Self Awareness and Cross Cultural Competence: My experience in Canada as an international student

• How do you compare to the cultures you have contact with?
What I’ve witnessed in Canada so far are sharp cultural differences to my native Saudi Arabia. The most notable difference is how people here enjoy greater freedoms in social life. For example, I see how the handshake is a common manner of greeting among friends, acquaintances or colleagues. Even girls do not hesitate to shake hands with men. This sort of contact is totally forbidden in Saudi Arabia, where it is not only illegal but also considered immoral. Back home, we only see men shaking hands with other men, sometimes perhaps even kiss on each cheek. Likewise women greet each other through hugs or kisses. But any kind of physical contact between the two sexes is prohibited in public places. So it was refreshing to see so much freedom in interpersonal relations in Canada. Another thing I noticed is how public life in Canada is not tied to religious practice. In contrast, in Saudi Arabia, culture is tightly tied to Islamic codes. Moreover in Canada, I see how business affairs are carried out in a fully professional manner. In my native land, on the other hand, even business affairs are so organized that they do not interfere with religious practice or religious values.

• What attitudes and values do you have in common?
Having highlighted the major cultural differences between Canada and Saudi Arabia, their shared values also merits mention. I’ve noticed that despite the ostensibly major cultural divergences, values such as honesty, dignity and decency are common to both societies. I should add that the standards and methods through which these values are measured is again different. Even the handshake that is such a commonplace sight in Canada is a mark of respect and friendship. The hugs and kisses-to-cheeks that is the norm in Saudi Arabia serves the same purpose. Hence there are unifying themes within divergent expressions of values across the two nations.

• Where are the likely points of disagreement? 
While I can clearly see the points of disagreement between the two cultures, I do not venture to evaluate which is better. I guess the particular socio-historical circumstances in Canada and Saudi Arabia gave rise to their unique cultural forms. Each is accepted and suited to their respective environments. But for someone like me, it is essential to acclimatize to the new culture that is more modern and more liberal.

• In terms of your personal style, what are the similarities with the cultures you will deal with?
The fact that I am a woman, hailing from a conservative Islamic background, puts me at a double disadvantage. I am habituated to wearing the hijab (a scarf-like cloth that wraps around my face). Although I would stand out in a crowd by wearing the hijab, my religious beliefs prevent me from dressing otherwise. I am fortunate that Canadians are tolerant just as they liberal. As a result I am able to interact with my peers and integrate within the group without any hassles. Contrary to general perception, the Islam that was cultivated in me treats tolerance as a noble virtue. In this respect, I see a point of convergence between my personal style and the Canadian culture. Further similarities include things such as showing good manners and positive attitude.

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