Saturday, February 28, 2009

Brainstorming cultural issues and topics for my cross cultural course . . .

Today in Emart I was shopping with Julianne and we ran into some of my students from last year. One of them, a guy, was shopping with a friend, and when he saw me he gave an enthusiastic "Jason!"

I introduced him to Julianne--at which point he told her with great enthusiasm and passion, "I LOVE JASON!" LOL . . . yeah, things that you should not say in America unless you're with extremely liberal people--or in a gay bar, lol.

During dinner Julianne and I were brainstorming different possible ideas for what I might cover in my course. Bear in mind the course will have 50 hours of instruction time, and that the trainees will be living for a month in America this coming July.

Some possibilities are . . .

- comments and questions about a person's body fat
- "You should . . . " imperatives based on the social hierarchy of Korea's modern Confucianism and how this would NOT go over well in America
- staring at people for longer than 3-5 seconds . . . in pretty much any and every situation, but especially when on the street in America . . . I remember my psychology prof in an undergrad course telling us that studies show that if you stare at someone for more than 7 seconds the fight or flight response kicks in to one degree or another in the person being stared at . . . I can just imagine what would happen if a group of Korean teachers were all staring at some American teenagers, laughing and pointing at them, and making comments . . . I'm not saying there's a guarantee of violence, but I'm pretty sure a negative reaction is safe to assume
- yelling "HELLO!" or "HI!" to strangers on the street and then laughing and speaking to their friends in Korean
- Saying "No" and how the cultural rules differ so much in America for when and how and to who and for what you can say no . . .
- religion, and pushing your beliefs on people who don't share the same views--i.e. Korean Christians (not all, but too many)
- flirting and giving compliments to strangers and/or people you work with--especially the older male Korean teachers (again, not all, but too many)
- drinking and alcohol culture, bar culture
- personal space and touching taboos
- driving and following the traffic laws
- multiculturalism in the USA
- eating habits and manners: no slurping, sharing is done very differently than in Korea, for example the idea of communal bowls and platters that everyone eats out of
- friendship rules: age, gender, and class rules are not nearly as strict as they are for Koreans, for example, not being friends with someone more than a year or two older
- being on time when you make social or work appointments
- speaking up if there is a problem or issue in a situation--many Koreans think that's rude but there are many situations in which it's critical that someone speaks up if there's a problem
- when and how to say 'yes' and 'no' politely and effectively
- Individualism vs Collectivism cultures
- race topics
- sexuality and gender topics
- nationalism/nationalistic views and how cultural conflicts can come up
- in each lecture I'm thinking about having a 20 minute section where I give a topic about Korea, and divide the 20 trainees into 4 groups of 5, let them have 10 minutes to brainstorm and write out the language they need to explain a Korean socio-cultural topic or issue---but something I thought about that I will need to do is to present and deconstruct some of the nationalistic myths that many Koreans try to tell foreign English people about, some examples include the following,
1) kimchi is a cure-all for any and all health issues, especially cancer and SARS
2) the racial purity of the Korean people
3) Korea is the only country in the world to have four distinct seasons
4) there are no gay Koreans
- Julianne pointed out that if the trainees spend a month in the more southern states of the US that they'll need to know when and how to use "ma'am" and "sir"
- tipping in restaurants (not done here) and for taxis (this I found interesting because not everyone does this in Canada)
- doctor/hospital situations and how in Korea many people accept doctor's diagnoses with no questions or requests for a second opinion
- blood types and personality types and the myth that they are highly correlated and should be used as the basis of who one should date and marry

And the list goes on . . . if anyone reads this post and has some suggestions I'll be glad to consider them as I make the curriculum over the next few days and weeks . . .

Well, time to go relax with Julianne for a while. Today is our one year anniversary--wow!



Brian said...

This will be useful for your trainees as they'll be spending a month in the US. Are they doing homestays? My coteacher did . . . stayed with the local State Senator, lol.

