Science fiction fans will recognize a familiar theme as they participate in this simulation. Many science fiction authors have explored how humans will behave when we meet an alien race for the first time. "Brief Encounters" brings the question closer to home and asks students to explore the interaction of two cultures, one outgoing and casual, the other more reserved and formal, with very different social norms.
- Students will gain skills in observing and describing behaviors.
- Students will develop an understanding of how our cultural values influence the way we view other groups.
- A whistle and a timer to help you pace the game
- Recorded music
- Remove all furniture from the center of the classroom. Students will need space to move around.
- Divide the participants into three groups. Two groups should be about the same size and should have roughly equal numbers of males and females, if possible. A smaller group of two to three students will act as observers.
- Tell the observers that they will be watching closely as two different cultural groups interact. They may move among the participants, but they may not touch or speak to them. Their observations will help the class view the activity with a wider perspective during the debriefing.
- Send the Pandya and Chispa groups to opposite corners of the room. Distribute copies of the Pandya cultural norms sheet to one group and the Chispa cultural norms sheet to the other group. Ask the members of each culture to read these sheets and to discuss their norms among themselves.
- Visit the Pandyas and clarify their values. Emphasize the importance of staying in character. Emphasize that the male students should be chaperoned at all times. Remind them of their reluctance to initiate contacts with people of other cultures.
- Visit the Chispas and clarify their values. Emphasize the importance of making several brief contacts rather than a few lengthy ones. Define a contact as eliciting a verbal or a nonverbal response from a member of the other culture. Remind them of their friendly, outgoing nature and their eagerness to meet people from other cultures.
- If students ask about the scoring system that appears on the norms sheets, tell them you will discuss this aspect of the game during the debriefing. Actually, you will not keep score. The point systems are printed on the norm sheets to establish a reward system for "good" behavior as defined by each of the two cultures.
- Announce that the two student groups have been invited to a party sponsored by an international student exchange organization. The party organizers hope the two groups will get acquainted and learn about each other. When students return to their home schools, they will present culture reports to their classmates. The students are welcome to mingle, dance, and talk.
- Start the music and let the two cultures interact. The teacher and student observers should walk among the groups, looking for behaviors that can be described and discussed during debriefing.
- After 10 to 12 minutes, blow the whistle to end the party. Ask the students to meet once more in opposite corners of the room and to make notes for their culture reports.
- Give each group about 10 minutes to create a brief report. The Chispas' report will describe the Pandya behavior and values that their classmates might expect to encounter if they visited the Pandya nation. The Pandyas will create a similar description of the Chispas.
- Ask a representative from the Chispas to present the group's report to the class. Then ask a representative from the Pandyas to read that group's norms sheet. Ask the Chispas to note how their reports compared to the Pandyas' norms sheet.
- Repeat with a Pandya representative sharing the group's report on the Chispas.
Use the following questions to guide discussion of how our cultural biases influence the way we view other groups. Be sure to ask the observers for their views on the participants' attempts to communicate across cultures and to maintain cultural norms.
- How did you feel about the behavior of the members of your own group? Of the other group? Did your group's culture report use positive, negative, or neutral terms to describe the other group?
- How did your group organize to observe the norms of your culture? During the party, what did you do if a member of your culture did not observe a particular norm?
- Did your group attempt to keep score during the game? What are the real-world rewards for following cultural norms?
- Ask students to discuss whether they agree or disagree with each of the following statements:
- People have difficulty describing the behaviors of other groups in nonjudgmental terms.
- People acquire cultural norms fairly quickly.
- People seldom question the cultural norms that are handed to them.
- Most of the group's norms are maintained through peer pressure.
- U.S. Americans tend to feel uncomfortable without eye contact, even though in many parts of the world, eye contact is considered impolite.
- The same behavior can be perceived differently depending on your group's norms. For example, the same behavior appears friendly to Chispas and pushy to Pandyas.
5. What are some real world situations that were illustrated during the game?
6. Pandya women were instructed to speak for the Pandya men. In what real world situations does one group speak for another?
7. How would the game be different for players if the Pandya men dominated the women?
8. What would have happened if the two groups had been required to complete a science experiment or organize a field trip together?
9. What would have happened if the party had lasted for the entire class period?
10. What lessons from this activity would you want to keep in mind if you were going to spend time in an unfamiliar culture?
- Ask students to list as many examples of cross-cultural experiences as they can. Remind them that not all cross-cultural experiences take place in other countries, between people who speak foreign languages, or between people who come from different racial backgrounds. Attending worship services, for example, with a friend who holds different religious beliefs is a cross-cultural experience. Brainstorm ideas about what students can do to encourage clear communication in such situations.
- If you are corresponding with a Peace Corps Volunteer, ask him or her to describe the typical conversational style of people in the host country. What adjustments did the Volunteer make to avoid misunderstandings in the host country?
- This lesson could lead to a service-learning project. If you have a multicultural class or have international exchange students in your school, help your students develop a project to foster better understanding and communication. Some ideas for action are:
- Conduct a survey to determine what communication difficulties, if any, exist among the students and between students and teachers;
- Research the customs and culture of the groups that are represented in your class or school;
- Plan a cultural awareness week;
- Invite returned Peace Corps Volunteers or parents of international students to speak to your students and share information about the language(s), culture, and customs of their countries;
- Develop a feature article or regular column in the student newspaper that introduces various peoples and cultures.