Being Culturally Competent

How culturally competent are you? Cultural competency is more than cultural awareness.

Being culturally aware means that we are “aware” that the culture in which a person is born into will influence the way that they perceive the world, other people and themselves. Our exposure to the economic, religious, political, educational and social of the country or community we live in will affect our values and our beliefs. What really matters to us as an individual, to a considerable extent, will depend upon the cultural influences to which we have been exposed.

We need to be careful though that we do not make sweeping assumptions about individuals. Stereo typing people according to their country, culture or religion is really a form of discrimination. This type of discrimination can easily be found on the Internet where you can come across statements like: “all Australians are drunks”, “all Americans are arrogant”, “all Columbians are drug dealers”, “all Hindus oppress the poor”, “all Muslims are terrorists”, “all white Christians are racists”, “all Chinese are good at maths”, “all Germans are Nazis”, “all South Africans are thieves” and on and on it goes. These types of statements are not only ridiculous but they are dangerous as well. The only thing you can really say about all Americans is that they are all Americans! Otherwise you will find Americans who are arrogant, Americans who are humble, Americans who are care about others, Americans who care only about themselves just as you can in any other country you care to name. As a mathematics teacher I can tell you that all Chinese students are definitely not good at maths, although I did have one outstanding maths student who was indeed Chinese, and over the years I have taught students of many different nationalities and cultures who were good at Maths. I have also taught students of those same nationalities and cultures who couldn’t distinguish a quadruped from a quadratic equation! A culture is not like a factory assembly line where people all come out exactly the same like cans of Coca-Cola! People are influenced by their culture but are they are all individuals. If we understand that then we are ready to develop cultural competence.

Being culturally competent means that you are aware of the way your own culture influences the way you interpret the world, other people and yourself. Being culturally competent means that you allow your cultural awareness to influence the way you interact with people of cultures other than your own. Being culturally competent means that your cultural awareness enables you to engage in balanced, unbiased communication with people of cultures other than your own.

Some key components of cultural competence are:

  • Be aware of your own cultural influences.
  • Be aware of judging other people’s behaviour and beliefs according to the standards of your own culture.
  • Be aware of making assumptions about cultural influences and applying generalisations to individuals.
  • Understand that the behaviour and beliefs of people within each culture can vary considerably.
  • Understand that the extent to which people adopt practices of their new country and retain those from their cultural background can vary within communities, even within families.
  • Understand that not all people identify with their cultural or religious background.
  • Understand that culture itself is a fluid entity, undergoing transformations as a result of globalisation, migration and the diaspora influence.
  • Increase your knowledge about different cultural practices and issues through cultural background information sessions and/or resources and cultural awareness training.
  • Understand the importance of appropriate communication.

Source: The Centre for Cultural Diversity in Ageing

How culturally competent are you?

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