In this section, we discuss culture – what it is, why it is important, and how it originates. We will also look at how you might experience a new culture, what culture shock is and the impact this may have on your behaviour. Finally, we will talk about some of the features and characteristics you may want to think about when discussing a particular country.
Culture refers to the shared characteristics of a particular group of people. It is an umbrella term which can be used to discuss language, religion, beliefs, values, customs, social habits, cuisine, clothing and music.
“The word ‘culture’ derives from a French term, which in turn derives from the Latin ‘colere’, which means to tend to the earth and grow, or cultivate and nurture.” (Zimmerman, K.A, 2017)
All tasks are compulsory in order to successfully complete the course. Your answers must be a minimum of 200 words and a maximum of 500 words.
Think about your own culture and consider what makes it unique.
1.1.1 The cultural iceberg model
Developed by Edward T Hall in 1976, the cultural iceberg model identifies external and internal characteristics of culture. Inspired by icebergs found in polar seas, he analogised cultural elements to visible parts on the surface (10%) and the invisible parts below (90%). He, therefore, categorised cultural elements into three areas:
“Visible”, “less visible”,and “not visible”.
“Visible” elements are external characteristics of culture–the tip of the iceberg. They include objective knowledge that is explicitly learned and part of the conscious identity of a person or community. These are observable elements such as age, gender, language, etc., that can be easily identified by most outsiders.
“Less visible” and “Not visible” elements are internal characteristics of culture–the ice below the surface. They include subjective knowledge that is implicitly learned and unconsciously expressed by individuals and the community. These can be more difficult for outsiders to observe or contextualize without a deeper understanding of the culture. They include elements such as body language, social skills, thought patterns, assumptions, and more.
Just as with an iceberg, the visible elements only make up a small portion of cultural characteristics. The majority consists of the invisible, internal elements below the surface that underpin the visible, external elements above.
The figure below highlights all the visible, less visible and not visible characteristics:
Figure 1 The cultural iceberg (AKGTC, 2018)
When you arrive in a new country as part of your volunteering, you will almost immediately experience the visible cultural differences. This may be fun and exciting in the beginning, and will meet many of your expectations. However, some volunteers may experience some difficulty adapting to the new surroundings they find themselves in. This negative experience from being exposed to a new or unfamiliar culture is known as culture shock. Culture shock can include feeling confused and homesick. But, don’t worry if you experience any culture shock, your team at Volunteer World will help you adjust quickly and comfortably.