Okay. Now for the continuation from the other day, as promised.
The Q&A went until the first bell. I gave the students their 10 minute break and then we continued on by discussing different areas of cultural differences. I had a power point that covered the topics of concept of self, social relationships, friendships, harmony vs. truth , time consciousness, etc. For each topic I talked about how things are here in our Asian country and how things are in America. As I talked about things here I asked them, “Is this true?” Usually, they agreed completely. I then explained that aspect of American culture. They’re usually pretty different. So, again… Trying to encourage stepping out of ourselves, I asked “If you went to America, how would this cultural difference affect you? How would it make you feel?” Etc. Then I flipped the tables. “If an American came here, how do you think this would affect them? How do you think they would feel?” Then of course, they would ask my perspective.“You are an American who lives here. Are we correct? How do you feel about this difference?” It was all rather interesting and enlightening. [This really is something I think it’s very important for them to understand. They are English majors. Many of them will work with foreigners in the future as tour guides, translators, businessmen and women in foreign companies, etc. They need to understand the cultures they will interact with if they are going to be successful at such jobs.]
Would you like to hear about a few of these differences and their thoughts on the affects that they might have? Okay. I shall tell you.
Concept of Self – This society has a collective view of self. They place a high value on cooperation and they do a lot of “group thinking.” Americans are much more individually oriented. We have a very high value on freedom and thus we value having “a mind of our own.” After discussing various ways that these things play out in our cultures I asked them the question about how this difference would affect them if they moved to/visited America. “I think we would feel very lonely. We wouldn’t know who to go to when we need to think about things.” “And how do you think Americans would feel if they came here?” “Very happy about it!” one girl shouted. “Why do you think that they would be very happy about it?” “Because, they wouldn’t have to do things alone anymore. They will have so many friends to do things with.” “What do you think?” “Well, yes sometimes it does make me happy to have so many friends. But sometimes, as an American, I think I could do a faster job if I did it by myself. Also, sometimes when there is a decision to be made and everyone has to talk to everyone until there is a group agreement, it exhausts me. I think that someone should just be a leader and make a decision so that we can start.”
Harmony vs. Truth – This society avoids direct confrontation and controversial topics. They are very concerned with keeping harmony and saving face. Americans are willing to directly confront, often discuss controversial topics, will argue about their opinions about what is true, and are really not concerned with saving face. They really don’t even understand the concept of direct confrontation, at least not when I try to explain it in English… so I demonstrate by walking up to a student and immediately addressing a “problem.” Then I demonstrate their way by walking up to the student and acting as if there is no problem, then talking about topic 1, topic 2, topic 3, topic 4, topic 5, and then briefly kinda sorta mentioning the problem. (I have a lot of fun with this.) They totally get it. “Yes! Yes! We always do that. That is our way. We would NEVER do the first way!” “Okay, how does the American way make you feel?” “Uncomfortable.” “If you went to America, would this difference be hard for you?” They usually agree that it would definitely make them uncomfortable for a while but that they could adjust. They usually say, “I think the American way for this is good, if I could get used to it.” They are usually very interested in hearing my perspective on these things. “Well, it is a cultural difference I have to be very aware of. I do not think of myself as a confrontational person, but compared to people here I probably am much more confrontational, so I have to be aware. I do not think about losing face but I need to think about how things I do or say could make someone else feel like they are losing face. It does not come naturally. I have to work at remembering. I think sometimes I make mistakes. Also, I am an opinionated person and I often do not hesitate to argue with people if I disagree. I have to remember that here, it is not always appropriate to communicate in the same way that I am used to.” I also remind them that westerners are not concerned with issues of face. Students are often afraid to speak English with foreigners because they know they will make mistakes and they are afraid of losing face. I tell them, “You never need to be afraid of losing face because of making mistakes when talking to a foreigner. We do not even know that you HAVE a face!” They think it’s hilarious!
[To be continued… again.]