although the twenty-first century accelerated emergence of a global economy and also the proliferation of multinational corporations seem, at first glance, to indicate an increase of cultural awareness within contemporary societies, the need for vigilance regarding the evolution of cultural awareness both in the corporate sector and especially among people is still an important challenge and priority. For the international corporations themselves, cultural diversity has proven to be highly productive and but still a very challenging aspect of modern business. The interest in cultural diversity offers a wider variety of talents, ideas and knowledge and businesses that are culturally diverse and display constructive attitude toward this topic will have at their disposal a wider range of skills. Vigilance regarding cultural awareness is an important aspect of modern productivity and thus cultural awareness remains a key factor within the running of successful multinational corporations.

Looking beyond the corporate sphere, cultural awareness remains the most important aspect of conflict resolution between nations.  Human nature and human institutions are considered to be flexible, and levels of violence vary from one cultural setting to other, with some cultures expressing extremely low levels of violence. Strategies can be learned through cultural awareness for stemming the tide of war, as well as stimulating the global economy. Some evolved culture-states acknowledge the growing recognition of the need for cultural awareness in military battle preparations as well as training and doctrine. “As this introduction has suggested, military commanders and staffs at all levels must address cultural awareness as an important operational planning factor to eliminate errors that may lead to unforeseen consequences and ultimately mission failure. Culture must become a formal part of soldiers’ training.” We can state now that Cultural knowledge of an adversary and warfare are inextricably bound.

There are a lot of terms used in today vocabulary which are regularly used related to culture awareness, terms like: “cultural safety”, “cultural respect” and “cultural competence”. While culture awareness can be defined as the sensitivity to the similarities and differences that exist between two different cultures and the use of this sensitivity in effective communication with members of another cultural group, we will try to define also the other terms in order to avoid confusions or misinterpretations due to the first look similarities between the terms.

Cultural safety involves actions that recognize, respect and nurture the unique cultural identity of a person and safely meet their needs, expectations and rights. It means working from the cultural perspective of the other person, not from your own perspective. Cultural Safety has its origins in the field of nursing education.  We can state that an unsafe cultural practice is an action that demeans the cultural identity of a particular person or family. According to Brascoupé (2009) „the long-term value of the concept of cultural safety as a tool for cultural regeneration is hard to assess and depends on the integrity of the processes that underlie the concept of cultural safety”. Most cultural safety research and implementation has been completed in New Zealand and Australia’s health-care field. Still cultural safety has been criticized by some for lacking a clear and detailed practice framework that is easily translated by, and responsive to, both culturally diverse health care providers and equally diverse health care recipients. We can conclude that cultural safety is a policy of ensuring respect for cultural and social differences in the provision of health and education services. The issue of cultural safety cannot be avoided. Programs and practices will continue to perpetuate assimilationist practices if this critical issue is not dealt with upfront. We need to move on from the short-term, cost-effective, quick fix approaches which are driven by economic imperatives, the clamoring of industry and hegemonic practices. We need to move on in order to genuinely address the challenges arisen by the cultural safety.

Cultural respect refers to recognition, protection and continued advancement of the inherent rights, cultures and traditions of a particular culture. Intercultural respect begins with the acknowledgement and acceptation that your culture is neither more valuable nor „correct” than any other. In addition, while we embrace and appreciate the differences we must also celebrate and leverage the similarities between cultures. Respect itself is the first big step in opening up to other cultures. While we slip into the shoes of other cultures we have better chances to understand our own. The more we understand our foundations and the better we are rooted in our culture, the easier it is to open up to other societies. We can jump to the conclusion that respect is growing proportionally with the knowledge towards other cultures, better understanding of our own will led to a better understanding of other. Respect for cultural diversity requires acceptance of the fact that other societies are rooted as much in their cultures as we are in ours. No one can easily – if at all – change the cultural skin and no one should be forced to give up their own culture in exchange for another one. If the change comes willingness and the individual identifies better with the new culture, the transition may occur normal and with little chance of failure.  Respect of the systems, frameworks and ways of living is a prerequisite for successful integration in the society at a foreign land or different culture.

The last term, cultural competence means identifying and acknowledging the cultural differences that exist, appreciating and having a deep understanding of those differences and, after all this, accepting them. It also means being prepared to guard against accepting your own behaviors, beliefs and actions being the universal norm.

Underlying cultural competence are the principles of trust, respect for diversity, equity, fairness, and social justice.

Cultural competence is about our will and actions to build understanding between people, to be respectful and open to different cultural perspectives, strengthen cultural security and work towards equality in opportunity.

Relationship building is fundamental to cultural competence and is based on the foundations of understanding each other’s expectations and attitudes, and subsequently building on the strength of each other’s knowledge, using a wide range of community members and resources to build on their understandings. Later in this paper we will treat cultural competence as important organ of culture awareness from the stand point of an educator in learning and being understood by scholars in the classroom.

In most of discussions and papers written these days, all three terms (cultural safety, respect and competence) are considered to be part of culture awareness and I will consider this also because they are strongly dependent one to another and to fully understand one’s culture it is a must to comply with all four definitions.

Simon Brascoupé, Catherine Waters, Cultural Safety Exploring the Applicability of the Concept of Cultural Safety to Aboriginal Health and Community Wellness, 2009.
William D. Wunderle, Through the Lens of Cultural Awareness: A Primer for US Armed Forces Deploying to Arab and Middle Eastern Countries, 2006.


prof. Claudia Iulia Georgescu

Școala Gimnazială Nr. 1 Slatina (Olt) , România
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