Border Crossings Explained

All of us recognize physical borders – rivers, deserts, oceans, and mountain ranges. They separate one area from another such as land and water. Some of the borders are easy to cross while others are more difficult.

The presence of cultural borders may be inferred by understanding the following:

  • A culture is a bounded system which is separate and distinguishable from others and which is often viewed as a social unit (nation, state, tribe or community, family, informal social groups)
  • Each culture is homogeneous
  • A culture is shared by its members

These cultural social units exist in our everyday lives. Most of us cross these largely invisible and imperceptible borders quite easily.  We wake up within the Family social unit, travel to an office, school or university to spend most of the day in the Work or Study social unit, sometimes meet people from other Cultural social units and listen to people speaking Languages different to our own. Then we may spend time after work playing a football game in the Sport social unit, and finally we return back to the Family social unit where we usually find familiarity, comfort and peace.

Each of these social units above may have different beliefs, values, and behaviours especially language shared by its members.  We tend to behave, even speak, differently within each social unit.  As we cross from one of these social units to another, we make a cultural border crossing.

The ease of making a cultural border crossing is mostly dependent on how familiar we are with the destination culture – having a common language among all these social units/cultures makes the border crossings almost imperceptible.

But if the language of the destination cultural social unit differs from your own or if we are unfamiliar with the people and their behaviours that inhabit that cultural social unit, the ease of crossing may be much more challenging.

We may begin to feel uncomfortable.  These discomforts may be cultural, emotional, cognitive, or linguistic, depending on the setting.

Border crossings are not always problematic. When we go on holiday to a different country, we may also experience slight discomfort but it is usually the reason why we booked the trip – to experience something different.

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