Respecting Cultural Diversity

Author Natalia Florea
A brief presentation of the Republic of Moldova to 6th grade students. © Natalia Florea
A brief presentation of the Republic of Moldova to 6th grade students. © Natalia Florea

Aware of the benefits of the EU. Europe means perspectives but, above all, cultural exchange

Cultural relations between Germany and the Republic of Moldova have intensified in recent years. Both the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) (https://www.daad.de/en/) and the Federal Administration Office-Central Agency for Schools Abroad (http://www.aces.or.at/about-aces) have representatives in our country.

These relationships are encouraged by the provision of teaching and learning resources to promote the German language: a DAAD scholarship programme, additional training courses for teachers and a lively exchange of scientists and academics in collaboration with the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. It is also notable that the Goethe-Institut (http://www.akzente.md ) runs a German reading room in the ‘B.P.Hasdeu’ Municipal Library in Chisinau, which attracts students and teachers of German, as well as interested visitors.

The Deutsches Kulturzentrum Akzente is an official partner of the Goethe-Institut and at least five Moldovan schools are already members of the Schools-Partners for the Future (PASCH) initiative. However, all these collaborations are affected by the  Moldovan society’s lack of interest in intercultural communication and cultural diversity.

However, the intentions of the Moldovan authorities to approach the European Union (EU) are appreciable. This is because a sense of belonging to something integral and having a common destiny can only be created through a common cultural awareness.

Concentrated not only on the economy, politics and social cohesion, Europe maintains its constant interest in education, citizenship and culture. According to the report of the European Commission ‘Europe in 12 lessons, 2018’, the EU does not dictate how schools and education should be organised or what the programme should include: these are decided at a national or local level. However, the EU does run programmes under the name of ‘Erasmus +’ to promote educational exchanges so that young people can go abroad to train or study, learn new languages and participate in joint activities with schools or colleges in other countries.

Therefore, integrating cultural diversity, including in the workplace, would be an important first step for companies which want to be internationally competitive.

The advantages of cultural diversity: points of view

In a globalised world, European identity and diversity should be respected. This idea was supported in Berlin by a group of young people interested in the metropolis’ tourist attractions. A walk around the monument with deep historical connotations to the East Side Gallery was enough for an interview.

Young people from China respect diversity in Berlin. © Natalia Florea
Young people from China respect diversity in Berlin. ©Natalia Florea

In their opinion, large organisations gain a range of benefits from the diverse workforce. However, with these benefits also come some work-related challenges, such as culture, and language. As foreigners, not necessarily immigrants, develop their professional skills, they can also enjoy the benefits of cultural diversity. Among these benefits, the interviewees mentioned the different cultural perspectives that are opened up to them, these boosting creativity and innovation, the productivity of the different teams and the increase of the performance respectively. In addition, in the ‘benefits’ category, a Japanese student included multiple opportunities for personal and professional growth. On the other hand, the Japanese interviewee said that integration into multicultural teams can be difficult due to prejudices and stereotypes, and communication can be misinterpreted or difficult to understand between languages and cultures.

Abby and Carolyn, two students from Cyprus who are studying Social Sciences and People’s Culture at the Humboldt University in Berlin, said they express respect for the distinct cultural and linguistic identities of each country visited. “We believe that, through international collaboration, which favours economic growth based on unique regional elements and the rich diversity of European traditions and cultures, we will be able to face modern challenges”, the young people say.

The school, as a court of values transfer: Nauen, Brandenburg. Leonardo da Vinci Campus, November, 2019

In defence of the cultural diversity of the school population comes a group of German teachers from the ‘Leonardo da Vinci’ School in Nauen, Brandenburg. Being active in a multicultural environment, they respect the plurality of cultures, opting for the varied perspectives of contemporary society. German teachers are orientated towards applying methodologies which favour the development of intercultural competencies through teaching in several languages. They actively promote school projects designed to benefit intercultural learning.

Simon Pearce, English teacher at the Leonardo Da Vinci Campus school in Nauen, Brandenburg, Germany (Olaf Gründel, Headmaster), (https://www.ldvc.de/) argues that, in this educational institution, children from migrant families integrate relatively easily.

