THE FLAGSHIP CULTURAL STANDARD

The ultimate goal of the Language Flagship is to "create global professionals," with professional level language proficiency and with the highest levels of cultural competence. Flagship students must be willing to learn what is acceptable speech, behavior, posture, etc., and to make adjustments as needed.

  • A. RATIONALE Attending to behaviors that are insignificant or that have differing meanings in American culture is a difficult process, and students are expected to make mistakes. For some students, this process might be quite frustrating. While American culture tends to place a strong emphasis on individuality, Chinese culture puts a strong emphasis on conformity to social norms. While Americans tend to value and protect each person's right to speech and action, no matter how eccentric, the Chinese put a stronger emphasis on adjusting or limiting one's speech and action to comply with "proper," "normal" behavior for various contexts and to show due respect through proper speech and action to those in authority and with higher social standing. With the goals of the Language Flagship in mind, Flagship students have the obligation to work toward full cultural competence, and Flagship faculty and staff have the obligation to assist them. Most Americans are not accustomed to having their personal expression and behavior scrutinized, especially in an institutional setting. For some, the process can seem subjective and imposing. Ultimately, anyone with the goal of becoming culturally competent on a professional level will have to come to terms with the fact that all cultures operate according to their own values without respect or awareness of others. One may never fully agree with the values and behaviors of another culture, but to function successfully within that culture, one must find a way to accept and comply with norms that may seem on the surface to be illogical or unfair. The ultimate end of the UM Chinese Flagship Cultural Standard is to provide a systematic method for students to become aware of behaviors that would be undesirable or unacceptable in a Chinese cultural environment and to have the chance to change them before they cause problems for themselves and others. Students must understand that in normal circumstances, Chinese people would be very unlikely to draw explicit attention to such behaviors, preferring instead to simply reduce the quality and quantity of interaction with a bothersome individual.
  • B. POLICY The process for the Cultural Standard is as follows:
    • a) Chinese Flagship faculty and/or staff will inform students of any instances of speech or behaviors that they believe are generally inappropriate in a Chinese (or American) cultural context.
    • b) Before taking any disciplinary action for culturally inappropriate behavior, the student will receive a written warning that includes the following:
      • i) a brief description of the inappropriate behavior.
      • ii) a directive on what specifically the student is to do and/or not do in the future.
      • iii) a warning on what the consequences will be if the student fails, intentionally or unintentionally, to comply with the directive.
  • C. NOTES "Behavior" may be distinguished from "attitude" or "personality," but in a Chinese context, behavior is an expression of one's attitude, which each individual has the responsibility to actively manage. From an American perspective, attitude is often associated with one's opinion, which is an inviolable right. Personality traits are often viewed as difficult if not impossible to change. In a Chinese context, unusual or unsettling behaviors or opinions can be grounds for ostracism. In receiving criticism, students should avoid the urge to explain themselves or ask for a logical explanation; instead, they should simply try to accept that a particular behavior, attitude, or personality trait is viewed negatively in Chinese contexts and would lead to the their being avoided or otherwise unwelcome in future encounters. Students should try to understand the rationale behind cultural norms as they become aware of them, but they should also become comfortable with not understanding fully "why" this is the case and with not fully understanding the behavior or its contexts. Like language as a whole, full mastery requires not just conscious awareness but unconscious instinct for what is right and wrong and must be learned through experience, which will certainly involve trial and error. They should also be prepared to discover that, even when they understand "why" something is the way it is, does not mean that it will ever "make sense" within their native cultural context ... nor should they believe that through extended or emphatic dialogue will their own norms ever make perfect sense to those from other cultures. Note 1: all written warnings are distinct and individually actionable. For example, if a student receives a warning for addressing his/her teacher(s) inappropriately in an email and subsequently offends a teacher by speaking at inappropriate times in class, the second offense will not trigger a punishment for the first warning, even if both offenses are viewed as a form of disrespecting a teacher. While students must come to understand that their best attempts to show respect using American cultural norms may still result in gross violations of politeness norms in Chinese contexts, teachers will assume that American students are ignorant of Chinese cultural norms and can only be held accountable for actions for which they have received explicit instruction and correction. Note 2: The Cultural Standard only applies to actions and behaviors that are not addressed in existing written policy. For example, if Flagship students violate the Language Pledge enforced at the UM Chinese Flagship summer program in Shanghai (CHIN 215), they are subject to the punishment described in the policy without the need or right to a written warning.