Reflecting on Riftworld Chronicles and Culture Shock

So, I’m a giant nerd, so it’s not surprising that my taste in Youtube channels reflects that. Lately I’ve been enjoying Riftworld Chronicles by Geek & Sundry. It’s the story of a wizard from a fantastic world who accidentally winds up in ours. In the most recent episode, the wizard has to navigate the more paperwork-y points of our healthcare system.

Starting at about 1:33, the nurse and wizard have an interaction during which the nurse asks to see a health card, driver’s license, or other form of ID. The wizard complies by displaying a tattoo that surely has deep, significant meaning to him, but not to the nurse.

At this point, my spouse remarked, “He still thinks he’s in his own world!”

I disagreed. “He knows he’s in a different world,” I said, “It’s just that he takes the things that have universal meaning in his world for granted. He’s not thinking deeply about them because he’s never really had to before. Why would you question something that has always worked the way it’s supposed to in the past?”

This is an example of culture shock. When you are part of one culture and interact with or become immersed in another, you’re going to run up against elements completely unfamiliar to you (like “health card” and “driver’s license”). But you’ll also be faced with the fact that the things you take for granted seeming completely alien to others.

Culture shock can occur when traveling or moving to another country, but it can happen without you ever leaving home. You can experience culture shock in a lot of ways, through language barriers and age gaps, and other obstacles. I think sometimes professionals experience it as technology in our industries move forward. I think it’s common to feel towards social media, and how people use it. (I love Twitter lately, but I just can’t with you, Snapchat.) And I think it happens between students in our classrooms, especially when we get kids from different socioeconomic classes, different family structures, different religions, different races, different cultures, and so on.

So how do we handle culture shock in the classroom? I’m not about to recommend a one-size-fits-all sort of solution, because I doubt one exists. What works in my elementary computer lab would probably not be the best thing for a high school foreign language class. I think different approaches will work for different people, and that different classroom settings call for different ideas and actions anyway. It’s an important aspect of differentiation. You don’t make the effort to address culture just because we should celebrate diversity; you make the effort to address culture because it’s a very fundamental thing to basic communication. People may be completely unaware that they’re looking from a different perspective. But being aware that there may be a difference is probably a decent enough place to start.

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