Sculpting in Time

I’m sitting in Sculpting in Time (雕刻时光) enjoying the wireless Internet and getting ready for the Cultural Communication Class I’ll be teaching over the May holiday. The more I think about this class the more I am excited by its potential. My wish is that the class can provide an open forum to discuss cultural issues and cultural differences.

My experience is that many students in China vastly overestimate the difference between “being Chinese” and “being American”. In fact, we’ve got more in common than you may think.

The focal point of the class will be the following five statements:

  • we live in a multicultural world
  • understanding cultural communication can help you succeed
  • many students feel that culture, not language, is the primary barrier to communication
  • it is possible to communicate effectively in multicultural environments
  • the key is to learn about other cultures and how cross-cultural communication works

Notice the third statement. I do not take it as a fact that culture is the primary barrier to communication across cultures, but it is a fact that many Chinese students feel that lack of cultural knowledge is the chief barrier to communicating with people from other cultures. So in the class we’ll talk about why people feel this way, and how we can approach cross-cultural situations with more confidence.

A key element of the class will be providing a summary of the cultural background of each area we’ll be discussing. It’s impossible to cover everything, though, so we’ll also talk about how you can go and find more information on your own.

Another element of the class will be a discussion of some common situations and how different people might react. For instance, what factors might a Chinese applicant consider when approaching a job interview with the American boss of a multinational corporation? Or, what are the most commonly difficult situations for Chinese students studying in the US?

A third portion of our class will approach these issues on a more philosophical level. Do Chinese and Americans think differently? Why or why not? How? How does our culture affect the way we view the world? What is the relationship between culture and language?

An important thread throughout the course will be student participation. The course is not simply a series of lectures, but a series of discussions. I’ll spend a lot of time talking, but I’m most excited to hear what students have to contribute!

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