Culture is more than food, dance, and music. It impacts how people interact with the world around them and cannot always be seen. In the western culture of the United States, we focus on the obvious aspects of culture: food, dance, music, dress, and language. We do not look into the subtleties: how they view eye contact, are they individualistic or collectivist, how do they treat elders, what are the familial relations, is timeliness important, is it a matriarchal or patriarchal society? The list goes on and on.
At EMU, we have great opportunities to experience the food and other traditions of varying cultures that are represented here. Those activities are an excellent introduction to other cultures, but they only touch on the surface of culture. We need to begin acknowledging more than what is visible.
It is essential for us to begin recognizing what people with different backgrounds need to feel comfortable. A classroom in China versus a classroom in the United States have the potential to look incredibly different. Most Chinese classrooms require that students raise their hands and do not vocalize their opinions because their role is to respect and obey the teacher. In the United States, we usually allow students to converse and convey their opinions.
If professors randomly call on a student who is not familiar with that practice, they may not respond, which could lead the professor to dock their participation grade. The student’s lack of response was not due to the fact that they didn’t know the material, but because respecting the teacher, not interrupting, and keeping their opinion to themself is so ingrained in who they are that they would feel incredibly uncomfortable to break out of that.
One may argue that the student could just communicate that with the professor, but doing so may also be viewed as a sign of disrespect towards the teacher. Additionally, we aren’t always cognizant of these cultural tendencies. Sometimes they are such a deep part of who we are that we aren’t aware of why a situation makes us feel uncomfortable.
As a future educator, I need to become aware of these tendencies. Before taking off points for participation or assuming that a student isn’t paying attention because they aren’t making eye contact, I should consider why they are behaving that way. Only then will I be able to reach that student.
Beginning to think of the reasons why people behave the way they do is something that I not only want to apply in the classroom but also my day to day life. As a community that promotes cultural diversity, I challenge you all to do the same. Try participating in cultural practices that you are unfamiliar with.
See how it feels to adopt a collectivist perspective if you were raised with a focus on individualism, or an individualistic perspective if you were raised to value collectivism.
You may find that it isn’t a value you want to adopt, but you could decide to adopt that value later on. Regardless of which values you decide to keep, it will be an opportunity to delve into aspects of culture that exist deeper than the surface.
Our cultural background is more than what is tangible, so let’s start acknowledging the subtleties that make up who we are. By acknowledging the nuances of who we are, we can begin to understand ourselves and those around us with more clarity, which will ultimately lead to a stronger community.