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Cultural Awareness: Cultural Values

Collective & individualist cultures

Australia, and many Western countries, tend to be more individualistic in nature, where people:

  • focus on an individuals' achievements 
  • follow rules with an emphasis on fairness

In contrast, collectivist societies:

  • are team oriented. Decisions are made for the group and everyone has a clear position within a group. 
  • have rules that are more flexible and are based on relationship

80% of the world's people live in societies that are collectivist in nature.

Barbara Reekman, AMEP Pathways Guidance Coordinator, discusses the differences between collectivist and individualistic cultures.

Cultural values

Nine icons displayed in a square: (1) Caution, Conflict (2) Holy Cross, Religion, (3) Lock, Privacy, (4) Man & Woman, Gender, (5) Family, (6) Policeman, Authority, (7) Clock, Time, (8) Incorrect, Cross, Rules, (9) Cutlery, Food.

This page lists a few topic areas to bear in mind when considering different cultures. These are some areas where differences in cultural values often occur. It is not, however, an exhaustive list. These concepts can be highly sensitive so it is important to approach these with empathy and respect. 








All images from CC0 Creative Commons Exclamation mark; Catholic; Padlock; Male; Lady; Social service; Police; Icon; False; Silverware

Icon: Caution, ConflictConflict
Different cultures deal with conflict and disagreements differently. Some will expect clear and direct communication, while others would find this disrespectful.

Icon: Holy Cross, ReligionReligion
Religion can significantly impact a person’s worldview and their behaviour in everyday life. Observance of religious rituals and customs varies and is nuanced between cultures and individuals.


Icon: Lock, PrivacyPrivacy
The importance of privacy, personal expression and how open someone is with personal details varies considerably among different cultures.

Icon: Man & Woman, GenderGender 
Male and female roles as well as cross gender interaction vary widely between cultures. Many of these differences exist as a form of respect.


Icon: Family, CommunityFamily & Community 
The family unit and the dynamics within families vary greatly within cultures.  Some cultures have clear expectations of family members; what these are and how well defined these are vary too. For some, the concept of family can include the extended family and even the larger community.

Icon: Policeman, AuthorityAuthority & Hierarchy 
The way cultural groups define authority figures and how they show their respect differs greatly. For some cultures there are clear levels of authority while in other cultures there may be a much flatter structure or may not be as obvious. Some factors that may determine authority include age, experience, education or experience.

Icon: Clock, TimeTime 
The importance of punctuality is not universal. In some cultures, strict adherence to appointments is expected where other cultures are much more flexible

Icon: Incorrect, Cross, RulesRules 
Similar to time management, how strictly rules are enforced and what concessions can be made vary from culture to culture.

Icon: Cutlery, FoodFood
People are passionate about food! Each culture has their own unique cuisine. There are often ritual or religious connections to meal preparation and participation.

Culture shock

Many students will be suffering culture shock. They may seem to be constantly tired and be finding everything ‘too difficult’. It is worth considering these points:

  • It is a major stress and challenge to adjust to a new society with different social structures, institutions, cultural values and expectations, different politics and economy, different food, and new and unfamiliar beliefs and practices.
  • There are also the challenges of trying to learn English, organising housing, health care, schooling for children, trying to find employment, and perhaps getting qualifications recognised or undergoing retraining.
  • These tasks may be complicated by language barriers.