Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Discovering Jordan - Introduction - Icebergs in the Desert

Culture is like an Iceberg was the discussion topic for Mr. Shadeed’s Cultural Studies class.  I learned more than the students.
Teaching gives one insights into local culture, and a regular substitute gets to know a school quickly.  So by the time I had spent a few weeks covering math, history, and French classes in our Dubai international school, I felt fairly competent.  But when given an Arabic teacher’s schedule, I laughed because I knew only two words of Arabic – shukran and la (thank you and no).  Fortunately, another Arabic teacher lent her assistant, and these students are fairly respectful.  But I was relieved when 4th period Cultural Studies required analysis of a simile, and was conducted in English.  I enthusiastically listed iceberg qualities and made Titanic comparisons to culture, until the 7th graders’ eyes started to glaze.  Then they were permitted to create artistic interpretations of the subject, while my mental wheels kept spinning.  That was 9 months ago...

How is culture like an iceberg?  Both are majestic, constantly-evolving creations, their beauty supported by massive hidden structures.
Because of occasional disasters, people fear and avoid icebergs and foreign cultures, even centuries after a scary event.  And it’s true that if we barrel radar-blind through unfamiliar waters, bad things can happen.  But we can learn lessons from the Titanic, such as to slow down around icebergs and other cultures, and understand that much waits to be encountered beneath the surface.  Each of us is like an iceberg, traveling with our cultural families, often bumping into icebergs from other places.  When we are friendly and respectful, our interactions are usually safe and enriching.

Icebergs and cultures might make a big noise when they collide, but mostly they float peacefully, sharing fragments of information when they interact.  An Australian kid once observed, “You’re American, aren’t you?  You sound like the blokes on the telly.”  “That’s funny,” I replied, “so do you.”  (I’ve always thought of ‘British’ accents as intelligent, because of the BBC shows on our educational channel.  Wonder what impression American reality shows give the world?)
Globalization has caused much melting in recent years, so it’s important to record and appreciate our world’s icebergs and cultures as they exist today.  In Dubai’s heat, people from many countries melt together and raise a generation of ‘third-culture kids.’  At school, our young icebergs bump into each other and share information.  Will this create a uniform watered-down culture, or more diverse icebergs?