by Nahida H. Ali

School is one of the the most popular avenue for us to acquire knowledge, skills, and values in order to better understand the individuals and the society. However, it has been evident that people, nowadays, have left cultural sensitivity aside despite the level of education they have received. With globalization and modernization it is inevitable for everyone to learn and accept intercultural learning.

First, bridging cultural gaps would allow one to understand the reason behind the different practices of people from all over the world. Without opening ourselves to diversity we would not know that Maranaos, for example, are different from the Iranons even though they are both ethnic groups in Mindanao. They may have reside in the same archipelago, but in so many ways, their everyday practices are very different from one another. That mere difference in their way of life would give us a glimpse of their unique culture which would eventually lead us to be well-rounded people.

In school, we have seen that the way people dress, speak, and act reflect a certain culture. With this, we could already say that “our culture is our identity”. Learning cultural differences then, is learning how to accept another’s identity. It is a way of understanding their differences in order for us to learn how to respect one’s individuality and promote peace in the society.

Second, intercultural learning helps inculcate values such as empathy, open mindedness, respect, and inclusivity. Empathy is seen in the way one would learn not to judge a person based on their personality, cultural background, race and familial upbringing. It is a way for us to put others in our own shoes and be understanding of how they feel in the society. Open mindedness is then practiced when one have learn not to isolate himself in a single culture or practice. For example, in attending an event with the Muslim community, especially with the Maranaos who wear malongs and hijabs, one must learn how to dress sensitively. Non-Muslim people must learn to adjust and dress conservatively in order to show respect for their belief and respond positively to their cultural practice.

Furthermore, the value of respect is one of the most vital. It reflects the level of humanity we have towards others. We Filipinos, are often known for this trait, especially with the use of “po” and “opo”. As time goes by, we must not forget to continue this tradition of ours and always practice the value of respect. Greet the elderly people with outmost respect and continue our traditional conjunctions. With this, we can ensure a peaceful community where an environment of discrimination can be prevented.

In terms of the value of belongingness, intercultural learning allows us to make everyone feel like they are part of the general whole. In the Philippines, a country that is rich in ethnic groups as such as Badjao, Tausug, Ilonggo, Maguindanaon and others, one must learn to view and show them that they are individuals who are part of one nation. In fact, in order to achieve a united nation, it is vital that the sense of belongingness exists in each individuals. Never forget to show others that they belong and that they not strangers. Instead of hurting people, spread love and acceptance. All of these I learned from my exchange experience.

A few years ago the only world I knew was my world. As a young individual, I have maximized all the opportunities the world could offer for me. I experienced being a top of my class and even one of the most popular since people see my name in every school recognition program brief or they see me compete everywhere.

It made me so proud that eventually, I almost lost my track and I have isolated myself in my world. I thought that every person wishes to be me until such time I experienced something that my world didn’t prepare me for – my failures. I never imagined that all of the knowledge I thought I have would just fly away like that. I felt depressed for knowing that I’m not the most intelligent or there are things that I can’t do that other person can.

At first, I tried so hard to put myself back on track, but I failed not only myself but also the people around me. I gave myself a moment to breathe and think of all the failures I’ve experienced and it had taught me something- every failure is a chance to start anew.

When the opportunity for me to study abroad came and when I have finally decided to leave for a year abroad, many thoughts came up to my mind. First, the enthusiasm for a new adventure has sparked and the feeling of nostalgia started to creep in. Spending time abroad is often seen to be synonymous with the opportunity to have fun and change lifestyle. But, it taught me more than that. It opened my eyes to the value of real friendship, understanding culture, and maintaining life long relationships.

The huge distance from the people whom we recognized as our loved ones allowed me to long for affection and love which I got from the friends I have met abroad who have shown nothing, but love and support for me whenever I feel sad and lonely. Despite the differences with our beliefs, I learned to open myself to others, to listen to them, and not focus on my own views. I have learned to expand my world and make it a beautiful avenue for learning different perspectives.

The greatest learning I have from my exchange experience is that we have to separate ourselves from the “I’ and learn to accept the “We”. Soon, you would realize that it is the most beautiful experience life would give you in your whole existence.