Understanding a different culture

You’re living in a vibrant multicultural country, so it’s great that you want to understand cultures other than your own. There are a few ways to do this, but the most important is to remember that we’re all just people who are trying to do the best we can.

This can help if:

  • you want to embrace cultural differences

  • you want to learn how to understand cultural differences

  • you want to learn how to talk to people from different backgrounds.

Girl and counsellor laughing

What is ‘cultural awareness’?

Cultural awareness, or cultural sensitivity, is being aware that cultural differences and similarities exist, while not judging people based on that. A non-judgemental mindset lets you observe cultural differences without labelling them as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, or ‘right or wrong’.

This doesn’t mean that you have to be an expert in other cultures. It just means being willing to be open-minded and to ask questions to get more information, rather than having a knee-jerk reaction to anything you don’t agree with.

Why is cultural awareness important?

Australia is super-multicultural, which means that people and traditions from many other countries and cultures are noticeable and celebrated. More likely than not, you’re going to meet many people and experience many situations that are unfamiliar to you.

Developing your understanding of other cultures, or ‘cultural awareness’, lets you have more meaningful interactions with those around you. You’re building your respect and empathy for other people, and celebrating your differences as well as your similarities. This makes you less likely to treat someone differently, just because they are from a different culture or ethnicity than you.

Ways to build cultural understanding and awareness

It can be very easy to stick with what you know, rather than try to meet people who are different from you. However, actively trying to understand and embrace cultural differences can open you up to a whole world of experiences. Here’s what you can do:

Become self-aware

Work out your own beliefs, values and personal biases. This includes biases about your own cultural background.

Yep – it can be confronting, but by doing this you’ll be able to think about how these traits might impact on your approach to and understanding of differences.

You could try: Think about what assumptions you make about your friends, peers, people you work with and strangers you see walking down the street. What assumptions do you make about people from the same background as you?

Do your own research

Learning about different cultures can be a great way to develop an understanding of cultural diversity.

You could try: Check out some foreign films on SBS or Netflix, attend a local food festival, or search for some online resources. For example, check out Common Ground’s resources for learning about Indigenous Australian culture and history.

Talk to someone from a different cultural background

Try and get to know someone from a different cultural background better. You don’t necessarily have to ask them directly about their culture, but by getting to know them as a friend or peer, you’ll automatically find out more about their life and experiences. Just being curious and open-minded can be helpful.

You could try: Have a chat or catch-up with an acquaintance, friend or coworker that you’ve wanted to get to know better. Remember to treat them just like you would anyone else, and don't think of them only as a way to get to know about other cultural backgrounds.

If you’d rather try your luck online, there are sites that help you look for an international penpal. This is also a great way to practise your language skills if you’re learning a language.


One of the best ways to experience and understand other cultures is to actually live among them. It might take a while to save for, but planning a trip overseas to a country you’re interested in can be the best way of opening yourself up to new cultures.

You could try: Check out some virtual travel and history experiences from the comfort of your own home.

Be more accepting

Sometimes, for one reason or another, it’s not all that easy to understand some cultural differences. In these situations, the best approach is just to acknowledge that some people are different and to accept that that’s okay. You don’t have to understand, or even agree with, someone in order to accept them.

You could try: Practise being empathetic towards the people around you and be mindful of your thoughts about others. Try not to compare or judge. Learn more about how you can become more accepting.

Culturally different, with diverse opinions

Even if you hear or read something about a certain culture, it’s important to realise that this doesn’t mean everyone from that particular background acts/thinks/believes the same thing. Just as not everyone you know has identical beliefs, people who come from different cultural backgrounds aren’t all a certain way, either.

Think beyond stereotypes

One of the biggest difficulties to overcome in understanding cultural differences is making judgements based on one opinion. Do your own research and make an effort to actually learn about people, instead of making broad-brush assessments. Stereotyping people from different cultural backgrounds can impact their quality of life and opportunities.

Everyone is unique

The main thing to remember is that everyone, no matter what their cultural background, has their own unique opinions, habits and ways of life. The sooner you accept that everyone is different, the easier it becomes to understand and embrace cultural differences.

What can I do now?

  • Check out some of our ways to celebrate Harmony Day.

  • Work on your self-awareness.