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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (8)

by Ann Abbott

Although I will obviously continue to post about culture in the Spanish community service learning curriculum, let me conclude this series with an example from my own experience. It isn't about Spanish and it isn't about community service learning, but the point is that this process is valid in any cultural context. Even when we examine our own culture.

About two and a half years ago I was in Italy and visiting my mother-in-law in the hospital. The doctor came in the room, greeted me, and then told me, “Si accomodi, Signora.”

From my previous experiences, I understood that to mean, “Take a seat; make yourself comfortable.” But when the doctor kept looking at me, I realized it must mean something else—in fact, it meant the exact opposite! I think he gestured toward the door, and I left the room, feeling embarrassed.

I started paying attention to that phrase and noticed that all the hospital employees used it in the same way. It still meant, "Make yourself comfortable." But there was an added layer to it: “Make yourself comfortable--somewhere else! We don’t examine patients/check vitals/mop the floors in front of visitors.”

Here was my process: I noticed a cultural difference, it made me feel embarrassed, I continued observing this cultural difference and looked for patterns. Finally, I expanded my understanding of that phrase and incorporated it into my practices.

What are some examples that you have experienced? And what are some examples that your students have experienced while working in the community? Please post them here or send me an e-mail at arabbott@illinois.edu. I'd love to feature them on this blog.

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 (3): Culture is everything, everything is culture.
How to Teach Culture in Spanish Community Service Learning (5): Analyze your emotions.
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.

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

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