I agree with Piller that usually we think about culture (as well as language) as something limited to cultural borders. The wish to learn about different cultures (as packages) is very strong. It seems that students do not only expect learning about those ready packages from courses on intercultural communication, the same wish is also introduce in the courses on inter/multicultural education.
I have to admit that I needed years of doing research on culture and language aspects to understand that things not necessary work like this, that teaching to future educators about students’ cultural backgrounds will bring nothing. With kind of shame I look back at teaching materials I developed ten years ago on diversity matters meant to support counselors work. As many of novice researchers in the field I started the module on diversity with introducing an iceberg model of culture and convincing the reader that culture determines our way of thinking, behaving in unconscious way. Then of course I mentioned that cultures can be divided into individualistic and collectivistic, in low context and high context culture. I guess those are things that we heard many times during our learning journey, or at least what I was taught in different contexts. At that point, ten years ago, I have seen articles that where criticizing that way of seeing culture, but I ignored them. Obviously, the image of culture as close entity and as something that determine our lives was very strong. I remember the anxiety that I have experienced during time of doing dissertation when I started to feel that actually such views can be quite harmful, when I have noticed that interviewed migrant students and trainers make decision on that how African or Chinese behaves oftentimes just based on their expectations that people coming from certain country behave a certain way and have certain qualities. Changing of my set of mind required from me years of hard work, deep immersion into data, broad reading and all above going out of comfort zone of putting people in boxes. However, this learning experience shows also that a change is possible. There are few implications out of my learning experience with the topic of culture. It is hard to change set of mind, of once internalized attitudes. Furthermore, it seems that we are quite familiar with all kind of traditional views on culture. It can be even said that we are learnt since our birth to see culture (as well as language) as something static and a mean of categorizing others. Therefore, I think it is of importance to introduce to future educators and people working in international settings modern ways of seeing culture.
Great that this is done in this course. However, that is not reality everywhere. I was just last week participating in an opening seminar of the course for professionals working with low-skilled migrants. You can only guess what I have heard in the opening session: again an iceberg model of culture and division of cultures into collectivistic and individualistic cultures. As you can expect all seminar participants where quite happy – they got what they wanted, their own stereotypes and a skill of dividing migrants into non-educated problematic Non-Westerns and skilled, easy to integrate Westerns got reinforced further.