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Cultural diversity

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on September 7, 2007 at 12:44:24 pm

Living with the consequences of cultural diversity

Michael Eraut talked about the multiple discourses a professional has to engage with when working in their complex world but another way of expressing this might be the multiple cultures and languages that make up this complex world. Living and working with cultural diversity is a global issue and it should be represented in our picture of learning in a complex world.


I live on a rich multi-cultural campus, nearly 30% of our students are not of UK origin and we can appreciate this in any event we organise yet we make little attempt to utilise this rich cultural environment as a resource for own development of cultural understanding and capability.


Two things have happened recently that have heightened my awareness of my own inadequacy. My wife's parents, who are Iranian, have been staying with us and there is nothing quite like feeling of frustration and missed oportunity of not being able to communicate because of my highly limited vocabulary. I also participated in Catharine's masterclass session 'facilitating in the midst of cultural diversity' the central message of which was about the need for teachers to be sensitive to the cultures of their students and not to assume that what has meaning for us has the same meaning for our students.


Convinced SCEPTrE has to do something about this particular elephant but not quite sure what it was that needed doing we hosted a meeting for four colleagues who I knew were interested in the issue of multicultural education at Surrey - Vasso Vydelingum, Nimmi Hutnik, Geoff Hunt and Ewan Dow. It was a lively meeting and each of us shared past experiences of exposures to other cultures - we had all experienced first hand living in other cultures and many of us had families that were culturally mixed. Out of this chemistry was born the idea of a 'Cultural Academy'. Not an event or a place but an enquiry-rich process to help students gain a deeper awareness and appreciation of the importance of culture in social interaction and communication. 

The hope is that Cultural Academy will tap into the rich multicultural society at the University of Surrey fostering personal and collaborative enquiry into the cultural experiences of every day life. It will involve a commitment by students to participate in three afternoon workshops (October, November and January) when they will be encouraged to think about the cultural influences in their own lives, experience aspects of other cultures so that they are more conscious of the way other cultures see and interact with the world.  The spaces between the workshops will provide an opportunity for participants to use what they have learnt in their every day social interactions on and off campus. We have the idea of gropups of students working together to produce video diaries of their experiences.


Building on the experience of using this wiki, we'd like to support the process of conversation, culture sharing and story telling through a wiki but we are sensitive to the need for moderating and mediating what could at times be difficult conversations.


 Nimmi Hutnick has already run cultural sensitivity training programmes and she has developed a nice conceptual framework to explain different levels of cultural awareness and she thinks she can turn into an evaluation tool. (see below)


We anticipate that the process will be concluded in March through a 'Cultural Colloquium' organised and run by the students open to all students in which participants share their insights and learning and promote discussion within the wider student body.


We are interested to learn from anyone who has developed these sorts of opportunities for multicultural learning.



Yesterday (11th July)  I attended an Awayday of the university's mutlifaith chaplaincy involving Christian, Sikh, Moslem, Jewish and Buddhist (myself) chaplains of the university. The main item on the agenda was the development of the university's new MultiFaith Centre (replacing the current Quiet Centre). The University has approved an initial amount for the architect's wonderful plans (which I'd like you to see - we have a 3D 'fly-by' computer graphics display!) and a planning application is now going in. With some luck, and a lot more work, we might have a beautiful MultiFaith Centre by 2009-2010. On the other hand, without continuing support from top and bottom it might not happen at all. At the meeting I urged that living connections be made between the development of cultural awareness within the context of the university's education milieu and policy (students and staff). My intervention resulted in animated debate. It seems to me that multifaith developments vitally need the growth of multi-cultural awareness. It seems to me that with a 'multicultural soil' to grow in the new centre is much more likely to flourish, and help promote the understanding and diversity we need to recognise and enjoy. For some reason I appear to be alone in this idea at the moment - not sure why. I would like to suggest, as a starter, that one or two different Faith members of the Chaplaincy be invited to meetings of our cultural awareness project. Any thoughts?


