ICIS Newsletter

ICIS News, Volume 6:1 (April 2008)

by User Not Found | 10/26/2011
In This Issue...
  • Leadership Updates
    • Letter from the Chair
    • Note From the Coeditor
  • Articles
    • Experiential Activities to Raise Cultural Awareness
    • Designing Curriculum Within, Between, and Beyond Cultures: Part One
  • Community News
    • Reflections on the “Is Culture Really Dead in TESOL?” Colloquium at the Seattle TESOL
  • Articles
    • Experiential Activities to Raise Cultural Awareness
    • Designing Curriculum Within, Between, and Beyond Cultures: Part One
  • Articles and Information
    • A Call for Manuscripts
  • Announcements
    • ICIS Steering Committee Members

Leadership Updates Letter from the Chair

Diana Trebing, Saginaw Valley State University, USA, dtrebing@svsu.edu

Dear ICIS Members,

Just having returned from an exciting TESOL conference in New York City, I want to let you know that I am very excited to serve as the new Chair for our interest section and look forward to the challenges ahead. 

First, let me take the opportunity to introduce myself. I am originally from Germany and came to the US about 8 years ago to pursue graduate studies. I hold an MA in TESOL and a PhD in intercultural communication from Southern Illinois University. Over the past 8 years I have been teaching classes in ESL and communication (intercultural and general communication) at the university level. Last year, I accepted an assistant professor position in the communication department at Saginaw Valley State University, where I am currently teaching courses in intercultural and nonverbal communication, identity and culture, and public speaking.

I would also like to introduce our new Chair-Elect, Joshua Borden.  Josh joins us from National Central University in Taiwan, where he teaches intercultural communication in addition to advanced EFL and applied linguistics related classes. Originally from New York City, Josh has lived in Asia for several years, beginning with a year abroad at a Japanese university when he was an undergraduate student.  He will move to England over the summer to begin PhD studies in applied linguistics with a cross-cultural communication concentration at Birkbeck, University of London.  His efforts are sure to add to the IS; we’re excited to have him join us!

Thanks to all presenters and attendees, this year’s conference in New York City was filled with thought-provoking and interesting IC related discussion groups, paper presentations, and poster sessions. And, of course, it was also a great place to network and to meet with old and new friends. One of the current goals of the steering committee is to allow these lively and stimulating discussions to keep going throughout the year so that we will be able to continually share our ideas, especially with those of us who are not able to attend the annual conferences. To that end, we are trying to revive the e-list as well as establish a new listserv, so keep your eyes open for more information from ICIS!

Last but not least, it is also that time of the year to think about submitting proposals for next year’s TESOL conference in Denver (March 25-28, 2009). The deadline for most proposal submissions is June 1st. Please consider submitting proposals yourself and encouraging colleagues to do so as well; the number of timeslots allocated to our interest section depends on the number of proposals received. We are also looking for potential proposal reviewers. The proposal review process will be between June 15th and June 26th this year. Please let us know if you can volunteer during that timeframe.

If anyone has any questions or thoughts as to how the IS can better serve members’ needs, please feel free to contact Josh or me at any time.  I will include our contact information below.  We are looking forward to working with you in the upcoming year!

Best wishes,

Diana

Contact Information:
Diana Trebing, Chair (dtrebing@svsu.edu)
Joshua Borden, Chair-Elect (jsborden@hotmail.com)


Note From the Coeditor

Rebekah Muir, Instructor, CLIMT, Universidade do Algarve, Faro, Portugal, rebekahmuir@yahoo.com

Much to my regret, changes in my professional and personal life have led me to resign my coeditorship with Mary Huebsch for the ICIS Newsletter. The past 2 years have been wonderfully stimulating for me through the contacts I have made with authors from all over the world. I feel from this experience that our members are some of the most interesting, well-read, and cultured (in all its senses) TESOL participants. I am proud to have been a part of spreading the word about our important focus even when it is to say that we are not particularly sure what we mean by interCULTURAL communication (see past and present papers on “Is Culture Dead?”).

This newsletter issue is an interesting mixture of reports and reflections from the 2007 and 2008 TESOL conventions.  It begins with Ann C. Wintergerst and Andrea DeCapua, who provide us with an overview of their session at last year’s convention. Starting with a summary of the discussion of the nature and importance of culture in language teaching, the authors provide us with a number of practical activities they used to heighten cultural awareness.

The next article comes to us from Carol Clark.  Clark represented our IS at this year’s convention in an InterSection entitled “Administrative and Curricular Challenges in ‘EFL’ Environments.” She currently teaches at the English Language Institute at the American University in Cairo (AUC). In her article, Clark discusses the challenges of more subtle forms of diversity in classrooms when students ostensibly come from similar cultural backgrounds and yet differ in important ways, such as gender and social class. In the AUC, her students experience a Western-style education, many for the first time. Her article further provides our members with stimulating ideas on how to use the Web to help IC students who find class discussions of a personal nature challenging.

In the Community News section of the newsletter, Andrew D. Cohen provides us with a reflection on last year’s stimulating panel discussion “Is Culture Really Dead in TESOL?” He adds some insights and connections of his own, which hopefully keep this essential debate alive in our IS.

