Culture hides much more than it reveals, and strangely enough what it hides, it hides most effectively from its own participants. Years of study have convinced me that the real job is not to understand foreign culture but to understand our own.
While Professor Smith expected her Libyan students to have language and cultural differences, she didn’t expect the “small” differences such as crossing their arms. In particular, she expected her “graduate” students to just “know” certain things. Surely they know….
What happens at the moment of encountering a difference?
Let’s put this culture bump under a microscope to see what happens.
At the moment of the bump, two things occur simultaneously
She is surprised, and confused. She actually loses her certainty about her role as the professor - How do her students “see” her? As a professor she unconsciously assumes that students are either interested or disinterested. The “bump” breaks an implicit bond out of which there is a shared agreement of what constitutes “interest” or disinterest”.
We need to continue the process in order to understand not only why we are different but how we are the same. We do this by including a self reflective element that can lead to a particular kind of conversation – a culture free conversation .
A culture free conversation between Professor Smith and the Libyan students
Led to a conscious awareness by Professor Smith of her own expectations:
1. While Libyan students may cross their arms over their chest as a sign of respect or to show that they are paying attention and focusing on the professor, Americans frequently cross their arms when they are uncertain about what someone is saying or when they disagree with what is being said.
2. Obviously, doing homework and preparing for class are ways that students in both cultures show respect. However, in addition, American students tend to show that they are paying attention by looking directly at the professor, asking questions, taking notes and/or nodding occasionally .
Welcome to the Spaceship Perception. Please feel free to visit each of the three “portholes”. Answer the questions about each one of the three scenes. The order in which you look at the scenes is irrelevant.
What is your first thought as you look at this photo?
Is your reaction to this scene generally a positive one or a negative one? Why?
What do you think is happening here?
Photos from the Toolkit for Culture and Communication .
I am Tuk Bum Kim. Today is my wedding day, and I am very nervous. In fact, it seems like a dream to me. You see, I am marrying my best friend. I have known Young for many years, because my wife and I were students together at the music conservatory. We have played music together since we were teenagers! But only in the last year did we realize that we were “soul mates”.
We are both very excited because as soon as we are married, we will leave for the United States. My wife will study for her doctorate in music, and I will study for my Master’s Degree in music. These last years have only been the beginning of a wonderful life. Now we will make beautiful music together for the rest of our lives.
I am Lucy Mae. I am riding a four-wheeler on my 90th birthday. This has been a wonderful day for me. Actually the celebration started a week ago when my six daughters came to Fort Worth and began to prepare this party. They bought food and began to cook. They bought decorations and decorated the house. (The house belongs to my granddaughter, Norma Mae. She is named for me.)
They decorated the house like a long time ago when I was a girl. I was raised in a big family on the frontier of Texas. My Daddy was a farmer and we children (there were fourteen of us) helped Mother and Dad on the farm. So my girls decorated with old cowboy type of decorations like bales of hay and red checkered table cloths.
They made western food too. We had bar-b-q, red beans, potato salad, green salad and lots of sweets. We have always had lots of desserts in my family. I guess that is because Mother had me to make all the sweets for the family when I was a girl. I am a pretty good dessert-maker. Of course, there were lots of other things to do when I was a girl, but I’ll tell you about those things at another time.
Back to my party-all my nieces and nephews have come in today for the party too. I am so happy to see all of my family together-cooking and visiting. When it came time to eat, we all held hands and said a prayer, thanking God for our family, the food and all His many blessings. And what am I doing on a four-wheeler? Well it was my great granddaughter, Lori’s idea. She said, “Gam-Let’s ride the four-wheeler. Want to?” I thought it would be fun and sure enough, we had a great time - until my girls came out and had a fit!