A famous saying goes that when we travel far enough, we meet ourselves. Our project has given us the opportunity to go on a journey to places some of us had never been only to find out who we are, what we believe in and how best to negotiate the trip together.
Our project explores the topic of culture. It was important to make better sense of what culture is and how it shapes our beliefs, our attitudes, our communication styles and behaviours.
Key Terms Defined
Culture is often considered to be the fifth skill in language learning but as a term it is quite fluid, shapeless, amorphous and therefore difficult to define. However cultural literacy or else cultural intelligence is a must in the 21st century for obvious reasons – our increased mobility makes it mandatory to develop this skill if we want to communicate successfully across borders. In particular, our project focused on creating activities for students to develop their abilities
to perceive, to understand, and ultimately to accept cultural relativity – in other words to understand, through experience and reflection, that my way may not be our way but we need to find a way to share the world we inhabit together, without conflict and for a good cause.
Cultural intelligence involves:
- The ability to perceive and recognize cultural differences.
- The ability to accept cultural differences.
- The ability to appreciate and value cultural differences.
We focused our work on two big categories of culture:
“Big C” culture
“Big C” culture refers to that culture which is most visible. Some visible forms of culture include
- Popular culture,
- Literature, and
These are things that will never go away.
When learning about a new culture, the “big C” cultural elements would be discovered first; they are the most overt forms of culture.These are the “Shakespeares”, the “Gaudi’s”, the Michelangelos, the Vazovs – the famous figures, literature, architecture, music, dance, history – things that will never go away.
“Little c” culture
“Little c” culture, in contrast, in the more invisible type of culture associated with a region, group of people, language, etc. Some examples of little c culture include
- communication styles,
- verbal and non-verbal language symbols,
- cultural norms (what is proper and improper in social interactions),
- how to behave,
- myths and legends
This is the stuff that is here today and may go away tomorrow.; yet it makes living today absolutely positively possible. We can’t live without little c culture; we can;t communicate without little c culture. A lot of intercultural communication is based on duality – either or, this or that. Our perception plays a huge part in this process.
Exploring cultural differences is in fact a journey where we constantly question the obvious, we are often unsure whether what we do is what we should do whether what we say or not say is appropriate, polite, the ‘right; thing to do.
As part of the project we conducted a card game, Barnga, a simulation which put students in a situation where each player had different rules but none knew about that. (You can read more about Barnga here..) We usually assume that when we play cards, the rules are the same. The game of cards was a metaphor for the way we are socialised into a culture, and our cultures are different, this means that our rules are not necessarily the same. But we are taught to play by our culture’s rules and when we have to communicate/play with others whose rules are different, all sorts of intense feelings occur – anger, confusion, frustration.
Finally, exploiting cultural differences and getting an insight into other people’s ways is a powerful way for young people to realise the importance of suspending judgment, being flexible, being patient and empathetic for successful communication to take place. Because, let’s face it, we cannot not communicate with other cultures, we live in an increasingly globalised world and the more culturally literate and intelligent we are, the better our chances of doing successful business together, of establishing meaningful friendships and basically becoming accepting in a world that is becoming increasingly diverse and challenging to inhabit.