Topic 2

Understanding the cultures.
What are they?

Introduction

 

Discourses over integration and social inclusion of migrant students imply a broader reflection on the concept of culture. As described in the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity¹ , culture is a complex phenomenon, due to its dynamic and changing nature, to its strict link to a specific context and to people’s subjectivity, and thus should be regarded as:

A set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of society or of a social group, [embracing] art and literature, lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs

Understanding the meaning of culture is fundamental to orientate our relations with other people and to shape the way we perceive our own identity. In such a context, it’s therefore essential to cooperate together to promote interculturality and fight against discrimination and stereotypes.

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1 UNESCO (2001). Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity. University of Minnesota. Human Rights Library:
http://hrlibrary.umn.edu/instree/culturaldiversity.html

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Watch the video to learn more about Topic 2 contents.

How can we defeat stereotypes and prevent discriminatory attitudes?

One important role is played by schools, as they represent unique spaces where people from different backgrounds and cultures can meet, thus contributing to promoting an intercultural society that recognises and respects socio cultural differences². Interculturality has been defined as:

The existence and equitable interaction of diverse cultures and the possibility of generating shared cultural expressions through dialogue and mutual respect³.

Intercultural learning rejects any categorisations or generalizations of cultures and peoples, any division into “us” and “them”, any hierarchy. For an educator, implementing intercultural methods towards social inclusion, means first of all, to analyse own identity, support diversity and deal with sensitive social and political issues, in a non-judgemental and respectful way. She/he should be able to boost students’ curiosity and interest in others, as well as manage conflictual situations and facilitate relations between students. Working with migrants, it is important to invest time and energy to get to know better their backgrounds, interests, desires and needs, overcoming linguistic barriers.

 

In order to support teachers in the development of intercultural classes, we suggest the use of storytelling as a good practice to strengthen students’ curiosity on other cultures, critical thinking and self-awareness. We show its application in the Erasmus+ project LISTEN – Learning from Intercultural Storytelling, where storytelling was used for the education of adult refugees and migrants, through the methods of radio and other forms of audio broadcasting. Thus, this approach is upscaled by moving to secondary school education and proposing several re-adaptations, ranging from the use of Images, inspired by the board-
game Dixit, to the use of digital technologies.

 

Storytelling can contribute to reducing biased images and stereotypes, valuing diversity and developing empathy in the class. At the end of the topic, you will be able to test your competences and knowledge and to recognise your own, often hidden, prejudices and stereotypes which may hinder the creation of intercultural learning environments. To this aim, you can click on “Check your knowledge!” and see what you have learnt.

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2 Berry, J. W. 2005. Acculturation: Living Successfully in Two Cultures. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 29, 697–712

3 UNESCO (2005). The 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. UNESCO: https://en.unesco.org/creativity/convention/texts

 

Specific objectives

Teachers:

  • To guide students in the process of understanding cultures and recognising cultural differences

  • To create inclusive, intercultural classes 

  • To promote curiosity on different cultural backgrounds, increase tolerance and reduce prejudices and xenophobia in the school setting

  • To overcome linguistic barriers

Students:

  • To reflect on socio-cultural differences and better understand each other

  • To strengthen their creativity and collaboration competences 

  • To learn how to communicate despite linguistic barriers

 

Learning outcomes

Teachers:

  • Apply the methodology of storytelling to foster students’ inclusion 

  • Breakdown social constructs, analyse own approach to culture and interculturality 

  • Better understand learners from diverse cultural backgrounds and provide them with tailored support

Students:

  • Understand basic concepts related to people’s identity 

  • Recognise and value socio-cultural differences 

  • Contribute to the creation of inclusive, intercultural learning environments

Good practice

 

There are many participatory methods that can be used to address human rights issues of people around the world, and storytelling plays a fundamental role as it connects diverse living experiences and builds a universal culture of human rights⁴.  