We hope that by presenting this cross-section of viewpoints and practice within IC that this newsletter will help to stimulate continued growth in this area and further sharing of ideas and methods. Our goal is always to take each of us out of isolation into a truly global community where differences are respected, even as barriers are overcome through goodwill and thoughtful communication.

 



Articles Experiential Activities to Raise Cultural Awareness

Ann C. Wintergerst, Professor of TESOL, St. John’s University, Queens, New York, USA, WINTERGA@stjohns.edu, and Andrea DeCapua, Assistant Professor of Multilingual and Multicultural Education, The College of New Rochelle, New York, USA, adecapua@cnr.edu

In a Discussion Group that we (Ann Wintergerst and Andrea DeCapua) led at TESOL 2007 in Seattle, participants examined the concept of culture and activities designed to heighten cultural awareness. The program description invited potential participants to bring their own activities to share and discuss. The session featured a series of questions followed by cross-cultural activities. Participants brainstormed the intercultural concepts underlying each activity and then considered how effective each activity was in conveying this information.

First, participants were asked for a definition of culture. The consensus was that everyone has ideas of what culture is but that it is difficult to define such a broad concept that encompasses such a variety of factors. Factors brought up included worldviews, beliefs, norms, behaviors, rituals and practices, and nonverbal communication patterns.  
   
The second question asked participants how this definition of culture might differ from the average layperson’s definition. Various responses indicated that the difference lay in the “tip of the iceberg” phenomenon. The average person focuses on the obvious aspects of culture, such as dress, architecture, art, music, and food—the part of culture that is at the level of conscious awareness. Students of culture focus on the hidden aspects of culture, those factors discussed in the first question given to participants and those that are submerged below conscious awareness. Participants noted that it was important to focus on these subconscious or hidden aspects of culture because these most influence how members of a culture view the world around them and interpret the behaviors of others.

From this discussion of culture in general, participants moved to focus on the role of culture and language. They discussed how language influences how speakers view the world and the way in which they communicate and concluded that language and culture are inseparable; both are lenses that shape the world of their participants.

The groups concluded that

  • without cross-cultural awareness, individuals find it difficult to communicate with people of other cultures because they interpret communicative interactions solely from within the framework of their own particular culture
  •  there is a need to develop cultural awareness in the classroom, which can be done by expanding awareness not only of students’ own cultures but also of others’ cultures
  • students need to achieve a deeper understanding of what culture is and the relationship between culture and language
  • students should acquire the ability to observe behaviors and draw conclusions based on observation rather than on preconceptions
  • students should develop an understanding of cultural similarities and differences and develop an attitude of tolerance toward differences

The question-and-answer phase established the background for participation in and discussion on some experiential activities, some contributed by participants and some taken from our book, Crossing Cultures in the Language Classroom (University of Michigan Press, 2004).

One activity was based on the concept of values (DeCapua & Wintergerst, 2004, p. 39). The purpose of the activity was to become aware of the role that culture plays in a person’s value system. Most people are not aware of how much our values, many of which are culturally based, form a part of who we are.

We began by asking the participants to explain what a value is, what makes something a value, and how they could define a value. Next, participants individually completed the distributed values worksheet and ranked the 15 given values on a scale from 1 to 15 based on their importance to them. Then, in small groups they compared how they ranked them and determined whether a pattern emerged (according to age, gender, cultural background, or other variables). Thereafter, they were asked to eliminate one value, explain why they chose that particular one, and agree unanimously with their group on the choice made. Next, they were to add one new value unanimously agreed upon and discuss the results. This activity generated quite a bit of discussion as participants found themselves agreeing and disagreeing on the values and learning to see the merits of others’ opinions. Participants also noted the importance of one’s stage in life in ranking values: At certain stages of one’s life, certain values may have more meaning. This activity underscored the importance of considering not only the majority culture in cultural awareness training but also relevant subcultures.

Another activity consisted of critical incidents or short anecdotes focusing on an area of cross-cultural conflict or miscommunication. In small groups, participants were asked to discuss values and beliefs that might underlie the cultural misunderstanding described in the anecdote in order to stimulate thought-provoking discussion. If possible, participants were to come up with ways of tactfully resolving the conflict or misunderstanding. The discussions elicited many insightful comments about values, beliefs, norms, and behaviors.

One critical incident, for example, featured an American male and his Japanese friend; the American tells his friend how his parents, who are elderly and ailing, will need to move to an assisted-living facility (DeCapua & Wintergerst, 2004, p. 225). The Japanese friend is appalled by this decision. Participants considered how such a decision is not an easy one, regardless of one’s culture, that cultural expectations and societal roles very much influence what kinds of decisions are made and how culturally acceptable they may be. In addition, participants pointed out that individual circumstances, regardless of culture, play a crucial factor in any such decision.

