30 April

Reading Guidelines

It is a challenge to come up with reading guidelines that are not specific to the plot of a story! Therefore, please adjust these in accordance to the particulars, to give you a way to further explore what you have read.

Specifically, do note that although these questions are worded to be used within the U.S. context, they can easily be adapted such that another culture stands in as the point of contrast. NAFSA colleagues living and working in other countries are encouraged to adjust the standpoint as beneficial.

Depending on your personal preference, you might review and consider this list of guidelines as you read your chosen novel so you can pick out cultural clues while the story unfolds; or you may wish to read them over after you turn the last page to help you reflect on what you may have learned about the culture or cultures in which the story was set.

These guidelines may be adapted for individual or group use when accessing the world through words….Happy reading!

12 Frameworks to Consider

  1. GENDER: How did the role of gender compare in this book to your experiences?  Did men and women interact in a similar manner?  Was there a distinction in their roles?  How was sexuality expressed or repressed in the book?  How would you characterize communication between genders?  Did members of one gender dominate the other?
  2. DAILY HABITS: Consider the daily living habits of the characters in the book. What did they eat, what was their home like, what did they do for leisure? Were these experiences familiar to you or did they involve new concepts? Would an “average U.S. American” be able to adapt to this lifestyle with ease? Why or why not?
  3. WORK: What was the role of work in the book? Did the characters partake of work that would be commonly done in the U.S.? How did the working conditions compare? Was their any information about relationships with the boss, or colleagues – and any general views you could discern on the role of authority? What was valued with regard to work? Position? Salary? Hours worked? Was work more important to the characters than other activities/aspects of their lives?
  4. POLITICS: Did politics have a role in the story? If so, what kind of political expression (or suppression) was there? Would similar political movements and actions be found in the U.S.?
  5. TEN PERCENT CULTURE: Examine the cultural iceberg with regard to “surface culture” (the 10% of the iceberg that is above the water line). Did the reading confirm, challenge, or broaden your knowledge of the contrasting/other/new-to-you culture? What aspects of surface culture, such as art, music, dance, drama, were especially explored in the reading?
  6. COMMUNICATION STYLES: What types of communication styles are expressed by the characters? Are they direct or indirect verbally? Did they rely more heavily on verbal or non-verbal cues for understanding one another? Likewise, are they direct or indirect in expressing emotions? Are the styles of the characters in sync or in conflict with one another?
  7. NATURE: What is the relationship between humans and nature? Are humans cooperative, controlling, or resigned to the forces of nature? Is the setting such that nature plays a dominant role or is it more background? How does the newcomer experience nature?
  8. INDIVIDUALITY/COLLECTIVE: The United States is routinely ranked as the most individualist among national cultures. What did the characters in the reading indicate about where the book’s cultures may fall on the continuum of individualist to collectivist? How do their standings facilitate or impede relationships among the characters?
  9. THE TIMES and TIME: In what year or period of time was the story set? Does this influence what you can discern about what is “true” about the culture, or has the culture changed since that time? For example, a novel set in Moscow in the 1960’s would portray a very different culture than is the reality today. There is no doubt that some basic underlying cultural characteristics will remain the same or similar (language, food, certain ceremonies, relationship between humans and nature), but others may have changed drastically (attitude toward work, value placed on income, materialism, use of time, etc.). Also, how is the issue of time handled in the story? Are the cultures represented more oriented to clock or event time? Is the pace of life familiar to your experience?
  10. NINETY PERCENT CULTURE: What other aspects of “deep culture” (the 90% of culture that is below the waterline in the iceberg analogy) are explored in this story? Were dimensions such as religion, class, sexuality, mental and physical ability explored, individualism/collectivism? Others? How were these experiences portrayed in light of your own experiences?
  11. THE AUTHOR: What do you know about the author? Is the author’s age, gender, socio-economic position, ethnicity, race or other factors significant within the context of the culture about which the story is written? Does the author’s background influence what you can learn about the culture?
  12. CLOSING THOUGHTS: What emotional reactions did you experience while reading this book? The above questions, while certainly important, break down dimensions based on intercultural theory and study. Also valid are the feelings – attractions or challenges – that you experienced throughout the book. Are you eager to learn more about this culture? Are there concerns that were raised for you based on the portrayal of the culture’s values? Did this reading confirm what you already knew or experienced? What was the basis of your assumptions? What is your experience with this culture?