Intercultural Learning


“Learning by puzzlement …” that was the key point our facilitator Dr. Philipp Hauenstein tried to communicate to a bunch of people gathered from all over the world for this three week long summer school.

I managed to google a paper written by him “‘Between Excitement and Culture Shock’ – Some Remarks on Intercultural Learning” The main ideas are found there as well (minus the diagrams).

As a more visual person, I liked the three main metaphors he used to help us get some understanding on this.

1. Onion – there are many layers that help us get a fuller picture of ours and other people’s culture.
2. Iceberg – “You can see the top only. What really matters is underneath”
3. Glasses – we most definately have our own “interpretive” bias (whether as a host or a visitor in a given culture)

I found this to be true even in my interaction with fellow Chinese from Hong Kong, Mainland China or Taiwan. How much more with other countries! At times I wonder whether I’ve been rude, or when it comes to others what they said might be “offensive” to me. But in a situation like this, my “awareness” is higher because it’s obvious.

But, back home it’s easier to put this “sensitivity” aside because one assumes everyone is on the same page. But that may not be true, and often is not true. And especially in blogland or the internet, I begin to see that just because we use “English” for example it doesn’t really mean we “get” what one another is saying. Thus, the recent “face-to-face” contacts really helped me so much.

Graham Old posted up some helpful guidelines in his post When Christians disagree, online which I think is helpful in my present “working group” scenarios. Just glancing through his 15 tips, I can’t help but also appreciate the values underlying them.


1. Remember, it’s not a competition!
2. Assume the best from your discussion partners – e.g. if you’re wondering “is he mocking me?” which then provokes a sarcastic reaction from you that then makes him respond in the same manner, just decide to believe the best. He probably just forgot to add a 🙂
3. Oh, assuming the best covers their motives as well. Stop trying to read minds!
4. Watch your witness – chances are there are non-Christians listening-in.
5. Be willing to learn – contrary to what that voice in your head says, you do not know it all.
6. People don’t always “hear” what you actually “say” – read what you’ve written and ask yourself how you would read that if it had been sent to you.
7. If a comment or post provokes a reaction in you, don’t respond. Come back after you’ve had a smoke, Cuppa, Pint, nice long walk.
8. Assume that your discussion partner knows their Bible just as well as you know yours. It’s just possible that they read exactly the same passages as you, but see something different.
9. If someone says something that seems totally off the wall or reads a scripture in a way that you never would have, pay attention. This is apt to be a learning experience – for either one of you.
10. Always try to see why your partner thinks what they do. If you can’t appreciate where they are coming from, why do you think they’ll be able to appreciate your position. Even if you think they are completely wrong, you should be able to see why they think they are right,.
11. Recognise the different presuppositions we come to scripture with. And start with yours before your partners.
12. Learn from other tradtions, histories and heritages.
13. If you’re thinking, “Is he really that stupid, or am I missing something?” the answer is: you’re missing some thing. (At least, that’s the answer for now!)
14. Be patient and gracious with those you disagree with. You were once wrong too!
15. Enjoy the discussion.



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