The Erasmus+ project LISTEN – Learning from Intercultural Storytelling focused on the use of oral storytelling (2016-2018) promoted the use of oral storytelling to contribute to the integration of refugees, by giving them the opportunity to raise their voice. The project especially focused on radio and other audio broadcasting methods to share refugees’ stories, contributing to strengthening their feeling of self-esteem and sense of belonging to the community. Moreover, LISTEN partners developed a validation system – LEVEL5 – to make visible refugees’ learning progress, increasing their self-esteem and confidence.

LISTEN chose to apply the storytelling approach to facilitate the creation of bridges between refugees’ community and the host country society, and to open a “window” into the refugee culture, enhancing intercultural sensitivity and empathy. 

We suggest storytelling as a good practice in the educational environment as it possesses unique benefits on the pedagogical, personal and social level: not only does it contribute to boosting learners’ motivation but is also facilitates students’ personal and cultural self-awareness and improves their ability to understand and respect differences and communicate across cultures. For refugees this is even more important, considering their, often, traumatic experiences.

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4 Chin, K. & Rudelius-Palmer, K. (2010) Storytelling as a Relational and Instrumental Tool for Addressing Racial Justice. Race/Ethnicity: Multidisciplinary Global Contexts, 3, 2, 265–81. Indiana University Press.

5  LISTEN. About Listen. Listen: https://listen.bupnet.eu/

 

UPSCALING:

 

We upscale the good practice of Storytelling by applying it to the secondary school educational level, with the aim to foster the inclusion of recently arrived migrants through different activities. Apart from its advantages for language learning (as shown in Topic 1), storytelling represents a powerful tool for intercultural dialogue and for dismantling stereotypes and prejudices, thus to help migrants regain a link with their heritage and identity. 

More recently, storytelling has become more and more digital, thanks to social media and other online platforms. Recent research carried out in Italy, reports how digital storytelling “can facilitate migrants in producing narratives for self-expression and support them in reflecting on real-life examples of discrimination”⁶.

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6 Rutta, C.B., Schiavo, G., & Zancanaro, M. (2019). Comic-based Digital Storytelling for Self-expression: an Exploratory Case-Study with Migrants. [Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Communities & Technologies - Transforming Communities]

But first, let’s have a look at the key elements of storytelling and at some basic suggestions to properly implement it!

Stories are part of our everyday life, but not all stories evoke the same emotional impact. When real life stories are told, some additional considerations should be taken into account, as some stories may raise a sense of shame and vulnerability, and this is especially true for refugees and migrants who may have experienced serious hardship. 

When creating your story, consider its relevance for the listeners and your reasons to tell it, include an introduction, middle and end, and do not forget to be yourself, deciding which personal experiences to share. The story is often narrated in the first person, but here are some suggestions for facilitators:

Speak slowly and clearly, modulating your tone of voice on your emotions

Give participants enough time to think, ask questions, comment

Inspire trust and confidence, inviting the free expression of emotions

Set clear goals and contents of your activity

Show interest in your students’ stories

Be flexible, open minded and curious

If you want to boost creativity, you should pay attention to the surrounding environment⁷. Seek a quiet and comfortable place to work with students; though you may not be free to choose the space, you may enrich it with smaller elements, such as nice pictures on the walls, plants, proper lighting. Thus, organise regular sessions to support your students to open up to storytelling.

Do not feel discouraged if your students initially think not to have imagination or any interesting story to tell. You can try to overcome this tendency with simple warming-up steps (additional warm-up exercises are provided in Activity 1). Here are some, retrieved from LISTEN Manual⁸:

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7 LISTEN. About Listen. Listen: https://listen.bupnet.eu/

8 Ibid.

 

Here are some final remarks before getting started with the activities:

  • Eye contact and gestures brings considerable meaning

  • Listeners are not passive actors, as they have to imagine the world you are evoking with your words. 

  • No one cannot know you are nervous! Just breathe calmy, be proud and stay focused.

Activities

 
 

Assessment tool ★2

References and Useful Links:  

        https://www.coe.int/en/web/education/documentary-the-competences-we-need