International Community Resources


Culture is like an Iceberg

Just as 90% of an iceberg is below the water line (and therefore not visible), in any given culture there are some things that visitors may perceive immediately.

But there are many more that may not be easily perceived or understood. The out of awareness part of culture has been termed "deep culture".

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Culture Influences Perceptions

Our culture influences the way we see and perceive the world. In other words, we see the world and react to it in ways that our culture has taught us to see and react. However, the way you perceive the world (we call that your worldview) is not necessarily the way other groups perceive the world. We each see the world through different filtering lenses, so to speak.

Defining Culture

Culture is not an easy concept to grasp. In fact, the late British writer, Raymond Williams, thought of culture as one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language.

There are many definitions of culture but this is what is important to remember:

Culture is the way of life of a given society. It includes the way people think, act, interact with each other, and make decisions. It also defines what individuals eat, what they wear, what they think is right or wrong, and much more. Culture is passed down from one generation to another. What individuals learn from their parents and those individuals they grew up with, such as teachers, uncles, aunts, and neighbors, is passed down to future generations.

Culture Influences Perceptions – Greetings

From an early age, individuals learn the proper way to greet each other. However, greetings differ considerably from one culture to another. In the U.S., individuals are taught to shake hands; in Japan, individuals bow; in India, "namaste" would be the proper way to greet each other.

Bottom Line

When visiting another culture, be prepared for the fact that there will be some things that you won’t immediately perceive such as your hosts’ nonverbal behavior, the way superiors and subordinates interact in that culture, their courtship practices, how they treat the elderly, and a lot more. These things you will learn only after you have spent some time in that culture.

Never assume individuals in the host country will see things the same way you do. This will only cause misunderstandings. We all see the world through our own cultural lenses. To fully understand another culture, you must see the world from their perspective.

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Information on Cuture, thanks to Iowa State University Study Abroad Center.