Improve Your Education Through Culture
By Ashford University Staff
Ask any number of adults, and they'll tell you that some of the most important things you learn in life don't come from a textbook or a class lecture. Rather, so much of what makes us well-rounded and successful individuals comes from being able to integrate our experiences and have a broader understanding of the world we live in.
This type of experiential education comes from taking an interest in the world at large, including its vast cultural diversity. As you chart your own educational journey, consider not only the role that formal education can play in achieving your goals, but also the benefits that pursuing cultural experiences can offer in supplementing and enhancing your overall learning experience.
What is Cultural Education?
More than just queuing up a subtitled movie on Netflix every now and then (though, that’s a great idea!), cultural education and enrichment tends to occur best through immersive and holistic means. It starts by taking an abiding interest in culture in general – that is, viewing cultural experience not as a box to check off on one's educational to-do list, but as an enduring component of a more well-rounded and satisfying life.
Learning about other cultures isn’t just informative, it’s fun! Going on vacation is a great way to get to know other cultures while also enjoying time off from your everyday life. In fact, exploring the world around you is one of the most effective ways to experience the vast diversity of human culture, and there are plenty of ways to expand your cultural viewpoint without even leaving your city. Taking an interest in different artistic and literary traditions, for example, can help you get to know its practitioners while indulging an existing hobby or discovering a new one. Other things you can try from the comfort of your own neighborhood include:
- Tasting new foods. Go to a restaurant you've never heard of before and try a new cuisine from a country you haven't visited. If you live near a place that has established cultural areas, like Little Italy, Chinatown or Greektown, you can easily immerse yourself into a different culture every day!
- Going to museums. Many places have cultural museums where you can learn about the history of a different culture through their art, music, lifestyle, and literature.
- Visiting farmers markets. Learn about the food other cultures cook with, plus which types of fruits and vegetables are popular in different areas.
- Visiting local art shows. Several places have monthly art walks or fun art events where you can learn about a specific culture's art styles and get to know the people who create such amazing pieces.
Culture & Traditional Education
Experiential education has tremendous value of its own, but an amazing thing can happen when expanded cultural awareness collides with the formalized structures of a traditional classroom. Understanding the different backgrounds and cultural experiences that each individual brings to a class setting can open up pathways to more effective interactions among students and their instructors. Learning about each other in a formalized classroom has the opportunity to create a space for deeper learning opportunities and understanding about individual cultural backgrounds. This gives you an opportunity to dive deeper into a culture that you may not have otherwise been able to learn about. Expanding your own cultural knowledge can help you see things from a different perspective, allowing you to achieve better educational outcomes in traditional classroom environments and expand your own worldview.
Enriching Your Cultural Education
There are several ways you can enrich your cultural education, from the classroom and beyond. You can learn about other cultures through:
- Travel – Many people think they are unable to travel because of work and family commitments. However, there are plenty of ways you can experience travel, even with a full-time job, a full course load, and a family to care for. If you can't afford to take a trip overseas, try these different ways of travelling in your local area:
- Take a drive. Even driving a few hours away can expose you to a different culture or way of living.
- Bike or walk through town. When you take the time to slow down your trip by walking or biking, you'll have more time to look around you. This way, you can notice things you wouldn't otherwise have paid attention to, like the people you typically drive past, the shops around you, and music playing on the streets.
- Art – Go to a museum, look up art online or take an art class. Study artists from different cultures and analyze how the artists’ backgrounds play a role in the masterpiece.
- Literature – Read a book that’s been translated into your native language, or even a book that takes place in a different culture. This way, you can learn all about another culture from the comfort of your very own living room.
- Internet – Use a site like Duolingo to help you learn a different language, or Country a Day to immerse yourself in the customs, traditions, and styles of a different country every day.
- Getting involved – Local organizations and charities can help you meet new people with different backgrounds.
- Host a Student – Several cities allow you to host a foreign exchange student. Whether that is in your home or merely as a support family for that individual, this opportunity is fun and exciting way for both of you to learn about each other.
College Credit for Life Experience
On top of the intangible benefits of experiential learning, there are even cases in which some forms of life experience can directly help you achieve your college degree. At Ashford, for example, the Prior Learning Assessment process examines certain non-traditional sources of learning for potential conversion to actual college credit. If you've learned a second language, seen the world in the military, or participated in an International Baccalaureate program, you might be able to turn some of these and other irreplaceable experiences into credits to apply toward your full degree.
At the end of the day, education is all about becoming the best version of yourself. By recognizing that opportunities for educational enrichment aren't only limited to formal settings -- by understanding that the world itself is a classroom -- you will have given yourself the gift of an enriching and satisfying relationship with the cultures and societies that make humanity the most fascinating subject of them all.
Written by Ashford University staff.