Ben-Bo on Culture

“Nothing starts, unless you ask something you felt strange. Ask it.”

By C.T.

Our Experience
We had a lecture about a cultural exchange in the conference room at the American Councils on Monday July 22th, the first day of activity. The lecture was held by Benjamin Gaylord (Ben) and Bo Knutson (Bo). First of all, what is the “American Councils”? American Councils creates opportunities that prepare individuals and institutions to succeed in an increasingly interconnected world. As its official homepage says, “It is committed to building a world of globally competent citizens, successful institutions, and responsible nations.” Ben and Bo gave us lectures in order to give us know-how in an exchange program.

The Big Ideas
The Culture IcebergAs Tomodachi generations, we were taught how to lead a good life with host family, and know-how of studying abroad. Ben explained to us using metaphors “iceberg” and “glasses.” An iceberg is like a culture. Only few things can be seen on the surface. We have to understand our own culture in order to understand other cultures. Glasses are like one’s own innate perspectives: one’s culture. You see things through our perspectives, which are supposed as yellow glasses here. All what you can see is yellow. However people in another culture see things through their own perspectives, which are supposed as blue glasses here. Then you must try to understand their perspectives, which can be said as buying a pair of blue glasses. Then, however, all what you can see is green… Actually you can never see things in their perspectives. So what is needed in order to understand the perspective of blue glasses? Understanding your own culture; if you recognize that your glasses are yellow, you can understand the blue glasses, through the function of “green minus yellow equals blue.” This Ben’s explanation made sense very much; we can never see things through their perspectives, but by understanding how their culture looks and identifying the difference between ours and theirs, we are able to see their culture. The most important step, how to identify the cultural difference, will be explained later.

After that, Bo taught us how to do well during the exchange program. He mentioned a culture shock. In order not to get a culture shock, Bo emphasized that “JACKPOT” is important. JACKPOT is an acronym of Journal, Ask, Concentrate on the positive, Keep healthy, Participate, Observe, Teach.  By keeping a Journal, a diary or a blog, we are able to remember about what we have experienced. Asking helps you understand the cultural differences. Exchange students tend to hesitate of asking questions, but Ben and Bo, even other staffs in the American Councils, emphasized that we must not be afraid of asking questions. In fact, after asking something because there was discomfort, many cultural differences were found and they could be shared with host families. We often hesitate asking and finally never ask it to them. We can never understand the difference if we do not ask it. Concentrating on the positive prevents us get a culture shock. In other words, be open-minded, be optimistic, be flexible. Also he told us some symptoms of culture shock, but actually I could not believe to get culture shock by studying abroad. Keeping healthy is also important. Bo told us that being unhealthy is one of the symptoms of culture shock. Participating is one of the interpretations for “Concentrating in the positive.” Observing helps us understand the culture. We cannot get to know the culture in the depth by just sightseeing. We need to observe things, think why, ask why. “Teach” means we have to teach them the cultural difference between their culture and our culture. They also do not know the culture of us, so we need to explain how they are different. In our interpretation, if we discuss it with our host family, both we and they can get to know how it is different, why it is different; also, we can get closer to each other because of having a profound, interesting conversation. Discussing helps us not only understanding their culture, but also finding new things about the cultures of both me and others. Thus we can reach the depth of the “iceberg,” and understand another’s glasses.