Cultural Exchange Program

BHIEC 2008
Michael Harmey

 

Ambassadors of Diversity

Why Cultural Exchange ?
What Research Tells Us

Maintaining an inclusive, tolerant society does not happen automatically. In surveying racist attitudes in NSW, Dunn (2005) provided data useful to policy-makers in developing anti-racist strategies. Among the least tolerant regions were those in Sydney that incorporated diverse populations. Consistent with studies in other countries (McClelland & Linnander, 2006; Stolle, Soroka & Johnston, 2008) this serves to underline that proximity to people of other cultures is not enough to foster tolerance, and can in some circumstances be negative.

Dunn (2005)
further highlighted certain contradictions in existing attitudes as most respondents supported multiculturalism, yet half believed that social harmony depended on cultural uniformity. Almost a third of those surveyed supported both multiculturalism and assimilation. Ongoing intolerance towards Asians, Indigenous Australians and Jewish people was found as well as persistent and significant, although not clearly formulated, fears regarding the threat posed by Islam. Once again, however, contradiction was found when a high percentage of non-Muslims indicated hypothetical acceptance of a relative marrying a Muslim.

In summary, NSW, as part of the broader Australian social fabric, presents as an environment in which people of diverse backgrounds have the opportunity to flourish. However, constant effort needs to be made in education and social policy to combat insidious racism, and improve socially inclusive attitudes and practices.


This leads to the question of how to effectively sustain a culturally inclusive society. Underpinning research into breaking down prejudice and stereotypes is Allport’s (1954, in McClelland & Linnander, 2006; in Pettigrew, 1998; in Pedersen, Walker & Wise, 2005; in Stolle et al., 2008) intergroup contact hypothesis that nominated
• equal status within the situation
• common goals
• cooperation
• authority support
as the four factors necessary to promoting positive interactions between people of different groups.

Pettigrew developed this theory and added an essential fifth condition:
“the contact situation must provide the participants with the opportunity to become friends” (Pettigrew, 1998, p.76).

The importance of action and behaviour is further explored within an Australian context by Pedersen et al. (2005) who put forward
• opportunities for dialogue
• combating false beliefs
• personal involvement
• developing empathy
as important for creating positive interaction.

The cultural exchange program fulfils the criteria of the theories discussed above, which lends weight to the value of its implementation where feasible. Its benefit to IEC students is further to be argued for as inclusion in such a program is likely to have profound effects for newly-arrived students in understanding their new country.

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