The last activity we want to discuss here is “Getting Together,” adapted from Blohm (1991), the purpose of which is to underscore the largely subconscious role of nonverbal behavior in communication. Participants were placed in groups of five and each person was given an index card with a description of a nonverbal behavior, such as “frequently touch the person to whom you are speaking on the shoulder or the upper arm.” The nonverbal behavior assigned to each person is not revealed to other members of the group. The facilitators instructed the groups to discuss a controversial topic, “Should the U.S. be in Iraq?” while engaging in the assigned nonverbal behavior. After 5 minutes, the facilitators asked the groups to stop talking and to examine how the nonverbal behaviors affected communication. Participants’ comments indicated that the activity affected them strongly. One person felt that she wasn’t able to concentrate on the topic because she was so distracted by everybody’s nonverbal behavior. Others noted that these unusual nonverbal behaviors made them very uncomfortable. This activity clearly illustrated the important role of nonverbal behavior in communicative interactions, and how, when the nonverbal behaviors are different than one’s own, one feels uncomfortable and has difficulty communicating.
 
In sum, the participants actively engaged in the discussions and the activities, and they left the Discussion Group pleased and satisfied that they had gained new insights into and knowledge about culture.

References

Blohm, J. (1991). Introduction to cross-cultural communication. Washington, DC: Youth for Understanding International Exchange.
 
DeCapua, A., & Wintergerst, A. C. (2004). Crossing cultures in the language classroom. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.

Author Information

Ann C. Wintergerst is professor of TESOL in the Department of Languages and Literatures at St. John’s University, New York. Together with Andrea DeCapua, she is the author of Crossing Cultures in the Language Classroom (University of Michigan Press, 2004). She is also the author of Second Language Classroom Interaction (University of Toronto Press, 1994) and editor of Focus on Self-Study: Evaluating Post-secondary ESOL Programs (TESOL, 1995). Her articles on student learning styles have appeared in such journals as System, TESL Canada Journal, and The CATESOL Journal, and her work on ESL writing in College ESL.

Andrea DeCapua is assistant professor of multilingual multicultural education in the Graduate School, The College of New Rochelle, New Rochelle, New York. Together with Ann C. Wintergerst, she is the author of Crossing Cultures in the Language Classroom (University of Michigan Press, 2004). She has published extensively in the areas of immigrant education, gender and language learning, and sociolinguistics. Her articles have appeared in Educational Leadership, Multilingua, Journal of Pragmatics, Intercultural Pragmatics, Women and Language, Gender and Language, Issues in Applied Linguistics, System, and The CATESOL Journal. Her latest book, Grammar for Teachers: A Guide to American English for Native and Non-Native Speakers, is scheduled to appear in 2008.


Designing Curriculum Within, Between, and Beyond Cultures: Part One

Carol Clark, Instructor, American University in Cairo, Egypt, cclark@aucegypt.edu

If I may paraphrase Dickens, the 21st century is both “the best of times and the worst of times” for intercultural communication and understanding. Never before in human history have individuals been able to communicate so quickly in so many ways with so many other people around the world. At the same time, technology, which has enhanced our ability to communicate, has made the world a more dangerous and threatening place, and maintaining intercultural empathy and goodwill has become a greater challenge for many. In her poem entitled “Blood,” Palestinian American poet Naomi Shihab Nye (2002) asked, “What does a true Arab do now?” It is a question that takes on new meaning in the post-9/11 United States. As an American living in the Egypt for the past 34 years, and in the wake of recent conflicts in the Middle East, I could ask the same question, reversed: “What does a true American do now?” For those of us who are “frontier dwellers” (Maalouf, 2000, p. 31) working between two or more cultures and designing EFL curricula for students from one educational/cultural system coming of age in the charged intercultural climate of today, there are many potential cultural barriers to learning but also excellent opportunities to promote better understanding as students hone their language and other academic skills.

I recently developed an interdisciplinary core curriculum seminar course for first-year students at the American University in Cairo (AUC) entitled “The Human Quest: Exploring the Big Questions.” The course fulfills a humanities/social sciences requirement and is designed to meet students, the vast majority of whom are Egyptians, in all of their diversity and uniqueness, at the gate and lead them into the American university system with all of its choices, confusion, and complexity. The course is designed to engender attitudes of engaged curiosity and a wide world view as well as to give students some of the background knowledge and specific language and academic skills they will need to be effective learners at this university. For some students, depending on their own life experiences, this is an easy move; while for others, it is an often overwhelming challenge. Before students develop the intercultural competence and sensitivity that this new university expects, it is very important to promote understanding of their own complex cultural identities. This awareness of their own cultural dimensions helps to make it easier for them to acknowledge, affirm, and accept the cultural differences they encounter at a university that includes a curriculum, teachers, and students from other cultures.

In piloting this course with five classes over the past 2 years, I have learned a number of valuable lessons from my students about who they are, what cultural challenges they face, and what learning experiences provide the best benefits and skills. I have applied these lessons in designing both my core curriculum course and regular English language courses by trying to overcome potential cultural barriers and allowing students to explore within, between, and beyond cultures. In this article, I discuss curriculum design and student exploration within cultures; in our InterSection panel at TESOL 2008, each of the three types of cultural issues was addressed. Part Two of this article, which deals with curriculum design between and beyond cultures, will be published in the ICIS Newsletter in summer 2008.

