I like watching Korean, Chinese, and other foreign dramas for fun as well as cultural understanding. Of course its important to remember this isn't real life, but with t.v. shows we are looking for the things they take for granted, not the things written into the show. Look for the things they don't have to spell out to the prop crew, the things that don't make sense to you or surprise you. Do the guys open doors for the gals or no? What happens with shoes? How do people talk to parents? Bosses? Friends? Children? Where is the steering wheel? What are they eating and drinking? Etc.
Whether you do this learning about other cultures through visiting other countries and cultural groups, reading about them, watching youtube vidoes or documentaries, or watching television shows and movies from that culture (and it should be a combination of these approaches), there are some open ended questions you can ask to help your children make some deductions and think through these things for themselves. PLEASE don't make this a quiz. Don't Bury them under the questions. Start with just asking what seemed different. Share something you noticed. Use one or two things below to help kick-start a discussion, or to help you open your eyes. Have fun!
What do the people look like? Look beyond basic skin shade and consider hair, height, facial shape, and whether or not the society is homogenous. What are their standards of beauty? How do you know? For instance.... (I would screen this first, and maybe just summarize the information for my kids) Who are their heroes and why? Clothing styles- note different styles based on age, gender, and/or social status
Food: this is a big one. How is it prepared (inside, outside, fire, stove, oven, is it sliced and diced so it comes to the table bite-sized, does it require a lot of time...); Who is most likely to prepare it? Where does it come from? What food groups are most common? What is considered a staple food (rice? bread? tortillas? beans?)? How often do they eat? How is it served (individually, or a central bowl or plate from which the entire family eats)? How is it eaten (chopsticks, fingers, forks, knives), is there something different about family seating (I notice in several Korean family dramas the women all eat at one table, the men at another; the table is low and the family sits on the floor)? What would be considered good table manners? Do they say grace before a meal? Is there a proper order for serving (in American you aren't supposed to start until your hostess is seated and takes her first bite, in some cultures you wait for the father to take the first bite, in some you wait for the adults to finish before serving children).
Housing: What are the homes typically made of? What are the floor plans like? Size of the house? Arrangement of furniture? Furniture style? Is there a yard or outdoor space? What does it look like (a front and back yard? a courtyard? Fences?), What are the rooms and their purposes? What does the bathroom, if there is one, look like? What is the neighborhood like? Are other homes near or far? Shoes in the house or not? Manners: What is considered a polite greeting? What is considered respectful? Who must show respect and to whom and how? What are some things you ought never to do in that culture (blow your nose in public? Sneeze? Discuss your bowel movements? Touch a person of the opposite gender who is not a family member? Kiss? Belch?)? Who lives in the house? What is a family unit? Who visits the home and why or why not? What are typical sleeping arrangements? Shoes inside or not? Family relationships: How do members of the family treat each other? What do they call each other? How are children disciplined? Family size? Age of marriage? Arranged marriages or ...? Who's the boss (if there is one)? What is a wedding like? Who has which responsibilities in the marriage ceremony and after? Is divorce acceptable? Is it common? What is the average number of children?
Education: are there schools? What are they like? What ages do children attend? Who teaches the children? What are they expected to learn? What are their parents expected to teach them? Colleges and universities? Who attends? how long are kids in school (both daily and years), how many days a week do they go to school? Are there commonly after-school programs? Are they serious academic events or fun and games?
What can you learn about the written language, if there is one, and are there any conclusions you can draw from that. Japanese has an entire alphabet specifically for the purpose of writing foreign words or loan words- and that tells you something about the culture. What 'loan words' do they use (by loan words I mean words that are borrowed from another language and just incorporated almost as is into the daily speech and language, and what does that tell you about the culture? There's almost an entire chapter on this in Ivanhoe.
Work: What are common jobs? What are respected jobs, and what jobs are held in lower esteem? Are jobs divided by gender, if so, how? What's a work day like? Fun and games: What games are common? What are common leisure activities? What amusements and hobbies do people pursue, where and how? Toys? Music? Holidays and ceremonies? What age is considered mature or grown up? Is there a coming of age ceremony or ritual? How old do the children leave home? Lifespan? How are the very young, the very old, the infirm, the disabled, or foreigners treated?
Religion: What do they believe about a deity/deities/ worship? An afterlife? Death and what happens afterward? A soul? Burial rituals? What is a 'good person?' Monotheistm, polytheism, atheism, or ....? What do they believe about what is requires of them by their deity? Where do they worship and how? Religious books? Leaders? If there is more than one religion typical of the region or culture, how do they get along? What do they believe about human beings and where we come from, our purpose (if any) in life? Our relationship to God (or gods, or...?)?
Art and architecture? What styles would be considered typical? Why? Government:
What form of government? Who rules, how, and why? What attitude do people have toward that government? These are just a few of the questions you can ask, and it's merely a beginning. From there you might ask, "Why?" and "What does that mean for daily life?" and "How is it different here?"
Studying the geography and climate of a country is important too, for understanding the customs and culture. Naturally, island nations depend more on the sea than on large scale animal farming for dinner, for example.
How do people spend their money? How much does it cost to live? You can ask these questions about modern cultures and countries you are studying, or you can ask them about historical cultures.
Most of these come from Kathryn Stout's Guides to History Plus (Design-A-Study) You may also find the book What the World Eats a useful resource. This is a project done by the same team who did the book Material World, another book that I highly recommend for studying other countries and cultures. In Material World (you can see some photographs here), they traveled the world and took photographs of an average family in various countries with the family’s possessions. In What The World Eats, the photographer and journalist went to 24 countries and photographed 30 families with one week’s worth of groceries, most of the families the same families who were in their first book.You can look at a short story about it with some of the photographs here. You can see other photographs from the project here. They include data about how much the food costs, how some of the food is prepared, recipes, and a list of the food.
After you have done this a few times, try one of these resources;the Great Courses series on cultural intelligence by David Livermore. deep and extensive. I have read two or three of his books and did not find them nearly as helpful. Foreign to Familiar, a Guide to Understanding Hot and Cold Climate Cultures. is shorter and lighter but very helpful if you are short on time, do this. And, again, have fun. appreciate the people God has made.
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