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Reflecting poetically on perception

Culture affects how we see things. When we cross cultures, our perceptions will be challenged. This often goes beyond visual, cognitive processes to a

Culture affects how we see things. When we cross cultures, our perceptions will be challenged. This often goes beyond visual, cognitive processes to affect deeper attitudes, feelings, and affective responses, as these poems illustrate.

Our feelings about culture and what we experience can be expressed in various ways. Some record their thoughts in journals or create characters and short stories that illustrate their experiences. Others write song lyrics or poetry. However your creative instincts enable you, affective explorations can help us better reflect on our own individual or cultural identities, particularly as they are revealed to us when we experience contrasting identities.

Below we provide several poems about perception and identity. The downloadable article explores these further and explains how and why the last two were written. Please take a moment to read several, reflect on what they might mean, and as noted below, share whatever thoughts they inspire.

  • Perception
    “Perception is reality.
    It’s not what you say,
    But what is heard.
    It’s not what you show,
    But what is seen.
    It’s not what you mean,
    But what is understood.”
    (by Prany Sananikone, 2007, SISU intercultural course)

  • Distorted Images
    Funny how we imagine that “there”
    is better than ”here,”
    *that a change of wallpaper or surroundings

    will improve anything.
    But when we change the subject
    from geography to ethnography,
    then “we” always perceive ourselves as better
    than “they.”
    And somehow, THAT is NOT so funny.

  • Demarcations
    Windows, walls and fences,
    Peering over, peeking through
    Always on the outside,
    Wondering what to do.
    Barriers that limit,
    Patterns that preclude,
    Unfamiliar functions,
    New constraining rules.
    Reaching over lines drawn
    May not connect with you
    For the circle of the ingroup
    Seldom bends to new include.
    So I’m trying from the outside
    To find ways to join the group,
    But the strong perceptual barriers,
    Tend to keep out of the loop.

(two poems by Steve Kulich, written at the 2004 IACCP conference in Xi’an. You can read the full three-page article in the download to better understand why.)

Discuss which poem inspires you or echoes your feelings the most and why. Or perhaps you’ve noted another piece of prose or the lyrics of a song that capture some related feelings for you. If so, please share them. And comment on those shared by other learners that you like.

Reprint from the original, published as: Kulich, S. J. (2004). Exploring affective adaptation through poetry – Looking back on Xi’an, In William Bill K. Gabrenya, Jr. (Ed.). Cross-Cultural Psychology Bulletin, 38(3), 32-35. [ISSN 0710-068X] Retrieved from

© Shanghai International Studies University
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Intercultural Communication: Dynamics of cultural identities in global interaction

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