Within cultures many factors need to be considered in the design of curricula. There are often hidden variables and tensions within a culture that one needs to bear in mind so they do not impede the learning process. A typical class of students at AUC, for example, may be composed of all Egyptians or may contain one or two international students, usually from Arab countries. On the surface, typical classes may seem homogenous culturally, whereas, in fact, they often are not, and some students may feel marginalized for a variety of reasons. Some of the tensions and cultural divides that students experience as they try to adjust to university may include being labeled or stereotyped because of one dimension or facet of their identity, such as having a provincial accent in a cosmopolitan capital city; being on scholarship when others are from wealthy families; wearing (or not wearing) a veil or designer clothes; having attended a public government versus a private international school; being of a minority religion or ethnicity; or even being of mixed cultural heritage. Thus, students’ diverse educational, socioeconomic, religious, ethnic, and geographic backgrounds often lead to their feeling comfortable or uncomfortable within their own cultures, and even more so, in some cases, in an American system university culture.

In designing curriculum to meet this challenge within cultures, I start each course with the attitudinal goal of actively engaging each student in learning. Engagement implies the use of both innate curiosity and the ability to connect with ideas and relate to others. Most students in their late teen years are forming a new sense of their own identities as adults and are curious to know more about themselves as they relate to new concepts and people at the university. Therefore, the course engages students to begin by exploring that which is within early on, to prepare them better to confront the myriad other cultures and people experienced at university. In terms of content goals, we begin with Socrates’ admonition to “Know thyself,” so students read texts that illustrate and define the concept of identity in general and then reflect on which aspects of their identities are individual and personal and which are cultural constructs (e.g., language, religion, nationality). In dealing with the complexity of individual identities within cultures, autobiographies, travel literature, short stories, and interdisciplinary nonfiction works are all good sources. The texts should express the uniqueness and complexity of the individual authors and at the same time address struggles similar to (but not necessarily identical with) ones students may be experiencing. I have found using works by living authors from a variety of cultures, preferably “frontier dwellers,” such as Naomi Nye and Amin Maalouf (a Lebanese writer now living and writing in France), with a stake in both Middle Eastern and Western cultures, very useful in helping students find other voices addressing questions similar to their own. This choice of authors mirrors the fact that by choosing to attend a non-Egyptian university, these students themselves have become a type of “frontier dweller,” out of their own cultural mainstream, and can benefit from examining how others in similar contexts have maintained and extended their identities.

Two language-related skills that students need early on as they begin to explore their own identities and cultures are (a) confidence and respect in discussion and (b) speaking skills and competence in reflective narrative writing. As learners interact with the texts, sensitive issues of conflicts within cultures may arise, and some students may feel uncomfortable or put on the spot when expressing themselves in class discussions in front of their peers. These learners can be helped with self-access materials on Web-based courseware packages such as Web CT/Blackboard or self-designed wikis (e.g.,http://www.wetpaint.com) that orient students to the expectations of a classroom culture and teaching style that may be different from the one in which they have previously been educated. More important, alternative forms of expression such as Web-based discussion boards and private response journals linked to their readings can be included in the syllabus design. With such tools, students can learn to use writing as a means of both self-expression and exploration of important but sometimes subtle or disregarded dimensions of their identities and cultures. In addition, Internet- and computer-based course software such as Web CT/Blackboard is available now, providing students with the opportunity to share their reflective response journals or papers online and thereby raise awareness of other class members about issues and struggles within themselves and their culture, and they often find that they are not alone. In all of these sensitive areas, however, students’ rights to privacy should be respected if they do not choose to share their stories with others. In these ways, and by considering and addressing the diversity within each culture, the intercultural course designer in an EFL environment can build in goals that help students engage in learning and develop confidence to deal with others by first understanding themselves and their own unique places within their cultures.

References

Maalouf, A. (2000). On identity (B. Bray, Trans.). London: Havrill Press.

Nye, N. S. (2002). “Blood.” In 19 Varieties of Gazelle. New York: Harper Collins Publishers. p. 20. Retrieved on January 31, 2008, fromhttp://www.pbs.org/now/classroom/nyepoems3.pdf

Carol Clark is an English language instructor at the American University in Cairo in Egypt, where she has lived and taught for over 30 years. She currently teaches both graduate and undergraduate students in a variety of programs including the Intensive English Program, the Academic English for Graduate Student Program, and the Core Curriculum. She also has extensive experience in teacher training, program administration, and teaching literature in an EFL context.
 



Community News Reflections on the “Is Culture Really Dead in TESOL?” Colloquium at the Seattle TESOL

Andrew D. Cohen, Chair of ESL Department, University of Minnesota, adcohen@umn.eduhttp://www.tc.umn.edu/~adcohen/

I really enjoyed the colloquium and took away some provocative points to share with my undergraduates in a language and culture class I teach at the University of Minnesota (UMN). Thanks to Stephan Ryan, I pondered the fact that culture is defined in far too many ways. In our UMN course, we define culture as “learning the language and culture of a new place,” but Ryan spelled out just how perplexing it can be to attempt to define culture. He noted that globalization works against being able to find clear-cut cultural differences. And how true this is!

