Culture. We all have it.
When most people think of culture, they think of the usual suspects: language, art, cinema, etc. But this only scratches the surface and might not say much about how you carry your culture with you in your most basic interactions. It truly is just the tip of the iceberg.
The iceberg concept of culture introduces the idea that, beyond that visible surface of cuisine and clothing, exists a whole spectrum of cultural dimensions. This can include anything from how we use eye contact (is it a sign of honesty or defiance?), our relationship with time (is it polite to arrive early or late?), and family functions (is living with one’s parents a product of laziness or strong bonding?).
As part of the language training team, I’ve found that having this knowledge is essential for bettering our interactions with students and assisting them with cultural integration. With a national conversation intensifying around immigration, it can be easy to forget that integration does not happen overnight. It takes a great deal of time and patience, and can be highly stressful for newcomers. They face a dizzying range of challenges and questions, ones that we don’t consider in our native culture. They might wonder things like:
“How does my child’s grading system work? Why does my supervisor think it’s ok to pat my back? What do I do when I get pulled over?”
On top of that, they may not be aware of the deep culture that they bring with them, and how it affects their ability to integrate and interact with their new American neighbors. Coupled with a language barrier, many new students experience being yelled at, hung up on, and flat out ignored. They, meanwhile, may have no idea what caused the issue.
For example, I often wonder things like, “Why do Japanese students apologize so much for blowing their noses?” Knowing those obscure areas of a student’s culture can clarify why certain misunderstandings occur and what cultural lessons are relevant to what they need- why yes, you CAN blow your nose in front an American without insulting them!
I encourage the reader to take a look at the graphic above and reflect on how their own values line up with the listed dimensions. Do you regard the elderly with respect or discomfort? Is collaboration or hierarchy better in the workplace? Which animals are for friendship and which are for food?
Knowing these questions can not only foster cultural acceptance among individuals but lead to a deeper understanding and appreciation of your own identity. Know the depth of your culture, and embrace it!
-Anna Beagle, Training Coordinator