Cultural Competence: Embracing Each Student as an Individual

bd08832_By Sabrina Bartels – For the past two weeks, my husband and I have been exploring Europe, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells in Paris, Barcelona, and Rome. We have loved every minute of it, especially the food. After tasting authentic pizza here in Rome, I am not sure I will ever look at frozen pizza the same way again …

As you can imagine, Europe is very different from the States. For me, one of the biggest changes I had to adapt to was the cultural differences in restaurants. In all of the cities we went to, we never automatically received the bill for our food. Instead, we had to ask for it. Over here, it is considered incredibly rude if the waiter drops the bill off at the table without the patron requesting it. We also had to get used to the times when restaurants would serve lunch and dinner; in Barcelona, lunch is frequently served at two in the afternoon, with dinner starting around eight or nine at night. And meals are LONG. You could be at the restaurant for two or three hours for dinner, which is considered perfectly normal. Life is a little slower.

During our first few restaurant encounters, I got antsy. Why weren’t people giving us our bill? Why did it take so long? And why did people eat so late? But after a little bit, I began to enjoy the routine of having a leisurely meal.

Every year, we have students come to us with their own ideas of what they expect with school, what they expect at home, and how things work in general. Some families view education as a right, while some see it as an opportunity. Some students have been taught to stand up for their family honor by fighting; some students have been taught to use their words to stand up for themselves. Some students parrot phrases that they believe are flattering, when they may be considered degrading by other people. Some students may seem consistently disrespectful, but they are only repeating what they hear in their community or in their home.

As a school, we need to ensure that we are culturally competent, taking into account the fact that all of our students come from different walks of life. There are no two students who are raised in the exact same manner, and every student enters the school building with a unique personality and way of seeing things. We need to be able to cater to this individuality by ensuring that each student knows he or she is loved and cared for because of who they are. We also need to make sure that we are using diverse ways of teaching our students; some students can patiently sit through a 40 minute lesson, while other students may need more hands-on activities.

For me as a counselor, it comes down to making sure that I am in-tune with my students’ needs, and respond accordingly. I have many students who have been taught to fight for their family and their family’s honor. And while I understand where they are coming from, I work with them to understand that fighting is not always an option. Sometimes it works. Sometimes, they don’t listen. But I think that by my acknowledging that this is a way of life for them, they realize that I am not “out to get them.” Instead, they see that I really am trying to help them out.

As the sun begins to set on our summer vacation (where in the world did it go?) I hope you find the time to think about your students and how you can embrace each of their differences!


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