What is Culture?
Updated: Jul 8, 2022
I have been asked by my colleagues and friends to start a blog. I was hesitant initially because I wasn’t sure what to talk about or whether people would even be interested in what I had to say. I decided that 2022 would be the gamechanger, and I would begin sharing stories of my personal travel journey and my career journey with you. Along the way, I hope to help you understand a bit more about cultural competency and why it’s important in the business world and for each of us in our personal lives. I hope to inspire you in some way and help you become more culturally confident as you interact with people of different backgrounds.
Being a First Generation Indian
I am a first generation Indian whose parents came to the U.S. in the 60s. As an immigrant’s daughter, I learned how to adapt to the American culture and yet retain my Indian heritage while uncovering the positives in both cultures. These early experiences led to my ongoing interest in cultures and overall understanding, coupled with my interest in how to celebrate cultures and be respectful of them. At its core, this inspired me to create my own company, Seva Global, to share my understanding and experiences with others.
Definition of Culture
Let’s start at the beginning… what is culture? This is one of the first questions I ask those who participate in my workshops. Each time I get a variety of answers: food, music, language, customs, beliefs, values, etc., while others may view culture as going to an art museum or a ballet performance.
Culture is the characteristics and knowledge of a particular group of people, encompassing language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music, and arts (live science). It is our value system, beliefs, and assumptions that we have acquired since birth.
Culture can be broken down into subcultures like where we live, our workplace culture, our ethnicity or race, age or generation, gender identity, sexual orientation, social status, political view, etc. It is also constantly changing. Generations can change culture over time. One of my favorite examples is how traditional Indian dance has been influenced with American hip hop and now Bollywood choreography has a resemblance to MTV dance videos. East meets West. ☺
It’s Not About Right or Wrong
There is no right or wrong when it comes to understanding cultures. Culture can be everything that has influenced us since birth. Think back to your childhood and what influenced who you are today. Did you grow up on a farm, suburb, or urban area? What type of students attended your school? What traditions did your family celebrate each year?
I grew up in a small town in Ohio. If you read the book or watched the 2020 film Hillbilly Elegy, that was my hometown – Middletown, Ohio! My high school had 2,000 students. Half were Black and half were white. I was the only Indian in my school. I learned to like hip-hop music due to the environment I was exposed to. However, my children grew up in a Jewish community where they received Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur off as holidays. Through our experiences on where we grew up, we, as a result, belonged to many cultures. And this influence continues today.
Cultivating Your Understanding: Take a moment and reflect on your childhood to see what influenced your roots and defined and nourished you and your culture.