Week 2

 Cultural Reflection
29th January - 5th February

As I reflect on my cultural experiences and learning over the last two weeks and I can say it has been most fascinating and interesting. I came to The Netherlands with the stereotypical view that is painted in most people’s mind of the Dutch culture; windmills, bicycles, cheese, tulips and the notion of ‘going Dutch’ etc. Yet beyond these facts there is so much more to their culture and way of living that I have only became aware of through participation in Dutch society and communicating with these Dutch people. As well as this, living with people from around the world has also deepened my understanding of other cultures.
Bicycles take centre stage in Dutch society. There is nearly 19,000km of cycle paths in The Netherlands and over twice as many bicycles as inhabitants. We all have our own bicycles now and it has become a part of our daily living too. We leave 40 minutes before class starts to cycle the 7km journey to university. It still amuses me as to how much priority cyclists have over other road users.  On our first journey to class we experienced our first roundabout which we were negotiating on a bicycle. Not only was I confused as to which way the cars were coming as they drive on the other side of the road but when I came to the junction all traffic approaching just came to a halt in mid flow of going around the roundabout to allow me to continue my journey. If this were at home I’m sure I’d have been run over by now given the road rage most Irish drivers have. This is most certainly one dimension of Dutch culture that has been a real learning curve for me. Although I have noticed Dutch drivers just like the Irish have not quite understood the concept of the zebra crossing. Just like home it’s always safer to look left and right and cross when there are no cars coming.
In our first ‘Diversity’ class we compared and discussed how people greet each other in each of our cultures. This class was most interesting; we were able to conclude that for most cultures there are different words for saying hello, these being formal and informal. Yet the Irish do not differentiate between different people with different greetings, they prefer to use body language to signify formal and informal. The Dutch like to greet people they have not seen in a while with three kisses. Quite frankly I can’t imagine the Irish adopting this tradition, a hug is about the closest you’ll get!
During introduction week we had group creative assignments presentations. In groups with others from the same country we presented to the rest of the class what are countries are like, the values we focus on and what our culture is like. Personally I gained a lot from this, not only did I learn a lot about the different countries and cultures of my classmates, I had to reflect on the Irish culture and together with the others in the group decide how best to present the Irish culture. It was a great opportunity to reflect and appreciate my own country as well as comparing it with other countries. Many people in the class commented on how Ireland was their favourite and they’d love to come and visit. I think we did a very good job promoting the Emerald Isle!
For me I feel Nehru (1889) sums up my experience of culture so far. He said culture is about the widening of the mind and of the spirit. Personally I feel this has been the case, already I can say I have a much more broadened view of other cultures, one that goes beyond the conventional thinking of the majority who have not experienced it firsthand. As well as this I have been able to reflect on my own culture and develop a real appreciation of it.

I feel what I have learned will be of great benefit as a teacher. Before coming to The Netherlands I had adopted the stereotypical view of the Dutch but as I have noticed there is much more to Dutch culture and society. Within the multicultural classrooms that I will be engaged in, I have been made aware that we cannot make assumptions of individual’s cultures. After all as Hollins (1996) states, “Culture is an integral part of human existence.” In any case culture is part of who we are and as a teacher we aim to develop pupils as individuals to their full potential. Therefore it must not be assumed we are a common culture even within the same country.


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