I wrote something about “Cultural Bumps” for an online course I’m teaching related to culture. In one course assignment, participants are asked to write about a conflict or misunderstanding they had with someone from another culture and then are asked to write up the same incident from the perspective of the other person involved. Below is what I wrote as a model. I hope it is somewhat enjoyable or interesting.
A few years ago I was talking to students after class had just finished. From my view, students in my school tend to work extremely hard and are very polite and kind. In this conversation they were complaining about how tight their schedule is and how they have classes all day and no time to rest or even any time to have lunch. They do have a tight schedule and I tried my best to be a good listener and to empathize with them. I agreed they work very hard and even said how impressive their hard work was. As they were talking, I thought they just wanted to be appreciated for their hard work and to feel understood. I acknowledged I knew how hard they worked and sort of just kept saying that I know it is tough. I think I even suggested that they make sure to get enough sleep. I took the whole conversation as something friendly and maybe that they were trying to develop a sense of camaraderie and mutual understanding. I felt like students wanted to be heard and maybe forgiven for being tired. I didn’t even think the conversation was anything unusual or out of the ordinary until a few days later when one of the students enlightened me. She told me they were actually trying to ask if we could start class a little bit later in order to give them time to get some food and have a break before starting my class. My assumption that if they had a concrete request they would just ask me directly about it. I didn’t consider that they could mean anything beyond the words what they were saying. I couldn’t imagine complaining about a busy schedule was actually a request for a slight change in the time to start class. The story ended with me thanking the student who told me about the intended meaning and then suggesting to the whole group we start class a bit later the following week. I think this resolved the issue, though the story is always a good reminder to me that things might not always be as they seem.
A few years ago after class with Mike, one of my favorite teachers ever, I had an interesting experience. Class had just finished and we were all sitting around and chatting on a Tuesday night after class. On Tuesdays we had 9 hours of class, all right in a row from 9 am to 6 pm. Class with Mike was from 3 pm to 6 pm so you can imagine how tired we were after such a long and busy day. So, Mike was packing up and getting ready to go and Sojin mentioned how hard we were working and how long of a day it was. She was trying to suggest that we start class a bit late but she didn’t want to offend him or make him feel bad. I think she was worried Mike might think she was complaining and also worried to make a direct request because it might seem lazy or like we didn’t’ care about his class. Mike smiled and said he understood. He said he knew how hard we were working. He said it was impressive but he didn’t make any mention of changing the starting time. Next, I mentioned how we didn’t even have time to eat and I thought for sure he’d figure out what we were getting at. Mike is usually pretty good at figuring things out and reading the room but not this time. He just kept re-stating that he knew how hard we worked and how impressive it was. This went on for a while and ended with Mike saying something about the importance of sleep. I know he was trying to be helpful but we really just wanted to start class 15 minutes later and we didn’t want to ask directly. We thought it might sound rude to ask directly so we just left increasingly big hints. He never got it. The whole situation was uncomfortable for me and probably all the students. Mike seemed to think it was just fine and normal. He was oblivious! We really thought he’d figure it out, especially by the time the third person explained the situation and mentioned how long and exhausting our days are. Finally, a few days later I mentioned to him privately that we were actually trying to change the starting time for our class with him. He seemed shocked! He changed the schedule and we started class later from then on. My classmates never knew that I’d explained it to him and gave Mike credit for figuring out our request, even though it was later than we expected and hoped.