Cultures and communication: Embracing cultures through email exchange

Does it or does it not happen when exchanging emails with people worldwide? The researchers found evidence that embracing attitudes, values, beliefs and norms from other cultures may happen to a certain extent in email exchange involving people from different countries.

A metaphor illustrating intercultural understanding

A metaphor illustrating intercultural understanding

Coming across with various life circumstances and human behaviours young people especially tend to copy and adapt attitudes, beliefs and norms from other cultures. That comes from the way they understand cultural differences and develop tolerance when interacting online.

The process of embracing attitudes, values, beliefs and norms from other cultures might be affected by time and skills students acquire outside classroom. The influence appears to be strengthened by a number of aspects (see Table 1).

Table 1: Assimilating attitudes, values, beliefs and norms from other cultures
Contributing aspects
  • email exchange with people from other cultures
  • cultural values, beliefs and norms of the counterpart embedded in the email text
  • appreciating diversity implies valuing own norms and attitudes.
Factors influencing the process
  • time
Results
  • discovering cultural norms and values from other cultures helps see the own culture from another angle
  • it might be higher in rural and regional areas than in urban areas, helping students from those areas to be “more appreciative of the problems facing those in other countries” (Tate, survey respondent)
  • it brings “curricular study ‘to life’“ (Leucci, survey respondent)

Cultural tolerance and understanding implies appreciating basic attitudes, values, beliefs and norms from other cultures. In a survey I carried out some years ago, 85% of the respondents reported that assimilating attitudes, values, beliefs and norms from other cultures may occur in intercultural email communication. If not, this would help create “islands and self-satisfied mentality” (Blamire, survey respondent).

The experts pointed out that some people may be more selective when adopting attitudes, values, and norms while some others may be not. Some others can adjust their own set of cultural norms or choose those which suit their expectations and needs: “It is highly possible and valuable that some values and beliefs will change in response to interaction with other students. But, in my experience there is much more clarification (sometimes identification for the first time) of one’s own values as a result” (Gragert, survey respondent).

Moreover, “as informants for their peers, people come to see how their world differs from that of others” (Riel, survey respondent). The process is certainly valuable because it first starts with valuing the own norms and attitudes and therefore seeing them from another perspective (Riel, survey respondent):

I am struck by an example where a classroom of students from Louisiana was interacting with students from upstate New York. They exchange pictures about midway into their period of working together. The African American child, on seeing the picture, asked, “Where are all of the brothers?” He has never thought about a school where all of the students were white. It was just not a part of his experience of the world. Students also quickly discover that schools differ in what topics are acceptable and unacceptable for writing. This can create some tensions but they are good opportunities for people to reflect on what are the concerns and norms that shape the way they think about issues.

I also remember the young student who looked at the coins that were sent from Saudi Arabia. The comment was: “This can’t be for real. It says “in the Kingdom of ….”  Kings are only in storybooks“.  The teachers used this as an opportunity to talk about different forms of government.

Conclusions

Embracing certain cultural attributes from the culture of the email partner may occur in email communication, as participants come across with various life circumstances and human behaviours. In the case of young people this might be explained by their tendency to copy and adapt norms from other cultures when interacting online. The process therefore enables participants to value and judge their own norms and attitudes from another perspective while facing the ones of their counterparts. These experiences reinforce the idea that email exchange does not threaten cultural identities, on the contrary, is an opportunity to learn more about the world cultures.

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