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"The problems that we have created
cannot be solved at the level of thinking that created them."

Albert Einstein

WHAT IS CULTURE?

Culture consists of the socially learned ways of living in human groups. It embraces all aspects of social life, including both thought and behavior. It is a complex whole which includes language, knowledge, belief, morals, law, esthetic taste (including art, architecture, food, dress) and customs.

As a fish in the water, in ordinary circumstances we may fail to notice or take account of its conditioning effect on us because our culture is part of the very medium in which we exist. The values held dear and the meanings of behaviors within a nation, a language group or any organized collective are, as the American anthropologist Edward Hall has noted, “in accordance with an elaborate and secret code that is written nowhere, known by no one, and understood by all.”


THE DILEMMA

Most often, the existence of culture is noticed in those instances in which the observer is offended, disgusted or merely puzzled by another’s behavior. A clash of cultures is often signaled when a human relation is running against the current, when one confronts an original experience, when something appears strange, spare, with pieces left over that do not fit into one’s accustomed framework.

Cross-cultural understanding necessarily involves discovering who you think you are, what you think you are doing, and to what end you think you are doing it; as well as who you think they are, what they are doing, and for what reason you think they are doing what they are doing. If it were only this, it would be complicated enough. But also involved is who they think they are, what they think they are doing, and for what ends they think they are doing it; and finally, who they think you are, what you are doing, and for what reason they think you are doing what you are doing.


CONFRONTING THE DILEMMA

One may notice that, in particular, culture consists of a framework of values and shared understandings giving meanings to words, actions, postures, gestures, tones of voice, facial expressions, how to deal with the subject of time, space, materials, how to work, play, make love, treat others, defend oneself.

When there is a conflict of values, a real learning opportunity is possible. For this reason, values have been called “the enzymes of any innovative learning process.”

We assume that self-awareness and cultural-awareness are inseparable. Self-awareness is approached with the emphasis on each participant working out his or her relationship with the culture based on actual confrontations of personal values and perceptions with the values and perceptions of others.

Thus, the learner may be facilitated through the use of:

  • Audio-visual materials that are intended to illustrate the wide diversity
    in cultures as well as the universal aspects.
  • Discussions of cultural stereotyping.
  • Individual and group thought-experiments that help in the exploration of
    cross-cultural understanding.
  • Practice in dealing with differences. The basic assumptions in points of
    conflict will be examined, as well as one’s own cultural values.
The Latin word contexere is the root of the word “context.” It means to weave together. In all of these activities, the emphasis will be on weaving together new contexts (based on individual personal experiences) which may clarify cross-cultural confusion.