Intercultural Awareness – Culture

Activity 1: What is culture?

Culture is referred to as „the way of life for an entire society “. It is a complex of features of a social group; varying from the size of a family, a tribe or a larger group such as a nation, a racial or ethnic group, even if the members of this group are scattered across the world. Norms of manners, languages, clothe, rituals, behaviors, religions, laws and morality, and systems of beliefs form culture. Culture is nothing fixed or static; dynamic processes can occur as people respond to changing conditions and challenges.

This introductory activity is meant to discuss why the topic of culture is part of the intercultural competence training. The method of brainstorming allows an interactive exchange on the understanding of culture and identity that supports dealing with your own and „the other’s „cultural behavior.

Activity 2: Definitions and Theory

American anthropologists, Kroeber and Kluckhohn, compiled a list of 164 different definitions of culture.

The culture can be understood as the totality of material and spiritual values created by man in his socio-historical practice for the purpose of mastering natural forces, developing production and solving social tasks. Thus, culture consists of two interrelated areas:

  • material culture (means of production and other material creatures), and
  • spiritual culture (totality of the results of science, art and philosophy, morals and customs)

Culture is often represented using iceberg analogy (Hall, E. (1976): Beyond Culture). This analogy suggests that the observable, “objective” components of culture – material culture, behaviors patterns, visible norms and habits, are just the tip of the iceberg; below the “surface” are the layers of less observable components of culture, related to collective values, beliefs and behavior patterns. This model also implies that visible, “external” cultural components are available to our awareness, intentional learning and changes, where as “below the surface” components of the culture remain largely unconscious, implicitly learned and therefore more difficult to change.

The complexity of culture is introduced by presenting various definitions and models of culture. This activity is based on a theoretical input ending with a three-minute video clip (showing an example on how cultural behaviors are shaped).

Activity 3: Who Am I? Identity and culture

IDENTITY is the experience of our own selves over a long period of time, regardless of changes and circumstances that occur around us. Identity is the answer to the question “WHO AM I?”, that is, how we perceive ourselves in time and space and how others perceive us. IDENTITY is always built in contact with other people.

The determinants of individual identity are multifaceted and can be categorized at the micro (individual-psychological), meso (narrower community and relevant roles), macro (wider social and role) and global levels. These include gender, gender, race, ethnicity, class, language, place of birth (urban / rural), education, language, occupation / profession, family and family history, physical appearance, health, disability, sexual orientation, etc. Therefore, identity is deeply rooted in various group affiliations and it is shaped by culture(s) a person is a part of.

The aim of this activity is to intensifying the understanding of the concept of identity and self-perception. Furthermore, the activity supports communication skills and the values of solidarity and respect.

Activity 4: Definition of cultural diversity

Human migrations inevitably lead to increased diversity, including cultural diversity.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) adopted in 2001. an Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, recognising highlighting that cultural diversity is the common heritage of the humanity, is a part of human rights, presents a factor in development and contributes and promotes creativity and international solidarity.

This activity is meant to show the participants how different people who might not have anything in common based on their appearance, share a lot when looking at their beliefs and life experience.

Activity 5: Is cultural diversity a good thing? Benefits and challenges

Cultural diversity is important because our countries, workplaces, and schools increasingly consist of various cultural, racial, and ethnic groups. We can learn from one another, but first we must have a level of understanding about each other in order to facilitate collaboration and cooperation. Learning about other cultures helps us understand different perspectives within the world in which we live and helps dispel negative stereotypes and personal biases about different groups.

In addition, cultural diversity helps us recognize and respect “ways of being” that are not necessarily our own, so that as we interact with others we can build bridges to trust, respect, and understanding across cultures. Furthermore, this diversity makes our country a more interesting place to live, as people from diverse cultures contribute language skills, new ways of thinking, new knowledge, and different experiences.

This activity prompts the participants to consider the benefits and challenges of cultural diversity in their communities or workplace. It allows the participants to draw lessons from their personal experiences in diverse environments.

2. Stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination

In social psychology, stereotype is defined as a set of beliefs or expectations, positive or negative, about the qualities and characteristics of the members of a group or social category.

Prejudice is defined as an attitude toward people based on their membership in a group (e.g., their racial group, gender, nationality, even the college they attend).

Discrimination is the phenomenon of treating a person differently from other persons based on group membership and an individual’s possession of certain characteristics such as age, class, gender, race, religion, and sexuality.

Stereotypes and prejudices have a pervasive and profound influence on how we perceive out-group members, our emotional response and behaviour towards them. On the other hand, stereotypes and prejudices arise from the very nature of our perception and thought processes as well as emotions and social behaviour. Being aware of own stereotypes and prejudices is essential for intercultural competence.

In this activity, participants gain an overview of how stereotypes and prejudices are defined, what types of stereotypes and prejudices exist, what their function is, and what the dangers of stereotypes and prejudices are.

Activity 7: Potato Game

The Potato Game is a fun activity which raises awareness about our tendency to lump people of a specific social group together and assume they are all alike. The game shows us that we recognize the differences in individuals as soon as we take the effort and look closer. 

Activity 8: Facts against prejudices

„Ein Urteil lässt sich widerlegen, aber niemals ein Vorurteil“ (Ebner-Eschenbach, 1961); (a judgement can be refuted, but never a prejudice)

Albert Einstein: „It is harder to crack a prejudice than an atom “

Wir neigen dazu, uns aufzuregen, wenn ein Vorurteil von Widerspruch bedroht wird.“ (Allport 1979) (We tend to get upset when a prejudice is threatened by contradiction)

In this activity, common prejudices against asylum seekers and refugees are refuted with facts. Participants might overcome their own prejudices or learn how to respond to people who confront them with their prejudices.

Activity 9: What is typically …?

This exercise is particularly suitable for groups in which many different nationalities are represented. Participants write down traits/characteristics that they attribute to a specific nationality represented in the group. The representatives of the nationalities then share with the participants which of these characteristics apply to them personally and which are typical to people of their nation.

Activity 10: Euro Rail à la carte

With whom would you like to share a train compartment and with which type of people would you rather avoid? Given only a few basic information about different candidates, the participants need to make a decision about whom they would share their train compartment with. This exercise confronts us with and helps us reflect about stereotypes and prejudices we associate, based on the information we have been given about the candidates.