Anyway, but reading through this I just imagined your students saying "we don't do that" to every single one, or something like "no, you misunderstand."

Please be sure to post the results of this class when you finally wrap it up.

A couple others:
* Different ways of making suggestions . . . the lack of emotion in a Korean's voice when they say "You'd better . . ." comes across as an order rather than a suggestion.

* Teach how to give a good, firm handshake.

* Definitely a review of how to refer to black people, and the hazards of many if not all Korean-English dictionaries. (I posted about that back in 2007, and how four out of the five results for 흑인 are woefully offensive.)

* Again, I don't know how relevant this would be for your students, as they'll be spending their month pretty much just studying (right?), but one of the biggest complaints I and others had of Asian international students was that they just stuck together with their own nationals, and made no effort to talk with anyone else. Yeah, could be shyness, but knowing what I know now . . . might brainstorm icebreakers and conversation starters with people from other countries (NOT "I'm from Korea, where Dokdo is.") Try to prepare them for having to deal with other "foreigners."

I'm sure if I get cranky enough I can think of others, but yeah I still see your students trying to dispute you on a lot of these points. It's an interesting set of topics, but good luck.

Amanda said...

"I think...maybe." No, you don't think maybe, you know for sure. "I can't come" is NOT the same as "I think maybe I will not be able to come" in English-speaking countries.

Closing the mouth while they eat. Covering the mouth to sneeze.

Second Brian's handshake thing.

Will any of them be driving? Something about how people actually PULL over for cops and ambulances would be good if they're going to drive. This still amazes Good Man. "People actually stop! It is so...awkward!"

Making mindless small talk with cashiers and having to ask for help at most stores. I am trying to get Good Man to do this, but he can't stand it.

Good Man says everything is "1.5 times bigger. It's true, McDonald's is bigger, people are fatter, celery is bigger, houses, cars..."

Good Man finds it rather strange that Americans have big yards and then....stay in the house. He doesn't like how empty the streets are.

And happy anniversary! ^^

Amanda said...

Oh--another thing--USE PRONOUNS, KOREANS!

Maybe this is just a Good Man thing, but I suspect (knowing what little I do about Korean, and based on my interactions in Korea) that it's a deeper linguistic thing.

I KNOW Koreans don't like using names and subjects and pronouns but "she said to her to give it to her" DOES NOT MAKE SENSE IN ENGLISH. (Especially not since so many Koreans get the gendered pronounces mixed up.)

Jason said...

Hi Brian,

Thanks for reminding me about the handshake thing. I forgot to write it down but I have been teaching about that since 2006. I call it the 'limp fish' handshake. Last year at the university I had to design and teach an teaching demo and interview course for 4th year soon to graduate students who have to do government interviews and teaching demos in order to get their teaching licenses . . . one of the first things I mentioned was handshakes. I also put in time on girls covering their mouths when they talk and laugh, and guys and girls constantly self-preening/checking their appearance while doing an interview . . . there're more things I put in that course and I'll have to look up my lesson notes to see what else I've forgotten.

I just re-posted this as a call for suggestions so I'm hoping that more people will add their own two cents . . .

Again, thanks for the suggestions, and keep'em coming.


Jason said...

Hi Amanda,

Wow . . . it's so cool that you posted here--Julianne and I read your blog every day. We love the simple elegance of your writing style and how you always weave into it a loving sense of humour about things that happen with Good Man.

Speaking of Good Man . . . would you ask him what he thinks Koreans need to know before coming to America--I'm sure he'd have some very interesting ideas that us foreigners haven't thought of.

Some of the language things you mention are covered in a book called "Things English Speakers Do Not Say!" that is a course textbook we've been using since last year for many of our courses at the university--the overlap is astounding, and the need for repetition is big.

Anyways, thanks for your suggestions, and please ask Good Man for any he might think of.

Jason said...

Ooops, and please thank Good Man for the two things you already posted, lol.