Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds[Steve Kulich] It is interesting to note that it is one thing to consider who I am culturally, but it's quite another to think about how others consider themselves and how they present themselves. [CHI Ruobing] Yes. I'm always amazed at the diversity of perceptions and special identities people hold quite strongly. Identities can connect us easily, but if they are misunderstood by others, they can divide us easily, too. [Steve Kulich] Yes, I've noticed that many of us are much more enthusiastic about letting you know all the details about who am I than sincerely seeking to ask and know about who you are or more importantly, seeking to understand why. Why do you describe or illustrate your culture that way?

Skip to 0 minutes and 58 secondsWhat meaning does it give to you or does it hold for you? [CHI Ruobing] Intercultural scholars have been working on this challenge since the beginning of this field in the 1950s and the '60s, when Edward T. Hall, Robert Kohls, Richard Brislin, Cliff Clark, and many others started developing training sessions. [Steve Kulich] Yes, these goals of becoming more culturally self-aware and especially cultivating other awareness in other cultural contexts are a very important part of most intercultural training exercises. [CHI Ruobing] As you hinted at, it is very important to develop sensitivity and adjust expectations in going through that process. We especially need to find respectable ways to view and respond to others.

Skip to 1 minute and 55 secondsSometimes, it is not easy because identities that others consider as important may not be perceivable or salient to us and vice versa. [Steve Kulich] That is why we consider context so important. People are what they are in a specific cultural time and space and thus are affected by historical, social, economic, educational, and many other contextual factors. [CHI Ruobing] You have touched on issues that are discussed in social identity theory. I think it could really help our course participants to read about this important perspective to better understand how we construct our identities in different social situations. [Steve Kulich] So let's resume our discussion after they have had a chance to read about and become more familiar with this important idea.

“Who are you?”

It is equally important to be aware of and sensitive to how others perceive identities, want to present themselves, or evaluate us. Identities are not static and or exist in vacuums, but are affected by many contextual factors.

Though we may like the idea of considering who we are culturally, we’re not quite as ready or willing to seriously think about how or why others consider or present themselves in a certain way. Our preference for being with people “like us” may unconsciously block us from exploring what is special about others.

How does your eagerness to explore “Who am I?” compare to your interest in sincerely learning the answer to “Who are you?” Or WHY do you describe or illustrate your culture in that way? Or what meaning does it give to you or hold for you?

Identity awareness exercises have been an integral part of this field since pioneers like Edward T. Hall, L. Robert Kohls, Richard Brislin, Clifford Clarke and others developed it in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. There are a wide variety of methods now available for eliciting “own-culture awareness” and enhancing “Others awareness,” some of which we are employing in this course to help you develop greater intercultural sensitivity and readiness for adjustments.

How is this process of own- and other-culture discovery helping you adjust your expectations? Have you noticed that what is important to you may not be even noticeable or relevant to a person from another cultural background?

The divergent identities may even affect us in what we consider to be familiar cultural contexts. Those from privileged or dominant cultural positions may not necessarily notice the salience of those with alternative identities. Be ready to look at those around you with new eyes, re-evaluate your perceptions, and be willing to respect differences that you may have previously overlooked.

Each of us are “who we are” in a specific cultural time and space, and are affected by historical, social, economic, educational, and many other contextual factors. Henri Tajfel and his colleagues proposed Social Identity Theory (SIT, for which we provide a reading in a following step). This addresses the issues of how people construct our identities in different social situations, and how we can be more aware of what some of those less obvious influences might be.

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This video is from the free online course:

Intercultural Communication

Shanghai International Studies University (SISU)