Simon Pearce, English teacher at the Leonardo Da Vinci Campus School in Nauen, Brandenburg, Germany. © Natalia Florea
Simon Pearce, English teacher at the Leonardo Da Vinci Campus School in Nauen, Brandenburg, Germany. ©Natalia Florea

I visited this Campus in November 2019 and the discussions I attended inspired me. In the school, there are about 1000 students, among them 15 from immigrant families. The language barrier would be one of the difficulties which could mark their school success, but the problem does not persist for a long time. In the opinion of the Spanish teacher, Katja Stolz (leader of Erasmus programme), the students are cultivated from the beginning to have the feeling of being valued and belonging to the class group, and the school community in general, thus encouraging their self-confidence and freeing them of any frustration.

From the cultural diversity point of view, there are also a series of educational activities which promote the development of the teachers (by participating in numerous actions specific to those in multicultural Europe, the conclusive example being the Erasmus+ Program and E-twinning Project), but also the integration of the students, which establish friendship and collaborative relationships with German students. The major effort they have to make is about the priority language aspect, and additional German and English language learning lessons eliminate these barriers over time.

In addition, other teachers with whom we had short meetings, counted the lesson of respect for diversity in the first place among the things that help students to overcome the problems of integration in the German community and to pay more attention to the cultural dimension of their existence.

How, however, is cultural diversity addressed in Moldovan schools, especially at the regional level? Some Moldovan education experts mention serious problems in this context. For example, at the ‘Onisifor Ghibu’ Theoretical High School in Chisinau, children of other nationalities do not exist – as is the case in many other educational institutions.

Kristina Cernei-Daltă, an English teacher in this school, mentions obvious difficulties regarding the integration of children from Roma families in the communities of Moldovan students.

Kristina Cernei-Daltă, English teacher, and her students, ‘Onisifor Ghibu’ High School in Chisinau. She also teaches Media Education. ©Kristina Cernei Dalta
Kristina Cernei-Daltă, English teacher, and her students, ‘Onisifor Ghibu’ High School in Chisinau. ©Kristina Cernei Dalta

 “This topic should be on the government agenda, the important institutions in the country and the subject of debates in the media. Yes, we should treat people equally, respect their fundamental rights and freedoms. In my opinion, there is a lack of clarity in this regard in Moldova and why not learn from European examples? We are not only in a political crisis, but also a social crisis. The international community no longer accepts statements, it wants facts.

In my view, there are many people who have suffered because of exclusion due to race discrimination. Roma, for example, are classified as illiterate and are almost entirely absent in Moldovan schools. I am sorry to find that out. We have not yet learned to be tolerant and respectful of people of other ethnicities ... we lack common sense. We are accustomed to discriminate and, in so doing, we encourage exclusion, restrictions or preferences based on race, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, social category, beliefs, gender, age, and disability. We need to raise strong children, self-confident and capable of breaking down prejudices and living the life they want. Unfortunately, our society is not prepared to respect people from other cultures. The model of the Roma population is just one example. Whether we are talking about the urban, or the rural, they are still humiliated, labelled, insulted. All these are present in the everyday and the contemporary man relates to them”, believes the teacher, adding that Germany has school programmes and well-thought-out plans, and that Moldovans need new perspectives and that the membership of the European Union would give Moldovan citizens the opportunity to have access to a number of facilities.

Moldova has a large and vibrant multicultural society

We must admit that today’s Moldovan society is multinational (Moldovans, Russians, Ukrainians, Gagauzians, Roma, etc.) and needs, more than ever, an intercultural dialogue that would educate respect for diversity. It happens that we often ignore the fact that the people around us differ from us in religion, status, attitudes, appearance, language, colour, etc. As in other states where the cultural context is developed, an example being Germany, and in the Republic of Moldova, moral conduct, general culture and human quality as a whole condition respect for diversity – this involves educating the entire population to learn to appreciate diversity and, at the same time, to change their behaviour and attitude towards different social groups that might eventually be discriminated against because of stereotypes and prejudices.

For example, at one of the top universities in Chisinau, namely the International Free University of Moldova (ULIM), included for the fifth time in a row in the world ranking of U-Multirank universities 2019, the sixth edition (https://www.umultirank.org/study-at/free-international-university-of-moldova-rankings/?fbclid=IwAR1LURMTjbfFrO0aLGlGObmOiLPPBsuLfEsHMzBseKWQ3wOxib4UisEf688), the number of international students is increasing. The institution includes students from various countries, such as the USA, Germany, Italy, Turkey, Israel, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Middle East countries, etc. They are also interested in the variety of academic mobility available under the European Union’s Education, Training, Youth and Sport Erasmus+ Programme, aimed at modernising and strengthening higher education in Europe and around the world.

