The below is a guest blog by Ben, a QFCC Youth Champion 

As I wander down the cobblestone streets, I gaze into shop windows, ready to explore the treasures that lay waiting in the dark. Watching the people interact with one another is strangely intriguing, and I can appreciate the diversity that swirls around me. The rich music that floats through the air involves instruments that I have never seen before, yet the musicians seem so comfortable and confident in their skill. And the food? Addictive. The ingredients are colourful and diverse, unlike anything I have seen before, the chef knowing the powers that each of them contains. The aroma torments me. I know that I won’t be able to find anything like it back home.

I am continually learning to appreciate the differences between our two cultures.

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In the 21st century, culture is one of the most undervalued forms of education that a young person can receive. In a globalising world, the ability to understand and appreciate a diverse range of cultures will become a necessary and valued skill in many roles. Young people must be given the opportunity to explore, to grow and to experience the variety that exists in the world around them.

I will admit, as a young person going through the Australian education system, I didn’t pay much attention to language subjects. In retrospect, I REALLY wish I had.

But why is culture so vital to the future of young people? Let’s examine three key reasons.

Personal Growth & Opportunity

This is probably the most important reason as to why young people should be immersed in a range of cultures – it allows growth and opportunity! Isn’t the aim of the Australian education system to provide young people with opportunities to support them in the future? Well, one way of doing that is providing culturally rich programs and classes that are available to all students.

For example, how do we expect a future diplomat to understand the role of governments and develop their interpersonal, negotiation skills and the ability to understand a different perspective with a range of culturally diverse people? How do we expect a future musician to understand the role that culture plays in shaping music from around the globe?

A way of meeting the needs of these students may be through a language immersion program. These programs allow students to immerse themselves in a choose language, where they are provided the opportunity to discover the chosen culture in depth. I mean, who doesn’t love listening to some quirky music in another language? Or trying a strange smelling food that turns out to be the most delicious thing you’ve ever eaten? It’s an experience, right? 

If you’re interested in reading more about language immersion programs, then check out this article that discusses opportunities for high school and university students - https://www.goabroad.com/articles/language-study-abroad/summer-language-immersion-programs

Cultural Awareness and Empathy

Providing young people with the opportunity to understand different cultures also builds upon their interpersonal skills, by exposing them to a range of socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds. Consider this, how many times have you heard the story that kangaroos and koala’s invade Australian schools, and that the only thing we eat is this disgusting, bitter spread on toast? Sure, it’s not all true (though I don’t mind some good old vegemite), but how do we expect people from around the world to know that until they study Australian culture?

In my opinion, exposing young people to a variety of cultures improves empathy which has the potential to reduce barriers such as discrimination and racism. Stereotypes and stigmas are generally founded on rumours, unfounded bias or a general misunderstanding, and a clear way of addressing this is through cultural awareness and education.

Let’s go back to the example of a language immersion program. A young person that has the ability to explore a different culture has limitless potential. By understanding another cultures art, music, cuisine and language, young people develop a sense of understanding and empathy. Suddenly, stereotypes are broken down as that young person has experienced it firsthand and understands the history and traditions of that specific culture.

Simply, cultural awareness builds empathy.

Perspective

The power of perspective… It’s an interesting concept. Understanding your past, present and being able to make informed decisions about your future can impact our lives immensely. Culture helps us understand others, but more importantly, ourselves. The ability to pass on traditions to future generations and raise children to value their personal heritage is priceless.

Again, let’s examine perspective through the language immersion example. Now that this young person has had the ability to explore another culture, they have become culturally aware and understand a different way of life. The next step is being able to consider their own perspective. What has this young person learnt about themselves from studying an alternate culture? Have their personal values changed? Look at how you grew up and what you believe. Makes sense to you and you think it’s correct. Imagine if you had this experience of multiple other cultures and nationalities – your view and understanding of the world changes significantly, right?

As the saying goes, knowledge is power. Understanding the broader world means that young people are uniquely equipped to consider how humans interact with each other and develops their ability to consider different perspectives. This doesn’t simply involve understanding someone else’s cultural background, but also understanding and appreciating your own.

Perhaps you could learn a recipe from a family member that comes from your heritage? Perhaps you could listen to some stories from your parents or grandparents? Perhaps you could attempt learning a new instrument that is unique to your culture?

Young people are ready and waiting to learn about the world around them. Exploring different cultures can be a beautiful and exciting journey for many people, and in a globalising world, young people should be equipped with the skills necessary to interact with a range of culturally diverse people.

So, I have a final challenge for you. Go and learn something about another culture, or something about your own culture, and share it with someone!

That is how we keep culture alive.

In the 21st century, culture is one of the most undervalued forms of education that a young person can receive.