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Sunday, April 19, 2009

How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (5)


by Ann Abbott

Analyze your emotions.


When we present culture as a sidebar, we can remain emotionally neutral towards it. But when we interact with other cultures, it’s more difficult not to become emotionally entangled. In fact, I think that when we have an emotional reaction it means that we’re more deeply engaged, which is good—as long as we work through the process far enough to get to analysis. We don’t want our students to remain within the raw emotional state. Here are some emotions that might signal that you’ve just rubbed up against “culture.”

Delight. Do you remember the first time you drank a margarita in Mexico? The taste of fresh lime juice? I do, and it was delightful, a pleasure. Sometimes we experience a culture in that way—it’s new to us, and we like it. Some of us (probably all of us who are language learners and instructors) find real joy in the process of immersing ourselves in another culture, experiencing it and reflecting on it. OJO: Obviously, this becomes problematic if we view cultures as “pretty, shiny objects” that exist for our own edification or delight.

Surprise. I remember when I went to Spain my junior year of college. It was my first plane ride. My first trip outside of the US (except for one trip to Canada). My first trip outside of the Midwest. I was surprised by many things. Sometimes pleasantly surprised. Sometimes not. I thought people would smile and be friendly—the way I conceived of “friendly”—on the streets. They weren’t. I thought that women who wore high heels, short skirts, lots of jewelry and full make-up were…uh, well, let’s just say I hadn’t seen a lot of that in my previous experiences. I saw a lot of it in Madrid, and it said nothing about the woman’s profession. I also saw surprise in the eyes of others who were observing me.

Discomfort. This is the trickiest for us to deal with. I think of these as roces, when two cultures rub up against each other in ways that make us uncomfortable, in ways that sting. Discomfort often presents as something else: judgment, anger, disappointment, hurt, embarrassment, etc. In all of these cases we need to walk our students through the entire process of cultural analysis. If we let a student (or ourselves) remain with the raw emotion, we can end up doing a lot of damage in the community and to our partnerships.

Other posts in this series:
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (1)
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (2)
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (3): Rebrand culture.
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (4): Culture is everything, everything is culture.
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (6): Wrestle with shadows.
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (7): Develop skills of observation.
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (8): An example.

Related posts:
How do you "teach" cultures?
What do we mean by "culture" in the foreign language classroom?

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