1.2.1 - The Iceberg

Iceberg Exercise


Culture has been aptly compared to an iceberg. Just as an iceberg has a visible section above the waterline and a larger, invisible section below the water line, so culture has some aspects that are observable and others that can only be suspected, imagined, or intuited. Also like an iceberg, the part of culture that is visible (observable behavior) is only a small part of a much bigger whole.


The items that appear below are all features of culture. Keeping in mind that observable behaviors belong above the surface of the water, while the invisible aspects of culture belong below the surface, drag each feature to show whether it should be "above" or "below."

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On the one hand, culture is what makes us all human in a general sense. Every culture, past and present, has had to decide how to satisfactorily solve common human problems and concerns. Some universal categories of human activity that have been addressed for millennia by all cultures are:

  • religious beliefs and the relationship of humans to the supernatural

  • political power and the exercise of leadership in governance

  • concepts of justice, fairness, punishment, and right conduct

  • child raising and traditional processes of acculturation

  • economic organization and division of labor

  • rites of passage (life cycle celebrations), rituals, and ceremonies

  • expression and style in the graphic and performing arts

  • food preferences and rules concerning consumption

  • nonverbal communication patterns and gestures

  • concepts of humans' place and role in the natural world

  • myths and cultural heroes to explain and commemorate core values

  • dissemination of ideas about beauty, love, truth, friendship, and loyalty

  • notions of modesty and age-appropriate dress styles and behavior

  • ideas of what time is and its relative importance

  • concerns about individual versus collective privilege and responsibility

  • conceptions about personal space and privacy

  • definitions of gender and associated strengths, duties, and roles

This list, like all considerations of the highest levels of cultural concerns, is very abstract and general and it would be possible to list hundreds of additional issues or problems which human beings have struggled to resolve. Specific cultures have determined how to deal with these issues by developing ideas and constructing their patterns from a wide range of possible alternatives. Most of those choices were made a long time ago. Members of the culture adopted them as part of defining who they are and those patterns represent some of the knowledge a member of their group must know to belong. The original cultural patterns may have been modified over time but the core of values and beliefs tend to remain constant. Therefore, when you arrive in a foreign country you will be confronting a new culture that is likely to differ significantly from your familiar way of life.

Studying abroad is an opportunity to experience something new and novel directly, and that is what makes study abroad so exciting. In the course of encountering alternative ways to live life and solve problems, it is possible to experience tremendous intellectual and personal growth. Becoming skilled at functioning effectively in another country builds a capacity for making all kinds of transitions and for "cultural learning" generally. Entering another country is not just a geographical shift but a psychological one as well. Three things to keep in mind as you begin to consider the role of culture in the sojourn are:

  1. All cultures have struggled with the full range of human problems and they have adopted solutions that are at least acceptable to members of the culture.

  2. In the process of forming a culture, a group has made decisions about what to emphasize, how to pass it on to a new generation, and what it values above all else…and you can be sure that it excludes or devalues some things another culture (maybe even you!) holds dear.

  3. Because the patterns that exist in various cultures have been passed on by respected leaders and/or elders and have become sanctified over time, they are not only considered good and proper but natural and normal. This is why cultural matters are deeply rooted and intensely felt by members of a society. Therefore, conflict and change involving core values are always accompanied by tension. Studying abroad, which promotes encountering cultural difference and, hopefully, crossing cultural boundaries, can be expected to be uncomfortable and even incomprehensible some of the time.



  What Happened and Why ?        


- Learning from Critical Incidents!!