From Dwight Atkinson, I learned that culture can help us understand people better if we get beyond viewing culture simplistically as either additive or subtractive (terms I heard Wally Lambert apply to bilingual education programs, by the way). Rather, we need to see culture as “complexitive.” While I saw this as Atkinson’s way of playing on words a bit, he drew this from Lyotard (1984), who wrote, “A self does not amount to much, but no self is an island; each exists in a fabric of relations that is now more complex and mobile than ever before.” I also liked Atkinson’s suggestion that the best way to deal with culture is perhaps to “trouble” it; he offered the following quote from James Clifford (1988): “Culture is a deeply compromised concept I cannot yet do without.”
 
Gayle Nelson reminded me that we start with big “C” and little “c” culture issues. And she pointed out that we need to move beyond this rather simplistic bifurcation. She introduced the area that is near and dear to my heart, namely, cross-cultural pragmatics: cultural differences in speech acts, politeness, and so forth. I find speech acts are a marvelous tool for teaching language and culture because they always happen at the intersection of language and culture. It may, for example, be imperative to turn to the local cultural norms in order to interpret the meaning of a speech act situated in that culture. For example, the question, “Did you eat yet?” is used as a regular greeting among natives in Indonesia. Nelson also noted that measures of learning style preferences are, in fact, culturally specific, which challenges the notion that the West can develop measures that apply to universal descriptions of style preferences applicable anywhere in the world. Finally, I understood from her presentation that we need to see that the essentialist view of culture as homogeneous is a minority view. As the other presenters rightly pointed out, globalization, among other things, has ensured that the people of a country will not necessarily share the same history or language nor behave in the same ways. In short, they will predictably not be homogeneous, except perhaps to some extent in countries that limit immigration such as Finland.

Finally, from Yuzuru Takigawa I got the engaging thought that the Japanese hold culture to be telepathic—that there are tacit understandings—whereas within the United States, cultural values and behaviors may need to be more explicitly stated for people to “get” them. She went on to note that there may still be more similarities than differences among peoples of the world, including the Japanese. Nonetheless, it is true that American scholars tend to turn to Japan when they want to demonstrate how differently pragmatics, especially speech acts, can show up in different speech communities. For example, going up to professors in Japan after a talk and complimenting them on what a fine job they did may be viewed as an insult, unlike in the United States. Saying what you got out of the talk is fine but standing in judgment of the professor is not.

I also think the organizer of the session, Donna Fujimoto, is to be praised. She did a fine job of keeping the session going and stimulating discussion. I felt it was a fascinating colloquium and well attended as well, especially given its placement at the end of the convention.

References

Clifford, J. (1988). “Introduction: The Pure Products Go Crazy.” In The predicament of culture: Twentieth Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. pp. 2-5. Retrieved January 15th, 2008 from http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/clifford.html

Lyotard, J.-F. (1984). The postmodern condition. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press. Retrieved January 15th, 2008 fromhttp://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/fr/lyotard.htm

Andrew D. Cohen was a Peace Corps volunteer in rural development with the Aymara Indians on the High Plains of Bolivia, taught language education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was a Fulbrighter in Brazil, and since 1991 has taught applied linguistics at the University of Minnesota. In 2004-05, Cohen was visiting professor at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, where he learned about Maori language and culture.  He has published on bilingual education, language-learning strategies, language assessment, pragmatics, and research methods. His latest book is a coedited volume with Ernesto Macaro, Language Learner Strategies: 30 Years of Research and Practice (Oxford University Press, 2007). 

 

 



Articles Experiential Activities to Raise Cultural Awareness

Ann C. Wintergerst, Professor of TESOL, St. John’s University, Queens, New York, USA, WINTERGA@stjohns.edu, and Andrea DeCapua, Assistant Professor of Multilingual and Multicultural Education, The College of New Rochelle, New York, USA, adecapua@cnr.edu

In a Discussion Group that we (Ann Wintergerst and Andrea DeCapua) led at TESOL 2007 in Seattle, participants examined the concept of culture and activities designed to heighten cultural awareness. The program description invited potential participants to bring their own activities to share and discuss. The session featured a series of questions followed by cross-cultural activities. Participants brainstormed the intercultural concepts underlying each activity and then considered how effective each activity was in conveying this information.

First, participants were asked for a definition of culture. The consensus was that everyone has ideas of what culture is but that it is difficult to define such a broad concept that encompasses such a variety of factors. Factors brought up included worldviews, beliefs, norms, behaviors, rituals and practices, and nonverbal communication patterns.  
   
The second question asked participants how this definition of culture might differ from the average layperson’s definition. Various responses indicated that the difference lay in the “tip of the iceberg” phenomenon. The average person focuses on the obvious aspects of culture, such as dress, architecture, art, music, and food—the part of culture that is at the level of conscious awareness. Students of culture focus on the hidden aspects of culture, those factors discussed in the first question given to participants and those that are submerged below conscious awareness. Participants noted that it was important to focus on these subconscious or hidden aspects of culture because these most influence how members of a culture view the world around them and interpret the behaviors of others.

From this discussion of culture in general, participants moved to focus on the role of culture and language. They discussed how language influences how speakers view the world and the way in which they communicate and concluded that language and culture are inseparable; both are lenses that shape the world of their participants.

