SISTEER Study Group Session 8

“Culture is the coherent, learned, shared view a group of people has about life concerns that ranks what is important, instills attitudes about what things are appropriate and prescribes given behaviour, given that some things have more significance than others.”
- Varner and Beamer, 1995

Today we learned about the idea of cultural awareness, and its significance in relation to our trip to Nepal. As quoted above, culture encompasses broad aspects of life and influences the way we think and act. We were first asked to draw out an analogy of culture, and explain our drawing.

As expected, everyone had their own distinct perception of culture. Hence, culture is subject to interpretation by people, and can vary greatly even among people of the same culture. Thus, it is important for us to practise cultural awareness for us to understand and accept the differences between our culture and another, as well as to learn how to adhere to local cultural customs.

The Onion Layer Analogy

The 'Onion' Layer analogy depicts the manifestations of culture at different levels of depth. At the core lies our values, layered on with practices, symbols, heroes and lastly rituals at the periphery. In Nepal, there will be certain similarities and differences with our own culture, which we need to recognise and be conscious of, as it is very easy for people to compare other cultures against the values and beliefs stemming from their own culture.

Four Core Competencies

There are four core components which constitute cultural awareness:

1. Self-awareness - becoming more conscious of yourself
2. Awareness of others - how aware you are of others
3. Managing our emotions and thoughts - how you deal with this awareness of self and others
4. Bridging the cultural gaps - the actions you take to close the gap between self and others

3 Zones of Comfort (Seth Stanford, 1966)

Displaying IMG_20180411_212230.jpg

1. Comfort Zone
Going to where you are happy and comfortable though you are not developing your full potential

2. Learning/Stretching Zone
Doing something that is less comfortable; in stretching we learn something new about ourselves or others and the environment

3. Panic Zone
Need to understand your own comfort zone, and to assess if you are ready to stretch your potential. This is important as you need to alert someone if you ever fall into this zone because you are very uncomfortable with certain things that people do.

The World View - What is it?

People view the same thing with different perspectives. To quote MacFarlane's book Mountains of the Mind, "when we look at a landscape, we do not see what is there, but largely what we think is there. We attribute qualities to a landscape which it does not intrinsically possess". This idea was demonstrated in class when we practised using the D-I-E framework to analyse an object (see photo below).

D-I-E Framework 

Describe - Neutral or objective description of something
Interpret - Possible explanation of what something might be or its function
Evaluate - Making a judgement about it

Displaying IMG_20180411_213442.jpg

We took turns passing this object around the class in describing, interpreting and evaluating this object, coming up with a variety of answers such as an ancient thing to hold water, something that is old, a keychain, etc. Little did we expect its true function to be a traditional Nepalese lock, which was something that no one in the class thought of. This reveals how our perceptions of certain things can be flawed or inaccurate at times and there is a need for us to be aware of this potential pitfall in trying to appreciate and understand other cultures.

Moving Forward

This is our last study group session, and moving forward, what awaits us is an exciting journey in Nepal and a range of experiences for us to discover. As such, we end the session with two questions posed to us:

  • What is your story of Social Innovation in Nepal?
  • What is your story of Nepal?

Keeping these questions in mind, we will embark on our trip with an open mind and heart to see and feel the Nepalese culture with our hearts.

Written by
Jing Qi