A Guide to Interacting Across Cultures and Diverse Groups

The University of Arizona provides students, faculty and staff an opportunity to meet people from around the U.S. and world. Learning about individuals who represent different groups can add significantly and positively to your UA experience. This is one of the benefits of diversity that you will have as a member of the Wildcat family. You will encounter people from different backgrounds including race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, disability, veteran-status, religion, age and socio-economic status. Moreover, students, faculty and staff come to the university from different states and regions of the world. This diversity brings unique gifts and talents including cultures, worldviews, perspectives, opinions, and values and beliefs that will affirm your values as well as challenge them. We encourage you to avail yourself of diversity while at the UA.

Interacting across cultures with diverse individuals can be enlightening and educational, yet also challenging. Language, culture, worldviews, customs and traditions often become barriers that prevent people from developing cross-cultural relationships. The following are suggestions for easing the process and assisting in interacting across differences.   

1. Meet New People

Go out of your way to interact with as many students, staff and faculty as you can, in particular with those who are different than you. These interactions and dialogues will expand your experiences with and knowledge about individuals and their different cultures and backgrounds.

2. Get Involved

There are many diverse student groups and organizations at the UA that you can learn more about here. Hopefully you will consider interacting with or joining groups such as Club LatinoThe Tohono O'odham Student AssociationInter-Cultural Inter-Faith DialogueAsian American Cultural AssociationAfrican Students' AssociationEller Veteran's Club, Partners of Hands of Hope, and many other important and beneficial student associations. Educational research has demonstrated that involvement in college student groups tends to result in higher rates of graduation, leadership development, social consciousness, cross-cultural relationships, activism, open-mindedness and a whole host of positive educational outcomes.

In addition to joining the student groups whose members share your identity, consider joining other groups and activities to maximize your cross-cultural and intergroup interactions. The full list of UA clubs and organizations is available at InvolveUA. Students can also get involved through the cultural and resource centers offered by the Dean of Students.

3. Brush Up on Your Communication Skills

Communication across diverse groups is a learned skill that will be helpful throughout your life and career. Learning to effectively communicate, resolve conflicts and solve problems in culturally diverse environments can be both extremely challenging and rewarding.

When interacting with people from diverse backgrounds keep these tips in mind:

  • Be patient with your fellow students and ask that they be patient with you as you try to learn about each other’s backgrounds and cultures or when you study and discuss controversial and complex topics.
  • In talking to someone who comes from a different background, ask questions in a respectful manner and at an appropriate time. If you are curious about someone’s background, don’t ask “What are you?” Instead ask, “What is your ethnic background?”
  • No matter how curious you are about someone’s physical characteristics or personal appearance such as hair texture, color of skin, jewelry or clothing, do not touch that individual unless you are given permission.
  • Allow each other to make mistakes as you develop your cross-cultural communication skills.
  • Grant each other “redos” and use mistakes and unintentional insensitivities as learning moments.
  • Some of the skills that will maximize learning and decrease cross-cultural misunderstandings are active listening, empathy, entering the worldview of another group and perspective-taking.
  • If you are the person being asked about your cultural background, be patient with the people who are doing the asking. In many cases, the other person does not know and is simply trying to learn.
  • Keep your assumptions and stereotypes in check. Don’t assume. Ask questions. Make efforts to get to know someone and what’s important to them. Try not to make assumptions about a person’s identity or background. Often, these assumptions are based on damaging stereotypes and can inhibit people from forming trusting effective and authentic relationships.
  • Do not rely solely on members of diverse groups to provide you with a complete education about their group. Take the time to educate yourself and utilize other resources such as the library, cultural events, courses, experiences and travel abroad.