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World Cultural Studies at the University of Oklahoma

World Cultural Studies - Hong Kong

With the world becoming much more interconnected and with  cross-cultural communication becoming an essential skill in all sectors of the global economy, the College of Liberal Studies is proud to offer the first courses in our new bachelor degree in World Cultural Studies. In this exciting moment in history our graduates will have opportunities to forge interpersonal relationships with people whose beliefs, values, and traditions are vastly different from their own. Such cross-cultural encounters may be rewarding and productive or fraught with tension and misunderstanding. The World Cultural Studies degree program equips students with the communication skills needed to thrive in any foreign environment, whether providing aid in a remote village in Afghanistan or exploring a Hong Kong night market.

Preparing Graduates with Practical Skills

A great many international and area studies programs already exist in higher education, but we have learned through consultation with military officials and World Cultural Studies - Hong Kongbusinessleaders that most programs fail to adequately prepare graduates with practical skills. With this in mind, courses across our curriculum were created to emphasize practical “real-world” learning objectives using innovative teaching methods and technologies intended to be helpful to military service members who are deployed or about to be deployed and to those interested in international trade, travel, service, and diplomacy.

An interdisciplinary approach is used in the program to help develop appropriate everyday skills and draws on a wealth of materials to gain insights into unfamiliar cultures, including literary works by renowned authors, cutting-edge documentaries, critically acclaimed films, influential artistic works, and engaging guest lecture videos.

Navigating Cultural Challenges

One of our goals in the World Cultural Studies program is to cultivate students’ abilities to navigate cross-cultural challenges. In our introductory course, for example, we discuss an American soldier’s account of a tense encounter with an Afghan tribal leader. The soldier was not aware that Afghan men in friendly conversation stand about a half-step closer than Americans are comfortable with and speak loud enough for others nearby to hear what is being said. When the Afghan stepped close to talk, the soldier stepped backward and only spoke loud enough for the Afghan to hear. The Afghan, slightly offended and embarrassed by the two signs of disrespect, stepped even closer to re-establish the image of mutual respect and loudly repeated the question the soldier had asked. The soldier, increasingly tense, immediately stepped back again, looked the Afghan in the eyes, and asked his question once more at a “normal” volume. This potentially explosive situation was diffused when another soldier aware of the cultural differences stepped close to the Afghan man and, looking aside, said, “Thank you for your help” several times, loud enough for everyone in the growing crowd to hear.

The World Cultural Studies program equips students with cultural fluency – the ability to effectively assess the cultural environment, accurately identify potential conflicts, and conceptualize practical strategies to avoid predictable errors. The idea is a simple one. Graduates of the program will possess the ability to adapt and thrive among populations with unfamiliar beliefs, customs, traditions, and values. Courses are designed to foster an interdisciplinary understanding of cultural groups and enhance insight into the most pressing global issues of our time.

The Future

Our first courses – Introduction to World Cultural Studies and Chinese Culture and Civilization – were offered in the spring 2013 semester to great success with students expressing their excitement in furthering their studies in this area. In future semesters we will be introducing additional courses in the China series focusing on Chinese politics, military thought, and cultural geography.

The College of Liberal Studies shares with its students a passion for learning about other cultures, not only because it broadens professional horizons but also because we inevitably learn about ourselves. Seeking the familiar in the foreign often requires courage, but cultivating respect and appreciation of other cultures deepens our own connection to humanity.

The essential message of Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s 1966 address to university students in Cape Town, South Africa, continues to carry the weight of truth more than 40 years later.

“Like it or not, we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also the most creative of any time in the history of mankind. And everyone here will ultimately be judged — will ultimately judge himself — on the effort he has contributed to building a new world society and the extent to which his ideals and goals have shaped that effort.”

Senator Kennedy challenged us to embrace our moment in history, establish goals worthy of our efforts, and seek opportunities to demonstrate cross-cultural understanding and mutual respect in an era of rapid globalization and potential cultural conflicts. This is truly an exciting time to study culture on a global scale – not because cultures are dying but because they are flourishing, changing, and increasingly interacting with one another. Our graduates will not only thrive professionally with highly sought after cross-cultural competences, but also help shape the world which their children and grandchildren will inherit.

Robert Edmondson, Ph.D.
Dr. Edmondson is a full-time College of Liberal Studies professor specializing in world cultural studies, and social stratification and inequality. He holds bachelor and master degrees in Asian Studies as well as a doctorate in Anthropology, and has taught courses both in Oklahoma and China.

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