Our understanding of our own and others’ identities, the way we establish our values, shape our worldview, and adjust our responses to social experience are traditionally influenced by our culture and society. Yet, today’s international world shakes up our perception of time, place and space, whereby the question of how we identify ourselves and how we relate to others here and over there becomes highly critical.
Individual exposure to being international, intercultural or multicultural is vital in overcoming an entirely national identity and in starting to experience oneself as a member of a wider cross-border community. Essentially, all this is about citizens whose horizons are notably expanding beyond their own cultural frames.
Indeed we are expected to grow to human beings that transcend our national/native cultures and successfully interweave complex social, political, economic, spiritual and global concepts into our identification. This may be confusing, although in the end it should result in a positive notion of identity, which is capable of recognizing and respecting otherness.
Feeling European “without” stereotypes
To become a citizen of the world seems to be the ultimate goal. If we consider Europe as a space of encounters, where free mobility of people is a fact, the outcome of this should be increasing intercultural interaction. This, in turn, should enhance a common sense of a European identity and identification in the long run, and reduce our stereotyped thinking of other people and nations.
What actually comes out of my PhD research – for which I interviewed 20 experts working for three different EU Agencies located in Greece, Ireland and Italy – is that working in a multicultural environment makes stereotypes fade away. All interviewees admitted that stereotypes do exist, but that they do not really influence the cooperation between colleagues from different EU countries as everybody acts as a professional at work. Moreover, these respondents appear to be highly aware of the complexities of identifying themselves as a European, even if they consider it as an integral aspect of who they are.
Tuning your cultural sensitivity and awareness antennae
Based on my PhD research I can see that different types of sensitivities and awarenesses get developed among the interviewees. This is not only about being sensitive and responsive to cultural differences and knowing how to deal with them, but it goes much beyond that. It is more about letting oneself grow personally and professionally through continuous intercultural interaction, and thanks to this process reach such a high degree of psychological adaptability that adjusting to any situation any time anywhere happens easily and naturally.
The willingness and readiness to finely tune one’s cultural sensitivity and awareness antennae are key to make sure that the internal cooperative processes within a multicultural working environment driven by individuals with diverse cultural or ethnic backgrounds will work out productively and efficiently. Both attitudinal qualities – willingness and readiness – are required from all staff members. Without them it will not be possible to respond to the most diverse needs, interests and expectations emerging in an international professional environment.