During the studies, foreign citizens participate in numerous university activities and benefit from remarkable experiences, which create an overall opinion about Moldova, especially from the point of view of intercultural communication and diversity. In the Department of Foreign Students, I had the opportunity to talk to a group of students from the Congo, Turkey, Israel and South Korea, who informed me that studying and sharing a campus with students of different nationalities is an amazing experience.

Ngongo Bebelas Grace Israel (Congo) has been in the Republic of Moldova since 2018 and is learning Romanian in order to be able to work here. She is a future specialist in psychology and social work and believes she could stay here longer. “The human factor is very important when you want to build a friendship in another country. Of course, there were language barriers, it was harder at first. However, I adapted and now I have a job where I learn a lot about the specifics of your country”, says Grace. Her opinion is shared by Waed Fadila from Israel and Ji Hyun Jo from Korea. Students value intercultural communication regardless of the country in which they study.

Her lecturer, Mrs. Svetlana Mogîldea, also argues that the diversity of cultures is one of the aspects that no modern university can overlook. The ULIM is no exception in this regard. “We are honoured to have, among our students, representatives of diverse cultures, at times exotic, from which we learn things daily. Cultural diversity and intercultural communication is about perseverance, ambition, flexibility, openness to the new. Last, but not least, a huge role is played by people’s ability to indulge in unusual things in their cultures. As a teacher, I believe that this last aspect is essential in the life of any student”, says the teacher thoughtfully.

And yes, in an attempt to gather more views on cultural diversity, I sought to talk to people of different nationalities and from different continents, and the bottom line is that, through active involvement, we can all contribute to the development of the cultural, economic and social life of the country in which we live.

Ngongo Bebelas Grace Israel from the Congo has been in the Republic of Moldova since 2018. Now she is studying at the faculty of psychology and social assistance. She wants to become a psychologist. © Natalia Florea
Ngongo Bebelas Grace Israel from the Congo has been in the Republic of Moldova since 2018. Now she is studying at the faculty of psychology and social assistance. She wants to become a psychologist. ©Natalia Florea

So, what does intercultural communication offer us?

It is certain that the closeness between the people of Moldova and the world can turn into a genuine sense of mutual respect, determined especially by the activity, the behaviour of the people. This is how a healthy foundation based on respect for each country and on effective intercultural communication can be laid. Furthermore, a close collaboration at an intergovernmental level is based also on the human factor, on the dedication of the people who, at different stages of their life, can authentically present the best qualities of the people to whom they belong.

In recent years, some non-governmental organisations from our country have already brought this issue to society’s attention, trying to help civil society to realise that the right to diversity implies the need for global solidarity and, moreover, that cultural diversity and intercultural communication require international understanding and co-operation, based on a set of ethical rules. They are aimed at knowing the language, respecting the values of the country in the spirit of cultivating universal values, and harmonising the different systems of culture.

Testimonies: Diversity means being different

Danielle, 27 years-old: “Diversity means accepting that people are different in terms of appearance and personality. Where we have two or more people, we have diversity. The differences between us may be different, depending on the life experiences we have had and which have influenced us. It is these differences between us which give us unique advantages and characteristics and a distinct perspective on life”.

Angela, 25 years-old: “Diversity... I think I experience diversity every day of my life. Foreign volunteers, travel, correspondence with people from all over the world, friends from other countries, people from different backgrounds with whom I have connected, friends who cross cultural or language barriers – all are important. I learn every day that diversity is a part of us, that we must accept it and create bridges to others”.

In conclusion: So, a community is richer the more diverse the people, customs, traditions, and points of view are. We just have to respect them. Let us hope that the Republic of Moldova will continue to promote the development of intercultural dialogue and that the process of European integration will mean different forms of dialogue for us. It would be a real opportunity for a fundamental knowledge of the culture of different countries and an attempt at mutual understanding, beyond the economic advantages.

About the author

Natalia Florea

Moldova

Other publications

A brief presentation of the Republic of Moldova to 6th grade students. © Natalia Florea

Respecting Cultural Diversity

Cultural diversity and cross-cultural communication can foster international understanding and co-operation. Only when we are open to the knowledge of languages, to respect the values of our own country and orientated towards cultivating universal values will we be able to contribute to the harmonisation of different culture systems.