The groups concluded that

  • without cross-cultural awareness, individuals find it difficult to communicate with people of other cultures because they interpret communicative interactions solely from within the framework of their own particular culture
  •  there is a need to develop cultural awareness in the classroom, which can be done by expanding awareness not only of students’ own cultures but also of others’ cultures
  • students need to achieve a deeper understanding of what culture is and the relationship between culture and language
  • students should acquire the ability to observe behaviors and draw conclusions based on observation rather than on preconceptions
  • students should develop an understanding of cultural similarities and differences and develop an attitude of tolerance toward differences

The question-and-answer phase established the background for participation in and discussion on some experiential activities, some contributed by participants and some taken from our book, Crossing Cultures in the Language Classroom (University of Michigan Press, 2004).

One activity was based on the concept of values (DeCapua & Wintergerst, 2004, p. 39). The purpose of the activity was to become aware of the role that culture plays in a person’s value system. Most people are not aware of how much our values, many of which are culturally based, form a part of who we are.

We began by asking the participants to explain what a value is, what makes something a value, and how they could define a value. Next, participants individually completed the distributed values worksheet and ranked the 15 given values on a scale from 1 to 15 based on their importance to them. Then, in small groups they compared how they ranked them and determined whether a pattern emerged (according to age, gender, cultural background, or other variables). Thereafter, they were asked to eliminate one value, explain why they chose that particular one, and agree unanimously with their group on the choice made. Next, they were to add one new value unanimously agreed upon and discuss the results. This activity generated quite a bit of discussion as participants found themselves agreeing and disagreeing on the values and learning to see the merits of others’ opinions. Participants also noted the importance of one’s stage in life in ranking values: At certain stages of one’s life, certain values may have more meaning. This activity underscored the importance of considering not only the majority culture in cultural awareness training but also relevant subcultures.

Another activity consisted of critical incidents or short anecdotes focusing on an area of cross-cultural conflict or miscommunication. In small groups, participants were asked to discuss values and beliefs that might underlie the cultural misunderstanding described in the anecdote in order to stimulate thought-provoking discussion. If possible, participants were to come up with ways of tactfully resolving the conflict or misunderstanding. The discussions elicited many insightful comments about values, beliefs, norms, and behaviors.

One critical incident, for example, featured an American male and his Japanese friend; the American tells his friend how his parents, who are elderly and ailing, will need to move to an assisted-living facility (DeCapua & Wintergerst, 2004, p. 225). The Japanese friend is appalled by this decision. Participants considered how such a decision is not an easy one, regardless of one’s culture, that cultural expectations and societal roles very much influence what kinds of decisions are made and how culturally acceptable they may be. In addition, participants pointed out that individual circumstances, regardless of culture, play a crucial factor in any such decision.

The last activity we want to discuss here is “Getting Together,” adapted from Blohm (1991), the purpose of which is to underscore the largely subconscious role of nonverbal behavior in communication. Participants were placed in groups of five and each person was given an index card with a description of a nonverbal behavior, such as “frequently touch the person to whom you are speaking on the shoulder or the upper arm.” The nonverbal behavior assigned to each person is not revealed to other members of the group. The facilitators instructed the groups to discuss a controversial topic, “Should the U.S. be in Iraq?” while engaging in the assigned nonverbal behavior. After 5 minutes, the facilitators asked the groups to stop talking and to examine how the nonverbal behaviors affected communication. Participants’ comments indicated that the activity affected them strongly. One person felt that she wasn’t able to concentrate on the topic because she was so distracted by everybody’s nonverbal behavior. Others noted that these unusual nonverbal behaviors made them very uncomfortable. This activity clearly illustrated the important role of nonverbal behavior in communicative interactions, and how, when the nonverbal behaviors are different than one’s own, one feels uncomfortable and has difficulty communicating.
 
In sum, the participants actively engaged in the discussions and the activities, and they left the Discussion Group pleased and satisfied that they had gained new insights into and knowledge about culture.

References

Blohm, J. (1991). Introduction to cross-cultural communication. Washington, DC: Youth for Understanding International Exchange.
 
DeCapua, A., & Wintergerst, A. C. (2004). Crossing cultures in the language classroom. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.

Author Information

Ann C. Wintergerst is professor of TESOL in the Department of Languages and Literatures at St. John’s University, New York. Together with Andrea DeCapua, she is the author of Crossing Cultures in the Language Classroom (University of Michigan Press, 2004). She is also the author of Second Language Classroom Interaction (University of Toronto Press, 1994) and editor of Focus on Self-Study: Evaluating Post-secondary ESOL Programs (TESOL, 1995). Her articles on student learning styles have appeared in such journals as System, TESL Canada Journal, and The CATESOL Journal, and her work on ESL writing in College ESL.

Andrea DeCapua is assistant professor of multilingual multicultural education in the Graduate School, The College of New Rochelle, New Rochelle, New York. Together with Ann C. Wintergerst, she is the author of Crossing Cultures in the Language Classroom (University of Michigan Press, 2004). She has published extensively in the areas of immigrant education, gender and language learning, and sociolinguistics. Her articles have appeared in Educational Leadership, Multilingua, Journal of Pragmatics, Intercultural Pragmatics, Women and Language, Gender and Language, Issues in Applied Linguistics, System, and The CATESOL Journal. Her latest book, Grammar for Teachers: A Guide to American English for Native and Non-Native Speakers, is scheduled to appear in 2008.


