There is very little scholarly research regarding the dynamics of friendship. This is partially due to the fact that friendship means different things to different people, making it a very diverse concept. In some cultures, it is regulated or limited to family members. Other cultures might consider acquaintances to be friends, perhaps even members of their community they don't even know well. The relationships also vary in terms of length and intensity. Forging friendships across differing cultures adds complex dynamics, resulting in enriching experiences.
Understanding the Concept of Culture
Culture is sometimes assumed to consist of race, ethnicity, religion and language. Culture is, however, much more of a multifaceted phenomenon. Shelley Zion and Elizabeth Kozleski list socioeconomic groups, gender, sexual orientation, age physical and mental abilities, level of education and geographical location as just a few of the other characteristics that comprise different cultures. They may each carry with them different behaviors, attitudes and beliefs that are attributed to their culture.
Commitment to Understanding and Learning
In a study on racial diversity and friendship groups in college, Standford University assistant professor Anthony Lising Antonio notes that "interracial friendships and general interracial interaction tend to go together." There was also a greater "commitment to racial understanding." Based on this information, the mere incident of interracial friendship fosters an interest in diversity and stifles fear and ignorance. Further research may show a similar correlation among other cultural groups. This is similar to what Zion and Kozleski refer to as "cultural responsivity."
Respect and Embrace Differences
In order to enjoy the benefits of intercultural friendships, you must make an active effort to educate others about your own values and beliefs without imposing them onto another. It is also vital to avoid stereotypes. Remember that no matter the extent of learning about other cultures, you will never truly know the reality of another person's being. This contributes to the richness of diversity and negates the idea of the "melting pot."
Benefits of Intercultural Friendships
A diverse group of friends offers gifts to your own identity. Zion and Kozleski identify greater "freedom to enjoy other ways of being," ability to find "more passions and interests" and "increased resources and knowledge." You may learn more about what you like and dislike, what attracts and repels you and about what you'd like to learn more. The aforementioned "cultural responsivity" is limitless.
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Jill Avery-Stoss is a graduate of Penn State University and a writer and editor based in northeast Pennsylvania. Having spent more than a decade working with victims of sexual and domestic violence, she specializes in writing about women's issues, with emphasis on families and relationships.
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