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Professor hosts workshop on cultural etiquette | The Triangle

Professor hosts workshop on cultural etiquette

On April 11, English Learning Center professor Andrew Petersen presented Etiquette Without Borders, an interactive and discussion-based workshop. The event served to educate its attendees on both personal and business etiquette across a variety of cultures.

Members of the audience were divided into groups at the beginning of the workshop. Each member of the group was then given a world map and asked to label the countries they had visited or lived in. Then, the group was collectively asked to guess which country each member was originally from. The audience comprised diverse individuals from countries such as Japan, Mexico, Oman and Romania among others. Each individual was given a nametag and asked to write his or her name in English. Any group members that could write in a different language wrote the name, in the respective language, of each person in their group. At the end of this activity, one individual’s name was written in several languages including Japanese, Spanish and Arabic. Many participants were impressed with the scripture of different languages and commented that they would be keeping their nametags.

This activity stretched further than just following the directions given out. Each group actively engaged in conversation, deeply intrigued by the different ethnicities that members of the group were representing.

“I was afraid to stop the audience from talking among themselves because I heard so many great conversations going on between them,” Petersen noted.

Next, the workshop focused on stereotypes of different cultures.

“When you first meet them, what do people from this country seem to be…?” Petersen asked the audience.

The first country discussed in this manner was Malaysia. The audience responded with a consensus of “supremely friendly.” Some answers for countries such as Turkey (“exuberant, very friendly, and loquacious”) and Romania (“emotionally reserved, and hard to read”) were based on only people the audience knew from that country. Other responses were humorous. The audience described the Japanese as “cute” and “five minutes early is late,” Mexicans as “tequila,” “loud and friendly,” and “outgoing,” and lastly Omanis as “rich.” Overall, audience members examined what the most prominent social aspects of these different cultures were and what came to mind when each culture was brought into context.

Former Triangle opinion writer and pre-junior Talha Mukhtar was encouraged by the discussion of cross cultural awareness at the event, noting, “It is important to maintain a cross cultural awareness. If you don’t, how will you build yourself as a person?” Many audience members were excited to implement their learnings from the workshop into their own careers or educational disciplines. “Part of my philosophical discipline is ethical philosophy. Ethics and etiquette has a lot to do with each other and has a real ethical impact in how you choose to view yourself and interact with others,” Talha explained, a double major in political science and philosophy with a minor in economics.

“As a nursing student, I come across many different backgrounds and it is crucial as a good nurse and a good citizen to be aware of different aspects of all cultures,”  sophomore Janette Angel stated, illustrating the importance of being culturally aware in her career field.

Petersen explained that viewing culture can be described as an iceberg. The tip of the iceberg is the aspects of different cultures that we only see: words, tonality, body languages, and gestures. But beneath the surface, there are deeper aspects to culture than what meets the eye– beliefs, values, feelings and prejudices.

“We need to know what effect our actions have on other people and be aware of how they think and how we come across as the world gets more globally connected,” Petersen explained.

Petersen then discussed the importance of cultural etiquette specifically for Drexel students.

“As Drexel gets more connected and students travel for exchange programs and co-op, we have to know how to act when we travel overseas – not just assume that since English is the global language we can take our normal American cultural etiquette overseas,” he stated.

Petersen gave the audience a list of common cultural misunderstandings. Participants learned about many new cultural idiosyncrasies and laughed at how confusing these misunderstandings could be.

In India shaking your head does not indicate a disagreement, but rather an agreement. Similarly, in Bulgaria the conventional head movements for “yes” (nodding) and “no” (shaking) are reversed. “Yes, yes,” in Japanese culture indicates an acknowledgment, not agreement. In Japan, it is the norm to respond to a negative question with a positive answer, unlike in the United States.

Another example Petersen presented was that if a Japanese student were asked, “You didn’t do your homework did you?”; the student will respond with the positive answer “yes,” indicating that they did not do their homework, whereas a student in the US would respond with “no” to indicate the same message. Differences like these could easily create cross-cultural confusion. The audience laughed particularly hard when informed that in Italy it is more polite to give the wrong directions to anyone asking rather than admit that they do not know the answer.

Mustafa Akben, a graduate student in business and organizational dynamics, mentioned  how in America we generally greet or acknowledge anyone we make eye contact with. But in Turkey, randomly greeting strangers is considered awkward, confusing, and not the social norm.

“There is a book written by Gareth Morgan and in one of the chapters he explains that a ‘Psychic Prison’ is an individual constricted or ‘imprisoned’ to only his culture without being able to see other cultures, therefore regarding your culture the best. The world is so different and there are many differences on the outside. I am just trying to broaden my horizon by learning about other cultures and people,” Mustafa explained detailing why he chose to attend the workshop.

Last term, Petersen hosted “One Voice: A Linguistics Workshop,” showcasing the diversity in languages spoken around the world, which marketing major Taiki Akabane attended and enjoyed.

“These events bring me a lot of interesting interactions with other international and American students, providing a great opportunity to improve my English skills. As a business major, we have to understand what the social norms are for people from different cultures and cultural barriers,” Akabane explained.

“There is so much value in bringing together people from across the campus who may not have had the chance to meet each other before,” Peterson noted at the end of the workshop.

Petersen currently teaches Linguistics 102. He has been teaching at Drexel for four years, but has taught subjects in English all over the world. Fluent in Spanish, French, Turkish, and English, Petersen has a wealth of knowledge about different cultures across the globe. He plans on leading similar workshops in the future, themed around global competency.