Designing Curriculum Within, Between, and Beyond Cultures: Part One

Carol Clark, Instructor, American University in Cairo, Egypt, cclark@aucegypt.edu

If I may paraphrase Dickens, the 21st century is both “the best of times and the worst of times” for intercultural communication and understanding. Never before in human history have individuals been able to communicate so quickly in so many ways with so many other people around the world. At the same time, technology, which has enhanced our ability to communicate, has made the world a more dangerous and threatening place, and maintaining intercultural empathy and goodwill has become a greater challenge for many. In her poem entitled “Blood,” Palestinian American poet Naomi Shihab Nye (2002) asked, “What does a true Arab do now?” It is a question that takes on new meaning in the post-9/11 United States. As an American living in the Egypt for the past 34 years, and in the wake of recent conflicts in the Middle East, I could ask the same question, reversed: “What does a true American do now?” For those of us who are “frontier dwellers” (Maalouf, 2000, p. 31) working between two or more cultures and designing EFL curricula for students from one educational/cultural system coming of age in the charged intercultural climate of today, there are many potential cultural barriers to learning but also excellent opportunities to promote better understanding as students hone their language and other academic skills.

I recently developed an interdisciplinary core curriculum seminar course for first-year students at the American University in Cairo (AUC) entitled “The Human Quest: Exploring the Big Questions.” The course fulfills a humanities/social sciences requirement and is designed to meet students, the vast majority of whom are Egyptians, in all of their diversity and uniqueness, at the gate and lead them into the American university system with all of its choices, confusion, and complexity. The course is designed to engender attitudes of engaged curiosity and a wide world view as well as to give students some of the background knowledge and specific language and academic skills they will need to be effective learners at this university. For some students, depending on their own life experiences, this is an easy move; while for others, it is an often overwhelming challenge. Before students develop the intercultural competence and sensitivity that this new university expects, it is very important to promote understanding of their own complex cultural identities. This awareness of their own cultural dimensions helps to make it easier for them to acknowledge, affirm, and accept the cultural differences they encounter at a university that includes a curriculum, teachers, and students from other cultures.

In piloting this course with five classes over the past 2 years, I have learned a number of valuable lessons from my students about who they are, what cultural challenges they face, and what learning experiences provide the best benefits and skills. I have applied these lessons in designing both my core curriculum course and regular English language courses by trying to overcome potential cultural barriers and allowing students to explore within, between, and beyond cultures. In this article, I discuss curriculum design and student exploration within cultures; in our InterSection panel at TESOL 2008, each of the three types of cultural issues was addressed. Part Two of this article, which deals with curriculum design between and beyond cultures, will be published in the ICIS Newsletter in summer 2008.

Within cultures many factors need to be considered in the design of curricula. There are often hidden variables and tensions within a culture that one needs to bear in mind so they do not impede the learning process. A typical class of students at AUC, for example, may be composed of all Egyptians or may contain one or two international students, usually from Arab countries. On the surface, typical classes may seem homogenous culturally, whereas, in fact, they often are not, and some students may feel marginalized for a variety of reasons. Some of the tensions and cultural divides that students experience as they try to adjust to university may include being labeled or stereotyped because of one dimension or facet of their identity, such as having a provincial accent in a cosmopolitan capital city; being on scholarship when others are from wealthy families; wearing (or not wearing) a veil or designer clothes; having attended a public government versus a private international school; being of a minority religion or ethnicity; or even being of mixed cultural heritage. Thus, students’ diverse educational, socioeconomic, religious, ethnic, and geographic backgrounds often lead to their feeling comfortable or uncomfortable within their own cultures, and even more so, in some cases, in an American system university culture.

In designing curriculum to meet this challenge within cultures, I start each course with the attitudinal goal of actively engaging each student in learning. Engagement implies the use of both innate curiosity and the ability to connect with ideas and relate to others. Most students in their late teen years are forming a new sense of their own identities as adults and are curious to know more about themselves as they relate to new concepts and people at the university. Therefore, the course engages students to begin by exploring that which is within early on, to prepare them better to confront the myriad other cultures and people experienced at university. In terms of content goals, we begin with Socrates’ admonition to “Know thyself,” so students read texts that illustrate and define the concept of identity in general and then reflect on which aspects of their identities are individual and personal and which are cultural constructs (e.g., language, religion, nationality). In dealing with the complexity of individual identities within cultures, autobiographies, travel literature, short stories, and interdisciplinary nonfiction works are all good sources. The texts should express the uniqueness and complexity of the individual authors and at the same time address struggles similar to (but not necessarily identical with) ones students may be experiencing. I have found using works by living authors from a variety of cultures, preferably “frontier dwellers,” such as Naomi Nye and Amin Maalouf (a Lebanese writer now living and writing in France), with a stake in both Middle Eastern and Western cultures, very useful in helping students find other voices addressing questions similar to their own. This choice of authors mirrors the fact that by choosing to attend a non-Egyptian university, these students themselves have become a type of “frontier dweller,” out of their own cultural mainstream, and can benefit from examining how others in similar contexts have maintained and extended their identities.