Cultural Sensitivity Training Workshops - Nimmi Hutnik

These are fun workshops with lots of talk amongst participants and group facilitators about early memories, lots of processing of the cultural baggage that we carry, the creation of a cultural family tree in many different colours and many different exercises.  Students have found the workshops really useful and good to put on their CVs. We have really emphasised that these workshops are for everybody.  You might come from India, or China or Japan.  Or you may be from the North of England but are now living in Surrey, or from Northern Ireland or Wales, or Cornwall or Scotland.  In all these cases, there has been travel and an experience of difference. Or if you have lived in Surrey all your life, you will be aware of the increasing cultual mix of our student population and the popluation at large.


Students have said that they really valued a 'safe' space in which to talk about their ignorance, their fears of being labelled racist, their experience of prejudice and discrimination, their befuddlement when entering into Britain.  (see my article which is attached: N. Hutnik (In press) CST.pdfCultural Sensitivity Training: Description and Evaluation of a Workshop.


We are planning all sorts of new exercises: on language, body language, art and identity, and learning to sing and dance together. If you can think of anything else you might like to include in the way of exercises do write in. N.Hutnik@surrey.ac.uk


Thoughts on language and intercultural communication Ewan Dow

I suppose I am coming at this from a different angle - language. It's what makes the world go round (along with money!). And at least until 'youtube' came along it's what was driving the internet boom, too: text. I worry a lot that too many people equate global communication with English. Sure, it's THE global language, but we often forget that it's non-native speakers (NNS), rather than native speakers (NS) who are largely using it, NNS-NNS, rather than NS-NS interaction. There are more people learning English in China than speak it as a first language in the United States! I have made my career teaching English overseas, but started out by learning foreign languages. Now I have come full circle and have a degree of responsibility for both English for the overseas students and Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) for the 'locals'. Students at Surrey are really lucky in that they can study language classes alongside their main subject study for free in the 'Languages for All' programme (not free for staff!). When I first started nearly three years ago, the introductory talk for LfA was entitled 'Languages for Europe'. Oops. We soon gave that a new name, so it's now 'Languages for the Globe'. We have a problem in this country with languages - we are not very good at learning them - so we find that our overseas students are often more represented in LfA than the stiff-upper-lipped British. Language is quite high-profile out there in the UK right now, with the Dearing report just published on MFL in British schools. The pendulum seems to be swinging back in favour of language-learning again, but this time to include Urdu and Chinese in British schools, as well as French and German (so-called 'less widely taught' languages, I ask you - but WIDELY spoken!). Finally in case you thought the game was won for English: look at this interesting little statistic: In 2000 the proportion of English on the internet was 51.3%; by 2005 it was down to 32% (David Graddol, English Next, British Council 2006). Imagine the power of the net for the economy for the future. Looks like the English language has not got it all sewn up, after all. So language and culture cannot really be separated after all; all part of the same continuum, I think. Love to hear from you



What draws me to cultural sensitivity issues is my training as a nurse and an educator. I  was born and grew up on an island (Mauritius) where multiple languages and a variety of cultures and religions would be practised  side by side. It is not unusual to see a catholic church  in one street and  mosque or a hindu temple in the next street and  people having the freedom to express their religious and cultural identities without anyone batting an eyelid.  I agree with Ewan that language  and culture are so interlinked that any attempt to  explore culture  without due consideration of the language in which that culture is expressed would be incomplete. Mauritians are multi-linguals, as right from the age of five, primary school  pupils come to the classroom with either hindi, urdu or creole patoi and  start to learn English and French as these are official languages.  


Nimmi has given some details  above of the workshops we have planned. I have run  diversity and culture workshops with trained nurses and through such processes get practitioners to appreciate that there more common traits  than differences between cultures, and thus more cause to celebrate such commonalities and valuing the differences.  I have also carried  research on both South Asians' and nurses' experiences of care.  We look forward to seeing as many of you at the workshops as possible.



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