I’m 25 years old and have already lived in 4 different countries: India, the Philippines, Uganda, and now the United States. My parents and older brother have collectively lived in at least 10 countries. The reason for this, as my mom told me, was to instill an open-minded attitude to all cultures. My mom believes that to accomplish this, you must immerse yourself into different cultures. Traveling to different countries isn’t enough.
I believe that upbringing greatly influences the way we approach the world. Being half Indian and half Filipino, I have been exposed to my parents’ globally minded spirit since birth. While living in India, I attended a Catholic school, but also visited Hindu temples with my family. Years later while living in Uganda, I attended a Muslim school. These experiences were coupled with observations of my parents treating everyone equally. My mother would speak to housekeeping with the same level of respect as the hotel owner. She would listen as carefully to my youngest cousin at a family gathering, as she would to an elderly patient as a nurse.
My friends and family tell me that it seems like I can befriend anyone, no matter where I go. A key part of this is because I enter conversations without any assumptions in place. If I see someone carrying a tennis racket, I might ask if that person has just returned from playing a game, but I try my best to not jump to conclusions without evidence. Perhaps this is why I’m an engineer at heart. I think of the world, and life itself, as a huge experiment. There are so many unknowns, variables, and questions that I’d like answered. The way I go about discovering these answers is through setting up a series of tiny experiments.
My thoughts on ways to help cultivate more open-mindedness towards other cultures:
Enter conversations and relationships without any expectations or assumptions. Be genuinely curious about the other person. Actively listen. And seek to learn his/her story.
When I first met 7-year old Finn (pictured above), for my work with Aeris, he never spoke to me. On the following home visits, I noticed that he had to stop playing video games whenever I came. So, I asked him if he’d like to help us build a game. His eyes lit up and he described in great detail about the games he plays, what he likes about them, and gave us ideas on how we should build ours.
Find common ground. Share your story and purpose. You may discover you share similar interests and values.
In the case with Finn, I shared stories of my gamer days, back when I was younger and played the Final Fantasy series, Runescape, and Gunbound. We discovered that we both loved playing Plants vs. Zombies.
Inspire others to do the same. Encourage others to be more open-minded by leading through example. Share your learnings with friends, family, and even strangers to join you in bringing cultures around the world closer together.
In writing this post, I hope to share my views with all of you and encourage you to share yours with others. Feel free to tell me your story at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Open Hands Initiative.
About the Author: Charvi Shetty is the Co-Founder and CEO of Knox Medical, a health technology company that provides cloud-connected personalized care for asthma patients. Charvi was one of 20 female entrepreneurs from the United States and Jordan who participated in our Fellowship for Young Women Entrepreneurs, a cross-culture exchange connecting bright business minds to increase global prosperity and develop pathways for international dialogue.