Cultural differences – Americans and Cambodians

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A recent post about the cow/grass/chicken test got a big response and got me thinking about more of the differences between Khmer culture and western culture. A web search took me to a good American educational website (The Language Minority Assessment Project ) which explores cultural differences but in so doing puts the very sensible disclaimer that this is not an effort to over simplify or stereotype people, and that above all students in the classroom must still be treated and respected as individuals.

Their website is the outcome of the Language Minority Assessment Project, a Lesley University Center for Special Education action research initiative developed with teachers from the Lowell Public Schools in Massachusetts, and one of the objectives of the project was to enable teachers to distinguish between culturally driven behaviours versus what might be perceived as learning difficulties.

For example in the western, or particularly American tradition, verbal disagreement and debate is actively encouraged whereas in Cambodia as student might choose to remain silent rather than to disagree with a teacher.

The list of different cultural emphases above explains why group learning activities are popular in Cambodia – where the class is split into teams and students share the successes and challenges, rather than get singled out.

One way around some of these differences in outlook is to lace the school lessons with a lot of humour and laughter. When I tell tall-stories that are patently false (did I tell you how I swam all the way from New Zealand to Siem Reap?) the students are given license to park their respect for the teacher to one side. “You’re lying!” they’d jeer. And no matter how I embellished the story (the final swim across Tonle Sap lake, fending off the crocodiles,) the students knew they had permission to ‘rubbish’ the teacher. In this case the quest for social harmony trumps the rule of deference and respect.

Perhaps readers have other examples they would like to share.

By the way, if you don’t know me, my name is Duncan Stuart and I’m a New Zealand based writer and researcher and supporter of Savong’s School in Cambodia. I love to write and would love your company – how about clicking the “follow button.”  Thanks!

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