People Are People: 5 Practices You’ll See Around the World

by Ashley Houston
Have you heard of the Big Five? In cross-cultural psychology, the Big Five refers to personality traits that are shared across cultures. The Big Five are: openness, extroversion, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and agreeableness. However, each is somewhat controversial. So, here’s a different take, five practices (rather than traits) that can be found no matter where you go or who you meet around the world!   

Multiple nationalities studying abroad in Japan

Smiles abound from multiple nationalities studying together in Japan (A Dutch student, a Canadian, two Australians, and two Americans)

#1: Smiling

Can you think of place where there are only frowns day in and day out? Doubtful. During tough times, or even due to more rigid and closed communication styles, you might not see smiles as often in some places as in others. However, smiling and being smiled at is understood across cultures as a means of communicating emotion, specifically happiness. So, why not spread the happy cheer wherever your travels take you and share this positive expression!

#2: Storytelling

The tradition of passing down stories, either orally or through writing, is a practice that helps define humanity and separates us from other species. Storytelling is a deep-rooted element of cultures and society as a whole. From legends and myths, to fairy-tales and fables, there are a variety of ways cultures choose to pass their stories from one generation to the next. We all tell our own stories and decide what to mention and what to leave out. If you listen closely you might just hear a story you recognize while studying abroad, just with slightly altered details.

#3: Dependence

Some cultures are dependent upon their families or one another, while others depend upon their government or other nations. Many countries have become independent from their mother nation through revolution or war. However, societies by nature are all dependent upon one another for success. Whether it’s interdependence or intradependence, everyone leans on someone or something. 

In communal societies (like some of those in Africa) families work together to survive, which requires relying on one another interdependently. Societies like Japan and China, on the other hand, tend to be more intradependent, in that family units are reliant on members to contribute to certain aspects of daily life.

Who do you depend on most when abroad?

#4: Politics

You’d be hard pressed to find a nation or people not involved in some sort of political discussion at one time or another. Conflicts arise because of differences in moral values, or beliefs about what is right and wrong. Politics and conflict won’t go away anytime soon, but learning how to communicate across cultures and understand and empathize with those of differing opinions is a big part of what intercultural experiences abroad entail!

#5: Education

Whether or not a high level of access and quality is present, education (formal or informal) is how cultures share information, learn, and grow. Culture itself influences education, and as such, the forms of education across the world vary. Structured classrooms, degree programs, technical skills education, farming and outdoor labor, or learning how to run a household are just some of the different methods used across cultures to provide education.

There will always be divergent examples of the above practices, but overall these features transcend cultures and span across the human race.