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Cultural Awareness

Teaching Tools, Strategies, and Resources, continued

Teaching Tools, continued
Cultural Awareness and Culture Shock

Cultural awareness is promoted by the process of encountering difference. When one perceives that another person does not behave according to one’s own deeply held cultural expectations, this collision is an opportunity to consider these expectations more fully in light of this encounter and to assess how they are culturally bound.

Although the term “culture shock” usually applies to experiences with people raised in different countries, shocks of much smaller scale can occur as people encounter different families, schools, and work or home environments.

It is also common for people to perceive themselves as normal and others as different or deviating. This perception is related to ethnocentricism, a tendency that seems to be common to every culture—viewing one’s own group as superior as well as the norm. The following figure, adapted with permission from Storti (2001), offers a depiction of what happens when people behave contrary to our expectations, or we behave contrary to theirs.


The process of cultural awareness is ongoing. Even the knowledge that members of other cultural groups behave differently may not impact our behavior. “What the conscious intellect tells us … is no match for what a lifetime of cultural conditioning has taught us. For the notion of cultural differences to take deep and lasting root in our psyche, it must be constantly reinforced over a sustained period until it is internalized. Until that time, it’s entirely possible—indeed, it’s inevitable—that we can cheerfully subscribe to the view that foreigners are different and still be stunned the first time we see a Hindu drink cow urine” (Storti, 2001, p. 69).

Storti adds that because culture is related so strongly to values, cross-cultural challenges to belief systems can be perceived as threats, and the response is often deeply emotional. Thus, cultural awareness requires understanding, reflection, and supports in order to deal with the strong opinions and emotions that cross-cultural conflict can provoke.


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