If a task has once begun, Never leave it it's done. Be the Labor? great or small, Do it well, or not at all? - Author Unknown
During my childhood, my mother would constantly recite the poem above to my brother, sister, and me. As an American high school English teacher, she was fascinated with the power of words and language. She transferred this love of language to me at a very young age. Later in my youth, my father and I would begin to have discussions regarding power, Politics, and culture. I can still remember being enchanted with the way words fell from her mouth. It was at this point in my youth, I fell in love with rhyme, rhythm, and all of the 'hidden' potential of Human Communication. I stand before you today as a person who has not lost that love for language. In fact, over the course of my lifetime, it has intensified. During my collegiate years, I chose to study Rhetoric, the use of all available means of persuasion in a given instant. At that time, I was not sure how I would make a living by studying Rhetoric, but I was sure that I loved the subject. My time in Korea has shown me that my knowledge in Rhetorical Study and my love for Human Communication has "real-world" applicability.
Due to my limited knowledge of Hanguk-mal, there have been many instances where I have experienced mis-communication, non-communication, and/or frustration from a general lack of understanding. But, my knowledge of Rhetoric, and my simultaneous love for Human Communication has allowed me to turn many other situations into opportunities. So, in this brief essay, I would like to explain a framework you can utilize as you attempt to establish cross-linguistic and cross-cultural bridges of your own. This framework consists of an understanding and application in three academic themes which I have become quite familiar over the years: 1) identity, 2) Ethnocentrism, 3) and improving Intercultural Communication competence. Through a discussion of these three principles, I aim to provide you with a fundamental understanding of effective Intercultural Communicative competence. The purpose here is to provide you with a philosophical framework that increases self-awareness, cultural awareness, and subsequently allows for the manifestation of the highest quality of cross-linguistic/cross-cultural communication.
Identity / Culture
In totality, Identity is the answer to the basic question: Who am I? A person's motivations, fears, desires, likes, dislikes, habits, prejudices, language, Palate, intellect, athleticism, strengths, weaknesses, and vices, simultaneously and collectively create that particular individual. Now. what gives birth to all these influential ingredients? Nothing short of environment; i.e. Culture. For all intensive purposes, Culture should be understood as the mode of transport for Identity.
Culture is the essence of our being. Culture is what our mothers cat while we reside in their wombs. Culture meets us when we leave those comfortable places and are quickly passed from obstetrician to nurses like hot-potatoes. Culture is waiting for young Americans at school when they first learn to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Culture is waiting for young Koreans when they learn the words to 아리랑. Culture was with us when we fell in love with Hip-Hop, went on our first date, left home for university; and it continues to be present when we receive our accolades and our criticism. Culture will be present when our loved ones gather for our Final Farewell. There is no single doubt about it; Human Beings are ENVELOPED in Culture. Our values, assumptions, beliefs, and expectations are constituted, constructed, and maintained by and through Culture. Consequently, our identities are deeply (if not totally) cultural.
Ethnocentrism is defined as the general assumption that one's race and culture are cultural to gaining a valid understanding of the entire world. Assuming this type of epistemological vantage point, the ethnocentric individual perceives and understands their culture as being normal, correct, and valid. Therefore, any cultural nuances that do not mirror this "normal" culture are understood as "abnormal." As one might imagine, scholars of Intercultural Communication consistently warn against assuming these types of stances. Semester after semester, I have lectured students on the importance of recognizing and avoiding ethnocentric practices; first within themselves and then in interpersonal situations. Yes, while it is true that culture influences mores, norms, beliefs, and values, it is also just as important to remain cognizant that ethnocentric stances are easily assumed if the ways enculturation processes influence our views on cultural difference are not taken into consideration. Ethnocentrism is unhealthy.
Intercultural Communication Competence
Language is one of the largest manifestations of culture. Yes, I am here to teach English. But, I've learned that attempting to learn Hanguk-mal has not been antithetical to the mission of teaching English; nor has it been counterproductive. In fact, it has increased my ability to reach certain students with whom I may not have been able to connect. Why? First and foremost, it is a constant reminder of how difficult it is to acquire a new language. The empathy I have discovered as a "student of language" has had a profound effect on how i've structured my lessons. The essence of Intercultural Communication Competence is sharing our language and culture: and through this process, so much information is gained for all those involved.
Case in point: During my time in Korea, I have been introduced to wonderful Korean cultural traditions; most of which were gained from one-year of interaction with students ac Goejeong High School in Daejeon. I learned of the history and instrumentation of the Samulnori band; the history of Kyoungbok palace; the intense, historical, cultural emotion of has? and how this emotion was influential in Korea's most popular folksong 아리랑 I have learned of historical and contemporary aesthetic of Hanji; traditional Korean paper used in cosmetic doorways and hand-held fans. I've learned about the history and contemporary system of Ondol; the various ways to make Kimchi, its ingredients, and its numberous medicinal benefits; the "crazy old man" who burned down Namdaemoon; the historical relationship between Japan and Korea? and the current feud over Dok-do island; Dokpoki, Bibambap, Yutnori, Chu-Seok, and even contemporary forms of entertainment like PC Bangs.
Not only was I able to glean information about Korea through practicing Intercultural Communication Competence, I was also to share cultural practices of my own. One particular lesson, I used while at Goejeung High School comes to mind. "Lift Every Voice and Sing, 'til Earth and Heaven ring... ring with the harmonies... of Liberty..." Though I've been told that I should leave singing to the ones who can actually do it, I grabbed the microphone and sang this song for 1.5 weeks to 21 different classes. Every time the song ended, my efforts were greeted with sincere applause! During our discussions of the song, some students said it sounded sad, others said it sounded hopeful, all seemed to appreciate it on some level. Little did they know, the mere act of singing the hymn gave me comfort and solace and helped alleviate some homesickness. Hence, this is a prime example of how practicing Intercultural Communication Competence benefits everyone involved in the Intercultural Exchange.
As proverbial as it may sound, I appreciate Albert Einstein's postulation that "imagination is far more important than knowledge." In this Particular case, I am asking all Chungnam National University students to practice utilizing 'imagination' and 'knowledge' in tandem. Do nor allow fear of failure or mis-communication deter you from being a courageous participant in cross-cultural/cress-linguistic communication. During my time in Korea, I am positive that my theoretical understandings of culture and communication have proven beneficial. As undergraduate students in the early 21st century, you are the generation that will navigate a world that is much different from that of your parents. You have a playing field that looks nothing similar to what generations before you have had. You will be required to talk to different people, live in different places, and speak different languages. These new ways of living will require more than just practical knowledge, these new ways of living will take a certain level of philosophical knowledge, moral fortitude, and courage, I know these things because I am LIVING these things. Be brave. Be courageous. Be strong. Without risk there is no reward.
By eRiC Durham
The GoodDoctor's Conner -
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