On Being Seen as Different
Building Bridges - Unit II
- Africa, Asia, Central America and Mexico, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, North Africa and the Middle East, Pacific Islands, South America, The Caribbean, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe
- Grades 6-8, Grades 9-12
- Cross-Cultural Understanding
Students will discover that while other cultures may seem strange or odd in some ways, their own culture can seem similarly strange or odd to those in other cultures.
This lesson and those following are designed to guide students to the understanding that individuals from other cultures may not see the world in the same way that Americans do. What Americans may regard as different or strange may be considered perfectly normal in another culture. Students will realize that understanding someone from another culture can sometimes be hard because people see the world, themselves, and others in fundamentally different ways. Students will explore answers to the questions: How does it feel when others see you as different or as an outsider? How do others feel when you see them as different? How do beliefs, values, and cultural upbringing influence the way people behave? What is cultural stereotyping, and how can it be avoided?
As they explore these questions, students will achieve a broader perspective on their own culture and an increased sensitivity to the customs, values, and beliefs of other cultures. This new awareness should help them become more understanding of students in their own school who may have come from a culture other than their own.
Quote for Thought: Remember that just as you judge from your cultural standpoint, you are being judged from theirs.
—Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Fiji Islands
- Students will be able to explain why understanding someone from another culture can sometimes be hard.
- Students will be able to give examples of how people see the world, themselves, and others in fundamentally different ways.
- Paper and pencils
- Interview with a Peace Corps Volunteer: On Being Viewed as Strange
Give students about 15 minutes to write answers to the following:
- How does it feel to be seen by others as different—as an outsider? Describe such an experience.
- Describe an instance when you considered someone else to be different—or an outsider. Explain what led you to that judgment.
- Ask students to compare their written responses to the second question with those of a partner.
- Ask for volunteers to share their responses with the whole class. Summarize the responses on the chalkboard. Remain nonjudgmental about the responses students give.
Explain that people in one culture—the United States, for example—often think someone from another culture is different because of differences in language, clothing, customs, behavior, or beliefs. However, people from the other culture may think U.S. citizens are different for the very same reasons.
One easy example may serve to make the point immediately. Ask students if they know someone from another country who has an accent. Point out that each person who hears an accent in someone else will likewise be perceived by the other person as having an accent herself or himself. For example, an American student talking with someone from Scotland and hearing a strong Scottish accent will be heard as having a strong American accent, even if it is not a particularly regional American accent.
Read aloud the anecdote "Where There's a Will," which follows. When you are finished reading, ask the students to try to sum up what was occurring in the communication between the two people.
Where There's a Will
The scene is a cafe in Tangiers. Tomorrow is Saturday. I've just invited a Moroccan friend to a picnic at the beach. Will he come? "Perhaps," he says in English, translating from the Arabic inshallah, which literally means "If God is willing." I'm feeling hurt. What does he mean, "Perhaps"? Either he wants to come or he doesn't. It's up to him. If he doesn't want to come, he only has to say so. He doesn't understand why I seem upset, and I don't quite grasp "Perhaps." Our two cultures confront each other across the teacups.
Only several years later, reading a book about culture, did I understand. He would come, he meant, if Allah willed it. His wanting to come and his being permitted to come were not one and the same. In Morocco, unlike in America, where there's a will there is not necessarily a way. So who was I to demand an answer to my questions? And who was he to give one?
—Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Morocco
- Read aloud or have students read the dialogue "Interview With a Peace Corps Volunteer: On Being Viewed as Strange," available as a pdf file.
- Make the point that to understand another culture, you first need to understand your own—and see yourself as others might see you.
Read "Home Alone in the Dominican Republic" (below) aloud to your students. Explain that the anecdote, told by a Peace Corps Volunteer, illustrates how American behavior can be seen as different or strange in another culture.
Home Alone in the Dominican Republic
I was sometimes considered odd or strange in the Dominican Republic in terms of my being used to having private space. For example, there would be times when I would want to sit down by myself in my own room and just read a book. And anytime I was reading a book, my Dominican neighbors always assumed I was studying. It was completely outside of the realm of possibility for them that anyone would choose to sit alone, all by themselves, and read for pleasure. Often they would stop by with some food to "help me study." This would inevitably lead to long conversations. From the Dominican point of view, this was a gesture of hospitality. And Dominicans place a great value on hospitality. Another example of my being considered "odd" was the fact that I lived alone and that, at times, I wanted to be by myself. It was hard for my Dominican neighbors to understand this. Very few, if any, people live by themselves in the Dominican Republic. Everyone has a family or is connected to a family or lives with a family or an extended family. If I wanted to be alone, they would think I was sick and send someone over to stay with me. If I wanted to be alone much of the time, they would think I was rude or ignoring them, and their feelings would be hurt.
—Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Krystal Williams, Dominican Republic
- Ask students to describe what they think are one or more cultural values in the Dominican Republic, based on what they learned from this passage.
- Ask students to imagine that they are a Peace Corps Volunteer in Krystal Williams' situation. How would they handle the cultural differences respectfully? List students' responses on the chalkboard. Elicit a number of alternatives for handling a delicate situation with respect.
Ask students to write and perform a brief skit about some aspect of Krystal's situation. Have them form groups of four. Ask a volunteer from each group to play the role of Krystal or someone like her. The other three members of each group will play the role of Dominicans. Have all four members of each group write the skit together.
Give students the following guidelines:
- The skit should illustrate exactly what the cultural differences are, and why.
- The skit should contain a respectful resolution of the conflict caused by individuals from each culture seeing the same situation in a different way.
- The skit should not oversimplify the problem.
- Give students 15–20 minutes to prepare their skits. Then ask for volunteers to act them out.
- Debrief the students by asking what they have learned from the skit. Ask them to list in writing things they realized from the skit that they hadn't thought of before.
Frameworks & Standards
- To understand another culture, you first have to understand your own.
- Understanding someone from another culture can be hard. People really do see the world in fundamentally different ways. People behave as they do because of the things they believe in and value.
- Beliefs vary from person to person and culture to culture.
- How do your beliefs, values, and cultural upbringing influence the way you behave?
- How does it feel when others see you as different—or as an outsider?
- How do others' beliefs, values, and cultural upbringing influence the way they behave?
If you have a multicultural class or have international exchange students in your school, help your class develop a project to foster better understanding and communication among the students. Some ideas for action:
- Conduct a survey to determine what communication difficulties, if any, exist among students of different cultural backgrounds. Have students devise ways to resolve these difficulties.
- Invite returned Peace Corps Volunteers or parents of international students to speak to your students and share information about the language, culture, and customs of their countries. Or join World Wise Schools' match program.