2009.04.13: April 13, 2009: Headlines: COS - China: Blogs - China: Seattle Post Intelligencer: Dustin Olney writes: In designing a lecture for helping my Chinese colleagues better understand American culture through understanding my difficulties, I had created an indirect method of criticism about Chinese culture

Peace Corps Online: Directory: China: Peace Corps China : Peace Corps China: Newest Stories: 2009.04.13: April 13, 2009: Headlines: COS - China: Blogs - China: Seattle Post Intelligencer: Dustin Olney writes: In designing a lecture for helping my Chinese colleagues better understand American culture through understanding my difficulties, I had created an indirect method of criticism about Chinese culture

By Admin1 (admin) (141.157.69.163) on Sunday, April 19, 2009 - 11:15 am: Edit Post

Dustin Olney writes: In designing a lecture for helping my Chinese colleagues better understand American culture through understanding my difficulties, I had created an indirect method of criticism about Chinese culture

Dustin Olney writes:  In designing a lecture for helping my Chinese colleagues better understand American culture through understanding my difficulties, I had created an indirect method of criticism about Chinese culture

I was delighted to find that, despite failing to feel accustomed, I had collected about 10 situations that were frustrating for me. I set out to discuss the situations in a way that would promote better understanding between cultures. Part of my job as a Peace Corps Volunteer is to help Chinese people better understand American culture, so I decided to give a lecture that would explain how my own culture leads me to feel certain things and act in certain ways while living in China.

Dustin Olney writes: In designing a lecture for helping my Chinese colleagues better understand American culture through understanding my difficulties, I had created an indirect method of criticism about Chinese culture

wenhua chayi - Cultural Differences (Part 1)

The following story was originally posted in Chinese. Translated by 郭爱婷. A special thanks to Joy for this opportunity to share my feelings and culture with the Chinese people.

By the end of my first year in China I had visited two hospitals and thrown up more times than I could count. The local lajiao (chili peppers) didn't agree with me yet, and when people asked me, "xibuxiguan?" (are you accustomed?) my answer was still, "haimei" (not yet). This went beyond just eating food; it affected my identity as an American individualist. I wondered how I could spend so much time in a place and know so little about the culture and language. Why wasn't I accustomed to my new home?

Social interactions have always interested me, and in China they are downright fascinating. The best part is when the foreigner (me) is involved in a situation where something seems a little strange; later I analyze the situation and try to answer the question "why?" My students always say, "你想多," (you think so much) but it's an indelible part of my nature to be curious. I began to make a mental record of these interactions and found that behaviors on the part of both parties tended to be very cultural - individualism interacting with collectivism. I was delighted to find that, despite failing to feel accustomed, I had collected about 10 situations that were frustrating for me. I set out to discuss the situations in a way that would promote better understanding between cultures. Part of my job as a Peace Corps Volunteer is to help Chinese people better understand American culture, so I decided to give a lecture that would explain how my own culture leads me to feel certain things and act in certain ways while living in China.

The lecture was given to a small group of English teachers. Though I knew the teachers from hanging around the department for office hours, I didn't really know any of them well. Some of them would talk to me in the office, and some of them were too afraid of losing face. Despite the fact that the teachers were English majors, only a handful of them studied abroad and even those teachers spoke a broken form of English. People who talked with me were putting themselves out there; they were exposing themselves to outside judgment. They were the brave ones.

I arranged the lecture with my dean and walked into the office on a Monday afternoon after their department meeting.

"This lecture is about culture. The situations I share will all be those in which I felt uncomfortable due to cultural differences. Please don't try to solve these problems, but rather take them in a spirit of understanding."

I proceeded to explain real situations from my life in China and why I those situations made me uncomfortable.

"A student sees me in the office working on the computer and they say, 'What are you doing,' as they walk around the desk to look at my computer screen. That makes me uncomfortable because they aren't respecting my privacy."

The teachers understood. Some people made notes.

"I am speaking with a non-English major student - asking them something in Chinese. A passing student stops to help translate for me. I am really upset by their help. Why?"

I argue that the unsolicited help undermines our notion of self-reliance and autonomy, explaining how the student was almost saying, "Your Chinese is obviously not good enough to handle this situation," to me.

The teachers started to interrupt: "What the student was trying to do was..."

I stopped them and continued with the next example. Their body language betrayed a nervous tension building in the room.

"I'm walking down the street and people yell 'hello' to me. Instead of saying it to my face, they say it to the back of my head and then laugh with their friends. I get especially uncomfortable during these situations. This is related to the American value that people are equal and we want to be treated as such. If people say, 'nihao' in China, then we want to hear 'nihao.'"

I continued through the list of 10 situations that made me feel uncomfortable in China and the teachers continued to shift uncomfortably in their seats. At the end of the lecture I opened the floor for questions and suddenly the teachers were justifying the behaviors of Chinese people in each circumstance I had just described.

"They're just being polite," someone shouted.

"They're education level is so low," another teacher argued.

I wondered if they would walk away understanding what I was really trying to say. To me it didn't matter if they were trying to be nice or not because that wasn't the point. The important thing was how the situations made me feel as an American in China and why they made me feel that way. That was the critical juncture where the teachers were supposed to grasp the nuance and better understand American values. But they missed it.

In designing a lecture for helping my Chinese colleagues better understand American culture through understanding my difficulties, I had created an indirect method of criticism about Chinese culture. At the beginning of the lecture I even gave a disclaimer about this not being the case, but I ignored culture by justifying my comments with the notion that I am somehow "allowed" to be really direct since I am giving a lecture. I thought they could accept this directness through the form of a lecture but the results showed otherwise.

"But don't you think western culture is so cold?" one teacher said, revealing his profound misunderstanding of my lecture's purpose.

I failed to notice the positive aspects of these cultural differences. In my deep conviction that something wasn't 'right,' I ignored the reasons for the actions on part of the Chinese people just as the teachers failed to understand the reasons for my own irritation.
Posted by at April 13, 2009 4:40 a.m.
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#287746




Posted by unregistered user at 4/13/09 1:40 p.m.

The onus is on YOU as a guest in the host country to conform to their culture. You signed up for the Peace Corps and they didn't. I don't mean to be harsh, but as someone who lived in China for two years, I think you will be more far more effective at getting them to understand you and your culture if you first fully jump into theirs and try to do things their way. Honestly, I think you're going to have to work hard to repair the damage you did at that lecture. Yikes...I was squirming uncomfortably in my seat just imagining what was going through their heads.
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#288074



Posted by Dustin Ooley at 4/13/09 5:42 p.m.

That's true - I was trying to give the lecture using American communication and I should have tried something more indirect. While I can't just teach everything cultural through directly telling people, I have conversations with several teachers on a weekly basis. I think there are several factors here that are unique, and you are misunderstanding this situation. I don't think there was much "damage" done at the lecture. People in the department talk to me more now than before (and to the other foreign teacher's it's the same: not at all).

Additionally, I have never been invited to a teacher's home for dinner (with the exception of my tutor). This is despite many attempts to integrate. The attitudes of teachers in the English department are incredibly exclusive of foreign teachers and even their own students. I have never seen a Chinese teacher help one of their students with English outside of class. That's because most of them don't care - they just want money or status within the government side of things. I think I have a different situation than you did in "China." This is one of the most common techniques people will use to argue their points with me, but it's not really very helpful. Where did you say you lived in China? You have heard my theory on two-Chinas, right? When you say, "I lived in Anshun," or even, "I lived in Guizhou." Then you can use, "I lived in China for two years..." as credibility.




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Story Source: Seattle Post Intelligencer

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - China; Blogs - China

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