Two language-related skills that students need early on as they begin to explore their own identities and cultures are (a) confidence and respect in discussion and (b) speaking skills and competence in reflective narrative writing. As learners interact with the texts, sensitive issues of conflicts within cultures may arise, and some students may feel uncomfortable or put on the spot when expressing themselves in class discussions in front of their peers. These learners can be helped with self-access materials on Web-based courseware packages such as Web CT/Blackboard or self-designed wikis (e.g.,http://www.wetpaint.com) that orient students to the expectations of a classroom culture and teaching style that may be different from the one in which they have previously been educated. More important, alternative forms of expression such as Web-based discussion boards and private response journals linked to their readings can be included in the syllabus design. With such tools, students can learn to use writing as a means of both self-expression and exploration of important but sometimes subtle or disregarded dimensions of their identities and cultures. In addition, Internet- and computer-based course software such as Web CT/Blackboard is available now, providing students with the opportunity to share their reflective response journals or papers online and thereby raise awareness of other class members about issues and struggles within themselves and their culture, and they often find that they are not alone. In all of these sensitive areas, however, students’ rights to privacy should be respected if they do not choose to share their stories with others. In these ways, and by considering and addressing the diversity within each culture, the intercultural course designer in an EFL environment can build in goals that help students engage in learning and develop confidence to deal with others by first understanding themselves and their own unique places within their cultures.

References

Maalouf, A. (2000). On identity (B. Bray, Trans.). London: Havrill Press.

Nye, N. S. (2002). “Blood.” In 19 Varieties of Gazelle. New York: Harper Collins Publishers. p. 20. Retrieved on January 31, 2008, fromhttp://www.pbs.org/now/classroom/nyepoems3.pdf

Carol Clark is an English language instructor at the American University in Cairo in Egypt, where she has lived and taught for over 30 years. She currently teaches both graduate and undergraduate students in a variety of programs including the Intensive English Program, the Academic English for Graduate Student Program, and the Core Curriculum. She also has extensive experience in teacher training, program administration, and teaching literature in an EFL context.
 



Articles and Information A Call for Manuscripts

Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages
Intercultural Communication Interest Section (ICIS)

Call for Manuscripts
ICIS Summer 2008 Newsletter

Topic: Teaching Intercultural Communication Skills

The audience of this newsletter is composed of intercultural communication teachers, administrators, and teacher educators in TESOL. Manuscripts for the summer 2008 issue of the newsletter should be manuscript forms of ICIS-related research and classroom experiences centered on the topic above. However, papers based on events that took place during the 2008 TESOL Convention, that deal with issues that were raised by TESOL 2008, or that focus on other aspects of intercultural communication not addressed at the conference are welcome. Manuscripts will be carefully reviewed before being published, to ensure that their content and style are of a suitable quality and usefulness for the ICIS Newsletter.

Authors submitting manuscripts should be aware that some journals, including TESOL’s The Essential Teacher, may not accept a manuscript that has been previously published in the ICIS Newsletter.

The deadline for submission for the summer 2008 newsletter is June 30, 2008. Manuscripts should be around 1,200 words in length (contact the editor first about longer manuscripts) and must be formatted according to the guidelines of the American Psychological Association Publication Manual, Fifth Edition. Manuscripts can be submitted electronically to maryhuebsch@hotmail.com.



Announcements ICIS Steering Committee Members

New ICIS Steering Committee Members (2008-2009)

Diana Trebing (Chair), dtrebing@svsu.edu

Joshua Borden (Chair-Elect), jsborden@hotmail.com

Donna Fujimoto (Past Chair), fujimotodonna@gmail.com

Mary Huebsch (Newsletter Editor), Huebsch_Mary@sac.edu

Carlon Haas (Webmaster & E-list Manager), king_of_seoul@hotmail.com

Teresa Fisher (Secretary/Historian), msttrf@langate.gsu.edu

Don Snow, Piper McNulty, Rebekah Muir (Members at Large), donsnow48@hotmail.compipermcn@aol.com, rebekahmuir@yahoo.com

Susan Coakley (Past Past Cochair), scoakley@comcast.net

Sara Keyes (Past Past Cochair), piratequeen@usa.net

Previous ICIS Steering Committee Members (2007-2008)

Donna Fujimoto (Chair), fujimotodonna@gmail.com

Susan Coakley (Past Cochair), scoakley@comcast.net

Sara Keyes (Past Cochair), piratequeen@usa.net

Rebekah Muir and Mary Huebsch (Newsletter Editors), rebekahmuir@yahoo.com and Huebsch_Mary@sac.edu

Eunhee Seo (Webmaster), ellenseo@temple.edu  

Diane Trebing (Secretary/Historian), dtrebing@svsu.edu

Don Snow, Victoria Tuzlukova, and Armeda Reitzel (Members at Large), donsnow48@hotmail.comtuzlukov@jeo.ru, and acr1@humboldt.edu

Piper McNulty (Past Past Cochair), pipermcn@aol.com

Nancy Tumposky (Past Past Cochair), tumposkyn@mail.montclair.edu