Myth #6 (of 12): Culture doesn’t matter.

I stated in Myth #3 that I have driven in 10 different countries – many that are nothing like driving in a developed country. To bring the same driving mindset from Canada into India or Saudi Arabia would end in disaster. Literally! A CEO friend in India gave me this advice: “Forget all the rules, and act like you are in a river because the traffic here flows like many currents in a river.” This one ‘on-the-ground’ piece of cultural advice was amazing and made my experience a great one. Culture matters in life!

How cultural implications influence curriculum design? As the Director of Curriculum for a group of colleges in Saudi Arabia, I sat in on a few math classes that were part of the foundation year to get a better idea of the issues facing Saudi students and math. It turns out the issue was not math, but math in English. I put a few simple ‘word problems’ on the board and 95% of the class was stumped. After some discussion with other colleagues, we began to wonder if part of the issue is that Arabic flows R>L, whereas English flows L>R. The students knew what formula was needed to solve the word problem, but the issue was being able to transpose the numbers in English (L>R) into their normal thinking process of R>L. The result was not a math content issue, but a restructuring of the content to include a certain amount of assisting with the ‘thinking in English’. Culture matters in curriculum design!

How can diverse cultures in one classroom alter a lesson plan? As part of an International Business class I used to teach, we had a session on practicing introductions in different cultural settings. All the students in this class that took place in Vancouver all had a degree from their home country before attending our business college. One particular instance stands out in my mind. A Japanese young woman was to introduce herself to a Turkish young man at a networking event. He slightly bowed, took her business card, briefly looked at it and immediately placed it in his back pocket.

The look of horror on the young woman’s face dumbfounded the young man. The audible loud GASP! from all the other Japanese and Korean students stunned the rest of the students into silence. I (knowing the issue) quickly jumped into the scene (like a TV game show host) and asked what just happened. [By placing the card in his back pocket was a sign of extreme disrespect to North Asian cultures] The ensuing discussion about ‘unwritten rules’ among different cultures was amazing but completely dismantled my lesson plan. This was a great way to push passive students to become problem solvers by synthesizing information instead of merely receiving it. (Spangler, 2015) Furthermore, it prompted me to quickly develop a new assignment that enabled all the students in the room to log all these unwritten rules and then write an essay. Culture matters in class!

It is truly unfortunate that many Western education institutions trying to globalize their reach are seemingly blind to the need for MAJOR modifications to their content when entering a different culture.”In her groundbreaking books, Mindfulness (1989) and The Power of Mindful Learning(1997), Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer lays the foundation for contemplative pedagogy, an educational model that seeks to cultivate deepened awareness and insight through introspection and mindful self-reflection.” (Roush, 2015)

Final Thought: I wonder how many education corporations and/or consulting firms spent time contemplating ‘an educational model that seeks to cultivate deepened awareness and insight through introspection and mindful self-reflection’before seizing a “great business opportunity”?

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