Skip to 0 minutes and 10 secondsThe next metaphor we'd like to highlight relates to baggage. We'd like to consider what kind of luggage we may have unconsciously packed and tend to carry with us wherever we go. What is your cultural baggage? Just like a traveller preparing for a long trip, our respective cultural backgrounds have socialised us to pack the world we observe around us in very specific ways. We've been taught to be selective, had attitudes passed on to us to discriminate good from bad, right from wrong, ingroup from outgroup, and have been trained to sort out what we should consider as important or unimportant.
Skip to 0 minutes and 58 secondsPerhaps as unaware to us as those fish in their natural environments, we have spent a lifetime packing quite a few patterns, ideas, and expectations into our mental suitcases, and take them with us wherever we go. The cultural baggage that some people drag along with them might be bigger, heavier, or fuller than others, but no matter how hard we try to recognise what it is that we are carrying with us, we still end up subconsciously carrying more around than we would like to admit. An important part of intercultural training involves guiding us to examine what is in our cases. Early cross-cultural training pioneers like Edward T. Hall and L.
Skip to 1 minute and 48 secondsRobert Kohls designed specific exercises that were intended to help us examine what it is that we're carrying as cultural baggage with us. Most of these exercises seek to find ways to get us to open our accumulated lifetime luggage, and reexamine why we have packed those things to take along on our cultural journeys. Cases, in particular, are a very helpful way for us to be able to analyse this type of cultural baggage. Harry Triandis, in his 1972 book, urged "The Analysis of Subjective Culture." Since then, Triandis and another cross-cultural psychologists or intercultural trainers have been developing short cases or critical incidents to find ways to help expose our culturally-embedded ways of viewing part of reality.
Skip to 2 minutes and 54 secondsWhether these have been used with the intercultural assimilator, or what is now called the intercultural sensitizer approach, or other case-based analysis approaches, such short stories often highlight for us the baggage-based orientations that we are locked into. We often do not realise details that we may overlook, or details that we didn't even consider important. So in each session of this course, we hope that you'll evaluate your own cultural baggage and open up and see what are the assumptions that you've gathered over a lifetime.
Skip to 3 minutes and 36 secondsWe'll ask you to reevaluate why certain ways of doing things, orientations, or attitudes have become so important to you, and to reflect on those that you might have packed in too prominent of a place for the context you are now in. At the same time, we hope you'll be open to consider other ideas, new perspectives, or different points of view that you may have neglected, and that others might consider to be important or valid. The key question is, what's in your cases?
Carrying unnoticed cultural baggage
Another metaphor is “cultural baggage,” referring to attitudes, patterns, judgments or expectations “packed” in our home cultures that we carry with us. How might these often hidden contents influence cross-cultural encounters?
Early cross-cultural training pioneers like Edward T. Hall and L. Robert Kohls designed specific exercises to help participants examine their so-called cultural baggage. As Hall said,
“Culture hides much more than it reveals, and strangely enough, what it hides, it hides most effectively from its own participants. Years of study have convinced me that the ultimate purpose of the study of culture is not so much the understanding of foreign cultures as much as the light that study sheds on our own.”
(Hall in Bennett, 1998, p. 59, “The Power of Hidden Differences.” In Basic Concepts of Intercultural Communication: Selected Readings. Yarmouth, Vermont: Intercultural Press)
In this course we’ll use a few case studies to help expose us to those hidden “subjective culture” dimensions (Triandis, 1972).
In the following weeks, you’ll have opportunities to look at various critical incidents to help you better (re)assess the cultural baggage you might be lugging along. So be ready to (re)evaluate your own assumptions, orientations, or preferences and willing to consider other values, identities, or ways of doing things that might be “not wrong, just different.”
If this segment already has exposed something you now realize you previously over-emphasized or undervalued, you might want to share your personal discoveries with us.
Do keep asking the question, “What’s in my suitcase?”. And also be ready to repack in ways that might help you become more interculturally open.
© Steve J. Kulich, Shanghai International Studies University