Day Two: Culture Bumps

12605455_10154469477537646_1804089523412853627_oDuring the second day of the student exchange at Romain Rolland FLS, I gave a workshop on intercultural communication because it was important to sensitize the students to the areas of culture which are likely to cause misunderstandings. The workshop I conducted focused on how our expectations of others might produce all sorts of hilarious, confusing, annoying or embarrassing outcomes.

For my purposes I had selected two TED talks – I find these resources absolute gems because they are a) insightful,  b) fun,  c) easily available, and d) usually accompanied by subtitles – an important consideration when we work with students with different levels of English.

The first thing I asked the 60 students in the hall was to write down the name of the street where they live. I then encouraged them to reflect on what names their streets have – it was interesting to get a variety of responses ranging from flowers, through wells, names of historic figures to artists and even celebrities. We didn;t elaborate on this but we became a little more aware that  such simple things as street names are culturally loaded because it emerged that in Spain and Bulgaria, for example, the names of some  streets have been changed over the years – a result of political changes, whereas Sweden sustained more stability in that respect and generally avoided naming streets after historic figures with a just a few exceptions. This exercise was a pre-watching task to the following two-min video.

Weird or Just Different?

As the speaker says, there is a flip side to everything and this led us to watch a 19-min video where the speaker gives plenty of examples to illustrate the challenges of communicating across cultures.

This TedEx talk is a good start for teachers who would like to expose their students to

  • the diversity of behaviors associated with
  • the different values of world cultures.

The speaker makes a point that instead of focusing on the “other” culture, when it comes to communicating successfully across cultures, the best approach is to look at our own culture and try to understand our own cultural make-up through the eyes of what others see.

This video introduces the concept of culture as something “accepted and familiar” and this familiarity we all share with our culture groups makes for culture bumps as what we perceive as “right”and “correct”for us is not necessarily “right”and “correct”for the other. After watching the video the students could be given a handout(see below)

  • to answer  Cross-cultural communication.questions; this comprehension check could be  followed by
  • a discussion where the  teacher guides students’ responses to the arguments and examples given in the video; the final step could be
  • reflection on one’s own cultural identity in their diaries.(e.g. how similar of different is my culture on a selected number of incidents – e.g space/queuing and what value does this indicate?)

Here’s the second video:


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