Cultural awareness promotes inclusivity, empathy

Cultural awareness promotes inclusivity, empathy

By Simran Devidasani

This past weekend, I attended a barn dance for my American Advertising Federation group, and I had a show and an after-party to attend for the Indian Student Association organization on campus. I was able to enjoy what I now know to be the best of both worlds. In other words, I was able to spend time with two completely different types of groups.

Coming to the University from Cupertino, Calif., was definitely a culture shock for me.

I was used to associating with and befriending those who came from similar cultural backgrounds as me. I knew coming to campus, however, that I would encounter those who were much different culturally than me, especially because most of them grew up in different environments. I was initially worried that I wouldn’t fit in or that I would be the odd one out. I wasn’t thoroughly involved in what I thought to be mainstream Midwestern culture, such as watching “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” or eating cheeseburgers (especially because I don’t eat beef). Moreover, I felt as though I wouldn’t be able to carry on conversations because my interests were different.

But I soon came to find out that wasn’t the case at all.

Drawing from my experiences this past year, I’ve realized that being in a culturally diverse environment helps individuals expand their knowledge and horizons. By befriending those from different backgrounds, I have been able to gain insight into their life experiences. My high school never had prom kings or prom queens, but in the Midwest, it’s a popular concept. Moreover, I’m starting to learn about mainstream concepts such as famous YouTube stars and television hosts, things I previously hadn’t invested time learning about.

But I’ve learned so much through some of my peers in advertising, and they’ve grown to become some of my best friends.

Of course, this came with time, but I realized that what those from different cultural backgrounds taught me was reciprocated: I taught them as well.

This symbiotic relationship enables us students to have the upper hand when applying for jobs because employers are looking for diverse people. Being able to demonstrate a cultural understanding is incredibly useful because it shows the ability to relate to people of all types. In my particular field, advertising, you have to appeal to people through images and popular culture. The more cultural competency and experiences individuals have, the easier it is for them to relate to people, thus making them more ideal employees. Good thing I learned so much this year, huh?

Thus, by showcasing that we participate in diverse organizations, we can pique companies’ interests.

More importantly, I get to experience a lot of typical Midwestern and American culture through AAF, such as barn dances and patriotic parties. These are things that are rarely celebrated on the West Coast because it is has different atmospheres and demographics.

At the same time, through ISA, I have been able to pursue my interest in my personal heritage and culture. The events the organization hosts, such as the recent India Night — which showcased Indian dance and singing pieces — allow me to connect to my past and also to my relatives. I used to celebrate these same holidays and traditions back home, and continuing them in college allows me to strike up conversations with my relatives.

Being a part of two different groups has helped me grow and expand on my knowledge and insight, something that will ultimately help me when it comes to the job hunt. Because I’m a member of AAF, I am able to associate myself with those other than Californians — my comfort zone — but at the same time, I am able to keep in touch with my culture and roots through ISA. I have also been able to spread awareness to my culturally diverse peers by inviting them to events such as Holi. 

Coming to the University was initially terrifying based on the fact that I would have to become involved with groups of people who were completely culturally different from me, but I’ve come to embrace and enjoy it.

My weekends now include both barn dances and Indian parties — something that I absolutely adore, and I think others would, too. 

Simran is a freshman in Media. She can be reached at [email protected]