Linfield professor urges for cultural understanding

Elizabeth Stoeger, For The Review

It is not enough to send students abroad and hope that they gain cultural understanding and proficiency, students must be taught.

“This type of learning is not necessarily knowledge, but rather a competence that needs to be acquired, developed, and applied,” Professor of Modern Languages Violeta Ramsay said.

On Wednesday in Riley Hall, Ramsay presented her speech, “Culture and the Global World: Educating the Citizen of the 21st Century,” before a crowd of students, faculty, and interested community members as part of the faculty lecture series.

Ramsay has been a professor in the Modern Languages department at Linfield since 1990. She specializes in theoretical linguistics and is the co-director of Linfield’s Language in Motion program, which promotes language and culture in McMinnville schools.

Ramsay stressed the importance of training before studying abroad.

Students must be ready to confront cultural difference without hesitation or ignorance. The goal is to create “citizens of the world.”

Textbooks are not helpful because they only discuss objective culture, the obvious, visual aspects of the culture. Students must also be aware of subjective culture, the less evident, and psychological traits that characterize a group.

As Ramsay plainly stated, the road to cultural proficiency is not easy, but “intercultural competence is essential.”

Respecting a culture is not enough and identifying similarities is not enough. To be culturally proficient, differences must be acknowledged and embraced.

“We need to be trained to understand intercultural competence–how it develops, how to guide learners to acquire it,” Ramsay said.

The Intercultural Development Inventory was designed to measure intercultural competence. The test should ideally be taken before and after a study abroad session to gauge change in cultural understanding.

Cultural competency and cultural knowledge are not equal.

“What she says is completely true. Students overestimate how culturally competent they are,” agreed senior Spanish major Jory Gibson.

The ways we deal with differences are “promoted or inhibited by our experiences,” Ramsay said. The truth is that, “Ours is just one organizational reality among many.”

After listening to the speech, sophomore Giselle Naranjo-Cruz reflected on the importance of welcoming differences and integrating them into personal conceptions of the world.

This is not only true for students. People with sensitivity to differences are increasingly in demand in the workplace as well.

“This pluralistic society has made culture a key factor in that college graduates are expected to be prepared to interact with people from diverse cultural backgrounds,” Ramsey said.

However, students cannot be forced to develop cultural proficiency skills. As Ramsay said, the student who does the best shows an “intent or willingness to know or learn more.”

Those who want to become culturally confident, especially study abroad students, must have the full weight of the curriculum supporting them.

She emphasized that teaching should be culturally non-specific and address the needs of all cultures.

“The desired abilities should not be restricted to ethnic or national difference, but rather to any type of difference: gender, sexual orientation, level of physical abilities, religion, age, or class,” Ramsey said.