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Intercultural Understanding: A Class Activity

October 6, 2016
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The writer Anais Nin said, “we don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” We don’t often realize the filter through which we see the world. Our upbringing, culture and beliefs are just a few of the factors that can tint our perception. Our thinking is something we can easily become aware however. Below is an interesting activity you can do with your friends, classmates or students to explore the ways we can see and interpret things and events.

We’ve all heard of the glass is half full or half empty concept. We even have metaphors such as “to see the world through rose colored glasses.” (Glasses are also a great metaphor for discussing the meaning of culture). To give our own example, suppose it’s raining. People who prefer fair weather could see the dark clouds and puddles forming and feel annoyed. Had those same people been through a period of drought they may instead be happy to see it raining and hope for it to continue.

This is called subjectivity, the personal and varying ways different people can view the same thing. A cultural example may be how someone of an older generation views the style of dress today versus a person from a younger generation. The younger generation may view their clothes as stylish while the older generation may find the outfit too revealing. Their experience filters their feelings.

Global Citizenship Skill Building

We can train ourselves to be conscious of our thought processes and bring awareness to opinions that before may have been automatic. Kyoung-Ah Nam and Colleen M. Meyers have designed an exercise to assist people in gaining awareness of their habits of perception; its name is the initials DAE. Previously it was Describe, Interpret and Evaluate but its acronym of DIE was a little ominous so Interpret was changed to Evaluate, it is described below.

D = describe the event.
A = analyze the event/object/photo several ways.
E = evaluate your results.

Description: What is going on? Some people may call this the “data.” It’s “just the facts” that can be generally agreed upon and described as plainly as possible. For example, you hear somebody raising his or her voice. If your first instinct is to say, “they are angry,” then you are using the A for analyze, you are making an explanation of what is happening. Instead, if you were to only describe, you would say “the person is raising their voice,” or “they are speaking more loudly than before.”

Analyze: Why is it happening? This is where alternative explanations are possible. There are many reasons why somebody would raise their voice, perhaps they are not angry but instead they are speaking to a person who has hearing difficulty. Maybe they themselves have hearing difficulty and this is why they are raising their voice, or perhaps it is noisy where they are. With analysis there are a number of explanations that can be possible, it is where we can project many ideas onto a situation.

Evaluate: How do I feel about it? This is concerned mainly with your personal opinion and no one else has to agree. You may feel the person is annoying for talking loudly, or inconsiderate since they disturbed you. This is what people refer to as subjective experience, filtered by personal perspective, their individual way of looking at things.

Nam and Meyers write, “The DAE model is an engaging way to bring out several themes important in communication generally and intercultural relations specifically. We often respond to people or situations unfamiliar to us with our most subjective evaluations, projecting our judgments onto what we think we see (or hear or feel or otherwise perceive).” A person’s first instinct can often be to evaluate. To use words like pretty, interesting, annoying, ugly, great and so on. (1)

Cultural Competence Activities

The lesson plan and the slideshare below should help to raise awareness of the ways in which we can habitually take opinions, evaluations and interpretations as facts. Even in our use of wording can there be hidden evaluations, such as “European settlement” whereas some call it an “invasion.” It’s a great exercise to learn to notice our patterns of responding to things through certain lenses.

Use this in your lessons (embedded slideshare see attached ppt and upload to CI slideshare account through LinkedIn – it’s a good way to build links)

Time: 20-30mins including discussion
Materials needed: the Slideshare embedded here, Images from sources such as National Geographic, Discovery Channel, BBC, ABC, anything that could be interpreted in different ways. They can either be cutouts or projections on the board.
Objective: In response to a range of images of people the learners will declare whether a statement about them is defined as Description, Analysis or Evaluation.
Procedure: Using the Slideshare embedded on this page, students can take turns selecting D, A or E in response to the slide cues. The activity can be extended allowing students to collect their own images and assign D, A and E statements and opening them up for class discussion. Please share your slides on slideshare in the comments below.


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