Becoming Part of the Community
- Asia, The Caribbean, Dominican Republic, Thailand
- Grades 9-12
- Cross-Cultural Understanding
- 40 minutes
Students will examine how individual Peace Corps Volunteers succeeded in adapting to their new cultural environments.
Volunteers come to the Peace Corps from all the U.S. states and territories. Some are just out of college; some are just starting retirement. They represent a cross-section of ethnic and economic backgrounds. But when Volunteers return from their host countries, they share a new perspective on the world and its peoples. They appreciate the diversity of human life, and at the same time they treasure our common bonds.
Students will identify the features of culture experienced by Peace Corps Volunteers in two different countries.
Students will identify the skills and attitudes required for successful cross-cultural experiences.
- "She's a Thai" by Sharon London (see link above).
- "Drip Diplomacy" by Keith Talbot (see link above).
- Review or introduce the Features of Culture list (see link above). Emphasize the idea that these universals serve as a way of looking at the things that cultures have in common. For example, all cultures have ways of acquiring food. American families who shop at supermarkets and Ugandan families who grow almost everything they eat have that need in common.
- Ask students to read "She's a Thai" and "Drip Diplomacy." As they read, they should look for details that correspond with the "Features of Culture" list, and for evidence of the ways each Volunteer learned to fit into the host communities. Be sure students know that the stories do not exhibit all of the features of culture.
- When students have finished reading, divide the class into several small groups. Have each group match details from the stories with as many features of culture as possible. Students should discuss and negotiate their ideas until all group members agree on the best representation. Each group's conclusions should be listed on a large sheet of paper and posted on a classroom wall. Then, as a full class, discuss the differences and similarities among the small-group observations.
- Ask each group to identify two to three attitudes or actions that they believe helped the Volunteer have a successful experience in the host country.
Use the following questions to focus discussion of Sharon London's and Keith Talbot's experiences.
- How does it feel to be in a place that is completely new to you?
- What are some of the cultural differences that Sharon London and Keith Talbot faced in their host countries? (Possible answers: new languages, different standards of courtesy and beauty, different foods)
- Which features of culture are most apparent in these readings?
- What did the Volunteers do to learn to feel at home in their host communities? (Students will need to infer responses. Possible answers: The Volunteers carefully observed the behaviors and practices of their hosts; they made efforts to learn Spanish and Thai; they each approached their assignments with curiosity and a sense of humor.)
- What lessons do these readings offer about dealing with unfamiliar situations or people?
- What if these stories were written about the Volunteers from Thai or Dominican perspectives?
- What are some questions you can ask yourself the next time you are puzzled by another person's way of doing things?
- If your class is matched with a Peace Corps Volunteer through the World Wise Schools program, have students find examples of cultural universals in letters from the Volunteer.
- Have students research the customs and norms of a country they would like to visit. Students should use the Features of Culture list (see link above) to outline a report on the country they choose. The Peace Corps website will be helpful in this activity.