Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What Does Culture Look Like?

by Ann Abbott

When our students travel abroad, they visit museums, rent movies, go to clubs, pass by monuments, travel to natural wonders (beaches, volcanoes, mountains, etc.), walk through plazas, buy artesenias for souveniers, take classes about local history, read literary works by native authors, live with a family, eat meals with them, and watch tv in their living room. They come back with a good--if not perfect--feel for the country's culture.

Our Spanish textbooks are loaded with bright pictures of faces with ethnic features, traditional clothing, modern night-life, happy youth hanging out, portraits of artists and authors, and photos of the same monuments and natural wonders our students would see if they could go abroad.

So when we tell our Spanish community service learning (CSL) students that they should be learning Spanish and about Hispanic cultures while working in the community (do we tell them that?), how will they know when they have encountered "culture?"

In Comunidades, I try to show that the way we (don't) use commands is cultural. So is the way we think parents should interact with teachers and with their own kids. The assumptions we make about how (quickly) people should learn languages is, too.

But these thoughts, viewpoints and ways of speaking are "invisible." There is no monument to the "Ancient God of Commands." No novel titled, "I Thought All Immigrants Should Learn English until I Realized How Hard It Was for Me to Learn Spanish and How Long It Took."

What "invisible" signs of culture have you and your students come across while doing CSL work? Leave a comment to let us know.


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