University of Portland Chines

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  • o Students are to engage in TWO conversations with people of cultural backgrounds that are different from their own. They are then to summarize the content of these conversations and reflect on what they learned through them. Because of the sensitivity of these interactions, it is important that students prepare themselves beforehand. 

1) Prayer and Meditation Preparation 

? Students will first spend time in prayerful preparation before engaging people in these interviews. Students should begin by reflecting on the heart of Jesus, who humbly and passionately pursued people from every social station, validating their suffering, seeking to communicate love, and inviting them into community. Students should meditate on the fact that Jesus has done this even for them. Relevant biblical passages should be reflected on to confirm this reality. 

? In view of this gracious pursuit, students should reflect on the mission of God/Jesus, which extends to every nation, every language, and every culture. Students should recall that God has set apart his people to be priests to mediate his love and compassion to those who do not yet know him. Students should reflect on the fact that – if they themselves have received Jesus’ saving grace by faith – they are included in this true people of God and therefore are commissioned with this stewardship. 

Students should recognize that the first step in this witness oftentimes takes the form of conversations characterized by mutual respect and genuine interest. 

? Students should then invite the Spirit to search their hearts and then confess any harbored prejudices and biases that they might have toward people of other cultures. Any notions of superiority, condescension, denigration, and unforgiveness must be repented of and relinquished by the grace of Jesus. 

? Students should then ask the Spirit to give them appropriate humility and curiosity as they approach these conversations, that they would communicate genuine interest in learning about another’s culture and express sincere appreciation for another’s life experience. 

2) Identification of Interviewees 

? In this class, “culture” will be understood in line with this definition: “Culture consists of concepts, values, and assumptions about life that guide behavior and are widely shared by people. . . . [These] are transmitted generation to generation, rarely with explicit instructions by parents, teachers, religious figures, and other respected elders.”1 “Cultural identity,” therefore, shapes “how a person answers the questions ‘Who am I?’ and ‘How do I fit into the world?’ through the lenses of culture, race, ethnicity, and/or class.”2 

? To prepare for these conversations, students should do a bit of research into their own cultural/ethnic backgrounds in order to clarify how they would define their own cultural identity. This is especially important for those who come from a majority cultural identity. Unless their cultural heritage is Native American, every American student has a history of immigration and adaptation into the American culture. Students should therefore reflect on the cultural journey of their own family to prepare them to learn about another’s journey. 

? Equipped with these definitions and self-knowledge, students are then to identify two individuals whose backgrounds represent cultures that are quite distinct from their own. Important elements such as the following are appropriate to consider in identifying conversation partners: country of origin, racial identity, geographical difference (within the US), primary language, economic difference, and religious perspective. This list is by no means exhaustive, but at least it will get students thinking along the right lines. Students should always seek to interview people whose cultural identities are the most distinct from their own. 

? Other important aspects of culture that will come up in these conversations include gender identity, sexual orientation, and family structure (e.g., single-/dual-parent, blended, etc.). As these surface, students should embrace the opportunity to listen to the ways in which they have helped to define “cultural identity.” 

3) The Conducting of the Interviews 

? Students are to download the interview form from Canvas and to use the 

questions listed there as a springboard toward connecting with the cultural background and experience of their conversation partners. 

? Students must always remember that their goals in this exercise are to ask significant questions, to listen well, to ask follow-up questions for clarity, and to summarize the interviewee’s answers to each question. 

? These interviews are NOT the time to challenge anything in the interviewees’ answers or perspectives. Rather, this is an opportunity to learn from another person and to validate the emotions, pains, and joys that are part of their journey within and without their cultures. Most importantly, politics must be kept out of these conversations, except as it has impacted the cultural experiences of the interviewees. 

? My colleague, Dr. Michael Longinow, teaches his journalism students that there are three questions every interviewee asks (in their mind, if not out loud): 1) Why do you want to know? 2) What will you do with what I tell you? 3) Do you care about me in all this? 

? As a result, special care must be taken to validate experiences of pain and to respond with genuine sadness and compassion. Care must also be taken to exercise patience toward those who might express perspectives that demonstrate a lack of awareness of culture and the role it plays in people’s experiences in life. Remember, the understanding and appreciation of another’s experience is the goal. 

? Students should take notes along the way to help them remember accurately the responses of their conversation partners. 

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