The Importance of a Cross-Cultural Education

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Hello All,

I hope you have had a fabulous autumn season. Here in Ontario, we have already seen snow and watched the leaves fly! For this post, I want to discuss the importance of cross-cultural educational research, and ultimately, the benefits of cross-cultural perspectives in schools as a way to broaden and engage in deep and important learning about ‘the other’.

A large focus of my graduate work involved comparative research with some phenomenal academics at The Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Under the guidance of Dr. Alex Branco Fraga and his research team, POLIFES, I was able to get a glimpse into the perspectives of students in Porto Alegre and draw comparisons with Toronto youth.

I am forever grateful to my Brazilian counterparts as I was able to do important comparative research surrounding how young people in Canada and Brazil take up and embody their physical education, media and gendered experiences. In this post, I hope to illuminate some of the key findings from this cross-cultural research, and ultimately, strengthen the case for the importance of diversity when attempting to cultivate students who are true ‘global citizens.’

So, here goes. These were several significant cross-cultural findings that emerged through this comparative project. Most importantly for this post, these findings are ones that I may not have discovered about my Canadian participants without the Brailizan voice and vice versa;

  • Young people in Canada and Brazil are not so different when it comes to their internalizations about physical activity, body perception and social media. Across both countries, students reiterate neoliberal understandings of physical activity and how they should closely monitor and regulate their bodies to become good citizens. What this means is that students suggested a moral imperative to maintain a very specific, gendered body. Students often spoke about Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat as places where they learned what that body should look like. This makes sense; we all know the world has become smaller as technology continues to advance.  The students in my study showed us that images and access to a specific, ideal body are uniform across social media, whether it was in Brazil or Canada.

 

  • Canadian youth took this regulation of the body to a more confined space and they discussed ‘moderation’ as the new way in which to control your body. They communicated that one cannot be too fat or too thin and to be either would represent a major disservice to your health and, ultimately, to your ability to be a good, law-abiding citizen. I argued that this narrowed range of body acceptance was invoking a serious level of anxiety in our Canadian youth; a level of anxiety that I didn’t see with the Brazilian students.

 

  • One major difference the students illuminated for me, and this is kind of sad, was that Canadian students did not locate pleasure in their movement experiences, or with their bodies in general. For the purpose of this sociological study, pleasure was meant to show that there was an absence of joy when young people (particularly girls) spoke about what they ate, how they moved and what they looked like. Young women in Canada remained fixated on achieving a specific, gendered (and moderate) body, whereas Brazilian youth moved into conversations about embodied pleasures. They spoke about how their bodies moved in space, how good that felt, and how happy they were to have that experience. What a fascinating difference and one that really accentuates how much learning can be done when we think about the same concepts across different cultural lines. There you have it.

Recently, I made a very simple observation that got me thinking about this last point, or about how cultural diversity can create important learning opportunities when many countries exist under one roof (or in one study). It reminded me of the important lessons that I wouldn’t have been able to learn if the young people in Brazil were not part of my study. In fact, the findings of my study would not have been novel at all without their insights!

Back to the event. This experience was at an evening get together at the very culturally-diverse boarding school where I work. As I was leaving this event, I noticed several Brazilian and Mexican students relaxing in some chairs by the front doors enjoying a hot chocolate. It struck me, actually, that these 14-year-olds had the maturity and patience to sit with their friends in conversation and enjoy a hot beverage for that amount of time. To me, this was as an example of the embodied pleasures that the Brazilian students spoke in great length about in my study. These young people were experiencing a simple pleasure that appeared to be inconsequential, but was actually quite powerful, at least in my mind. I told them how cool I thought it was as I was leaving, and they just raised their mugs in a ‘cheers,’ silently. So cool.

As technology continues to refine (and define?) and young people continue to adapt, it is the research and education that joins together several (or many) cultural backgrounds that allows for transformational change that mirrors these global trends. This serves our academy and our young people in countless (tangible and intangible) ways and allows them to explore any concept through a completely different lens other than their own. How important is this for an age group that physiologically and psychologically is said to exist on their own little islands?! This opportunity would not be possible without my friends (or my student’s friends) from other parts of the world.

As I was walking out, I saw some of our day students (Canadians) join their friends for that hot chocolate. The symbolism was powerful …

 

L

2 thoughts on “The Importance of a Cross-Cultural Education”

  1. So curious about this Laura. I wonder, in an international school, which norm the student body veers toward as they learn from one another.

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    1. Thanks for this, Heather! I like to think that humans have an innate desire to experience pleasure in their lives – or why would we have sport, dancing, music, dining, etc.? I think in an affluent, North American context, we can lose this desire when it comes to our bodies because we are inundated with messages about control and good citizenry, which is important when we look at extremes, but not so much for young people who are generally healthy. So, I suppose my answer is that, if we offer the opportunity and shift this dialogue, we shift back to experiencing the body in a more pleasurable way. Having exposure to how those from other parts of the world take this task up can only move this forward.

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