Literacy, Culture, and Group Harmony Cultural literacy is an important theme in life, especially when working with people from diverse cultures that have very different values and languages. In the Middle East the culture is very collectivist where the needs of the group are usually most important…
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Even if a person is not fluent in the foreign language used by those they are working with, they must have literacy in cultural symbols in order to understand what is being expressed. My personal experience with literacy involves working with diverse individuals from countries in the Middle East in a business context. During the course of our experience together, people were grouped together in order to problem solve and role play scenarios as they might occur in an academic and/or business environment. Some of the individuals in my group had English as their second language and were not very fluent and tended to grow frustrated while they were trying to communicate effectively. Especially when the elements of the group were involving role play exercises, they did not seem to be very productive and it impacted the quality of the group and its intentions. People who come from collectivist countries tend to look out for group needs and respect concepts, culturally, such as identifying with the family structure, ritual and tradition (Blodgett, Bakir & Rose, 339). These are social processes that often change people’s personality and behaviors and make it difficult for them to work well with others, especially when there are disagreements. Added to this is the problem of having a poor grasp on English literacy that can create many misunderstandings. During one role-play exercise, I was brainstorming ideas about how to handle a problem at a workplace that involved theft from low-level employees. My role was a manager and the foreign individual was a senior manager with authority over me. Together, we were to come up with a solution on how to handle the problem and stop theft since it was becoming a cost issue. While the foreign person from Saudi Arabia was attempting to communicate effectively, the group continued to laugh at her because of her poor English literacy. She did not take well to this at all since she came from a collectivist culture where group needs are usually taken seriously first and foremost. Those that were laughing at her were from the United States and spoke English fluently. During the first break in the role playing exercise, I took the foreign person aside and explained to her that we could use symbolism as a means to communicate better. She attempted to express her frustration over the poor manners of the group and I simply informed her that some people are not literate about the different cultural problems that English-as-a-Second Language students maintained. However, this did not satisfy her and she was growing clearly upset over how she had been treated by her group members. “The symbolic nature of language may complement or support a story’s theme or meaning” (Madden, 93). I realized that in order to be successful with this group and make the foreign group member comfortable, I would have to think of a way to communicate using symbolism. Next week, when the group reassembled for the same role play exercises as part of this training program, I was prepared with a new cultural literacy. Before the meeting, I informed all of the group members about the respect for group goals and for tradition that people from the Middle East carried. I had found a great article on the Internet that described many cultural dimensions common in Saudi Arabia, including
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