What do you see in Las Terrenas?
The following analogy may enrich our understanding of cross-cultural transitions.
Here is a simple fable to explore. It clearly helps us to understand what culture is, how our culture is like an invisible prison, and how we can free ourselves from that prison so we can learn and understand about other cultures.
Imagine, if you will, that in your own country, from the time of the first people, today, and far into the future, everyone that was ever born or will be born, was born with two legs, two arms, two eyes, a nose, a mouth and a pair of sunglasses. The color of the lens in the sunglasses is yellow. No one has ever thought it strange that the sunglasses are there because they've always been there and they are part of the human body. Everyone has them.
Take the yellow sunglasses off and look at them. What makes them yellow are the values, attitudes, ideas, beliefs and assumptions that American people have in common. Everything that Americans have seen, learned, or experienced (past, present and future) has entered into the brain through the yellow lens. Everything has been filtered and interpreted through all these values and ideas that have made the lenses yellow. The yellow lens thus represents our attitudes, beliefs, values, and represents our "Americanness."
Thousands of miles away in another country (Japan, for example) from the time of the first people, today, and far into the future, everyone that was ever born or will be born, was born with two legs, two arms, two eyes, a nose, a mouth and a pair of sunglasses. The color of the sunglasses is blue. No one has ever thought it strange that the sunglasses are there because they've always been there and they are part of the human body. Everyone has them. Everything that the Japanese see, learn, and experience is filtered through their blue lenses.
An American traveler who wants to go to Japan may have enough sense to realize that to learn about Japan more thoroughly he will have to acquire some Japanese sunglasses so that he can "see" Japan. When the traveler arrives in Japan, he wears the Japanese sunglasses, stays for two months and feels he really is learning about the values, attitudes, and beliefs of the people of Japan. He actually "sees" Japan wearing their sunglasses. He comes to his own country and declares that he is now an "expert" on Japan and that the culture of Japan is green!
What happened? He didn't remove his own American filters of yellow. The moral of this fable is: Before we are open and free to learn about another culture (and put on their sunglasses) we have to remove our own, so that our interpretation of the new culture will not be " colored" or filtered by our own values, attitudes and beliefs. We are not there to judge another culture, but to learn about it. We need to develop "double vision" or the ability to see more than one side of an idea.
How do you remove the yellow sunglasses? It's simple. By being able to understand and describe the values, attitudes, beliefs, ideas and assumptions of American culture, the lighter the yellow color becomes and the more blue the other culture becomes. The more we can verbalize and really understand what it is that makes us American, the easier it becomes to lighten the yellow filters, and put on the blue lens, and see a truer shade of blue.
From "How to learn about a new culture" by Michael C. Mercil in Planning and Conducting Re- entry/Transition Workshops, a publication of Youth for Understanding. Adapted by José R. Bourget Tactuk.