Academic journal article et Cetera

VIDESHI VIEWS[dagger]

Academic journal article et Cetera

VIDESHI VIEWS[dagger]

Article excerpt

Wednesday, October 24, 2007. Delta flight 16 touches down at 9:15 p.m. After 25 hours of traveling, I feel like over-baked bread, crusty around the edges and none too appetizing. Yet, I've made it to Mumbai. After grabbing my luggage, I head for the exit and step into the glare of TV cameras. Photographers lean forward over the rails, and then settle back again when they realize it's just me frozen in the doorway: clearly not the famous person they awaited. Greeters wave signs at me, but none bear my name. Am I adrift in India? Nope. I missed it during my first dazed sweep: Welcome Ms. Andrea. The adventure begins.

For the next 18 days, I immersed myself in a culture with a 5,000-year-old history. The India I found was one of close quarters, fragrant food, colorful saris, intricate temples, blazing sun, and, of course, people interested in exploring general semantics - the reason I came to this amazing place.

How did I prepare for this experience? This enormous opportunity to present general semantics to so many people and the temerity of doing so within a new (for me) cultural context spurred me to intense research. I plowed through web sites about India, skimmed blogs, joined message boards, dug into books about Indian history and culture, and, yes, watched videos. Hooray for Bollywood! I pulled books from my shelves. I combed through Korzybski, Lee, Bois, Hayakawa, Johnson both Wendell and Ken - and Read. I reviewed my notes from twenty-plus years of teaching gs at the university level, in workshops and in seminars. From another bookshelf, I grabbed texts on cross-cultural perspectives by Gudykunst, Samovar, Hall, Kim, and Koester. In the nights leading up to departure, intercultural theories and general semantics frameworks danced in my head.

Peeling the cultural onion. Using general semantics gave me ways to think about my experiences within this culture while planning presentations to teach general semantics itself. To help me evaluate my experiences in a new cultural context, I turned to intercultural communication theories, which also helped me to craft appropriate examples (and weed out inappropriate ones) when presenting general semantics to Indian audiences.

Edward Hall is generally acknowledged as having founded the field of intercultural communication by fusing theories and frameworks from various earlier disciplines. To pare it down to bare roots, I would say this field of study tries to understand and explain how people from different cultures perceive, behave and talk differently about their experiences. Hall stated that merely hypothesizing about and studying culture did not produce effective intercultural communication. One had to DO intercultural communication. I didn't have to look very hard to see the parallels between general semantics and intercultural communication theories.

Baggage and cultural awareness. Too bad the airlines don't have a "cultural baggage" inspector who could check to see if I packed too many cultural assumptions. After all, I know how the perceptual bias of my home culture limits my experience with and knowledge of another culture. I know I cannot exactly leave US cultural biases behind, but I can recognize that they traveled with me. In previous journeys, I've observed US travelers attempting to integrate themselves into a foreign culture. Generally they teeter between assuming the existence of similarities, which overlooks important differences, or assuming everything is different, which overlooks important similarities. At both extremes, they create over-generalized and not terribly useful maps of the territory. In India I tried to keep a close watch on my own tottering assumptions in order to move from generalization to specifics, or from examples to theory, without getting stuck at either end.

Diversity, thy name is India! Fourteen major languages and over 200 minor ones and 1600 dialects are spoken here; major religions of the world have a connection to India with Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism "born" here; people identify with, and are divided by, ethnicity, caste, politics, home state, etc. …

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