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Culture is the learned base-point reference that one has in life from their parents, their friends, and their community. It is, generally, linked to a common language, and it is the common language that unites people to others. Like an iceberg, only a small portion of culture is seen at the surface. Deep culture has been defined as a sub-category that is linked to an even smaller circle of people (members of a particular cultural group). It was proposed that general elements of culture (surface culture) rarely lead to misunderstandings.
The need to appreciate and understand other cultures, we are being taught some general characteristics. On the other hand, general characteristics are also overgeneralizations called stereotyping. Two vital two-way processes generally occur: acculturation and assimilation (a change in culture) are that most expatriates experience when living in a new country. However, some customs remain shared and unique to each specific group. And, then again, some group do not come to the United States with the intention of either of these processes occurring.
Obviously, some changes are adopted.
My own experience includes twice living in Australia and once in Mexico. Even in the English- Each culture has its own sense of values. Living in a country that is new to another requires changes which generally take place naturally. These include four “stages of cultural change”: 1) honeymoon stage, 2) hostility stage, 3) humor stage, and 4) home stage. And, if these stages seem familiar, they can be applied to everyone who experiences unusual or particular changes in their life.
Stages are not always clear-cut and do not always follow the linear manner in which they are presented. Sometimes one vacillates to and fro, but the process, in time, reaches the acceptance stage. Knowing what students from other nationalities are facing (even if they might already speak English) is useful and helps the teacher to better connect, and better facilitate learning for those students.
Some shared practices and traditions include food, holidays, arts, folklore, history, personalities, ceremony, family ties, and attitudes of relationships, beauty, and ethics. In my own experience as an expat, I found that missing certain foods was one of the first and strongest voids of living abroad (though I did add some of the national cuisines to my list of favorites). Realizing that these are different in different cultures is important to know, and some of them become vital prerequisites to knowing how to view or work with one from another culture. Business is not always business as usual. Knowing the differences reduces misunderstandings. Some cultures, like the traditional American culture, is very individualistic. Others are more collective in view. Some cultures are more merit-based than others, some more inclined to social status or personal worth. Some cultures are more accepting of personal obligations while others hold to feeling entitled. Culture is very multi-faceted and includes concepts like taboos, personal space, and even the concept of time.
In closing, I remember my first year teaching in Australia. I thought I understood and experienced multi-cultural classes in the United States as I had been in a few. In Australia, however, I found myself in a classroom where 20% of the students were Aboriginal, 10-15% were Asian (literally, immigrants from Asia), 35% from Great Britain, and maybe that same amount being native-born Aussies). One of the first lessons I learned is that some phrases do NOT mean there what they mean to us in the USA. For example, when I cornered a student and asked why they did not bring their book (or assignment, I do not fully recall now) to class their reply was, “I couldn’t be bothered”. I nearly lost it and had to take a few breaths before seeking clarification. I discovered that was not used in the rude connotation we might consider it here in the USA. For him, it meant, “I was rushed and didn’t have the time to get it.” On a similar note, I had to correct an aboriginal boy one day whom I held after class. I kept noticing that he would not look at me when I spoke to him. I was, of course, a bit disturbed at the rudeness. Later I discovered just the opposite. In the Aboriginal home, children are taught that respect is to not look the person in the eyes, particularly if you are being corrected. Not having a basic understanding of various cultures will create misunderstandings in the classroom. They can create barriers if the teacher does not seek to learn and question cultural backgrounds. Someone once said, knowing is half the battle. Obviously, I re-approached this student and apologized for my lack of cultural awareness.
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