This workshop was developed in 2000 for a Western Regional Conference and has been used dozens of times in pre-departure orientations, classrooms, and volunteer trainings.
Goal: Students will understand that observation is an important tool in their ability to understand
and enter into other cultures, whether those cultures are international or domestic.
- Students will learn to differentiate between observations and judgments and how they
apply to culture.
- Students will learn how they might be viewed by others through the lenses of
generalizations and stereotypes.
- Flipchart paper
- Large pictures or posters presenting typical U.S. student stereotypes
(any subgroup that students often have preconceived notions about, such as jocks,
brains, skaters, band kids, prep school students, etc.)
Time Required: 30 minutes
- Post 3-4 pictures or posters around the room with blank flipchart paper next to each one.
- Provide a marker to each student. Ask them to circulate individually to each picture and write
down one they would use to “describe the person or people” in the picture. It is important to
keep the instructions simple and emphasize the word “describe” in the instructions. Encourage
the students to come up with new words rather than repeat those that have already been written.
- After the students have finished writing, review the list at each picture and ask the students to
put themselves “in the shoes” of the chosen subgroup being discussed. How do they feel about
their brainstorming results? They will likely come to the conclusion that the subgroup would
agree with some characteristics while objecting to others.
- Ask the class to explain the difference between observations (statements about others
informed primarily by your empirical senses) and judgments (statements about others informed primarily by your interpretations). Point out that judgments are not necessarily negative as often perceived. We frequently make positive judgments about other groups. Stress that making judgments is a natural part of being human, but one that closes our minds to other people and groups. Whether positive or negative, judgments are not as useful as observations in looking at people who are different than ourselves.
- Return to the lists for each picture and ask the group to identify any observations on each list.
Typically, there will be many judgments and only a few observations on the list, so it is
important to use these examples to identify what observations are. If there are none, ask the
group to come up with any observations about the subgroup.
- Ask students for examples of when they might be in a situation where they will be coming into contact with a different culture. Encourage them to think about situations inside and outside the U.S. Regardless of the situation, the lesson is the same. We will be more successful understanding and entering into another culture if we do our best to suspend judgments and focus on making observations about others. Reciprocally, people from the other culture will appreciate our efforts to understand them – their customs, behavior, and beliefs.