A cultural plunge refers to an individual exposure to a people from a different culture (ethnic group, language, sexual orientation, gender, or socioeconomic status). The new culture enables the individual to have an experience which he or she has never had before. The experience makes it possible for him or her to understand the differences and similarities between the new culture and his or her own culture. An effective cultural plunge lasts for at least one hour. This ensures that one gets sufficient time for one to have a new experience. A cultural plunge tends to have important implications to people’s work. It enables them to embrace new and effective approaches.
This assignment is based on a cultural plunge into a new religion. It examines the implications of the experience on an early childhood teacher.
My Plunge Experience and Personal Insights Gained
During the last summer holidays, I visited Saint Andrew Catholic Church in Fort Worth, Texas. This is one of the Catholic Churches in the city that conduct mass in the Spanish language. As a white American with Irish roots and who has been brought up in a family with strong Protestant values, attending such a mass itself was an immersion into a new culture. I had never attended a Catholic Church service before. It was my belief that by attending a Hispanic American Catholic Church, I would get to understand the Catholic religion and the culture of the Latino and Hispanic Americans. Although I do not speak Spanish, I hoped that everything was going to be good.
Prior to the visit, I held various biases and assumptions about the Hispanic Catholic Church. From what I used to hear, I believed that this church was meant for Spanish speakers. This is due to the fact that it always conducted its services in Spanish. I also thought that the members of the church were not allowed to carry their own bibles. From what I knew, it was only the priest who was supposed to have the bible and read it in the church. I as well expected to see the members of the congregation kneeling down for a prayer. I used to believe that every prayer in this church was conducted this way.
During the material day, I woke up early and prepared myself for the church service. I arrived at the Church compound at around 8.10 a.m. The first service had ended. As I stepped out of my car and walked into the church hall to join the other members of the congregation who were waiting for the next service, I was a bit nervous. I was quite unsure of what I had to expect. Since I lacked the knowledgeable of how to enter a Catholic church, I had to wait for another worshipper in order to learn from him or her. I never wanted to violate the etiquette of the church.
As I was standing there waiting, a certain lady came. She shook my hand saying, “Peace be unto you.” I felt happy since I did not expect anybody at the Church to greet me in English. The lady walked straight to the church hall and I followed her quietly. At the door, the lady did some gesture using her hands. Since I did not understand this, I did not do the same. The lady also stopped at a certain basic of water near the door. She dipped her hand into the water and used it to demonstrate the sign of a cross on her face. To avoid many eyes towards my direction, I just did this. However, I was uncomfortable since I also did not understand what I was doing.
Inside the Church, I took a seat right at the back. I did not want to look like a stranger. From the initial gestures, I had become afraid that every aspect of worship in the church was going to be ritualistic. When the real service started, I indeed initially felt out of place since everything was being spoken in Spanish. I was like a stranger. I thought that everybody in the church was worried why I had come there. However, during the ‘meet and greet visitors’ session, I was warmly welcomed by the people who were sitting next to me. They shook my hand in turn and told me, “peace be with you.”
As the service went on, I started feeling at home. I was now able to watch, follow and participate in various aspects of worship in the church. Although I did not know how to respond to some prayers, I was happy to hear the members of the congregation reciting the Lord’s Prayer in English. As a protestant, I am conversant with this prayer. I also came to realize that the Hispanic Catholics clapped their hands while singing and they lifted their hands at some point as part of worship. These practices are not different from what is practiced in the Protestant Churches.
The sermon was presented in a good way since everybody seemed to enjoy it. Whenever the Father read a verse, the members of the congregation always referred to their own bibles just like the way Protestants do. This made me to realize that some of my initial beliefs were just misconceptions. Despite this, I found that every aspect of worship in the Hispanic Catholic Church was characterized by massive piety and reverence. This is somehow different from how the Protestant Churches conduct their services. I as well learned that unlike Protestants, Catholics highly revered saints. The walls of the church contained named oiled paintings of various saints.
By the end of the mass, I was happy about how eventful everything had turned out to be. I was really amazed of all the practices and procedures of the Hispanic Catholic Church. However, it is unfortunate that I did not follow everything during the hours of worship since communication was made in Spanish. I would also like to point out that since I am a member of the Pentecostal Church, I did not enjoy the spiritual feeling of the service. The service was in fact conservative and every aspect of worship was ritualized. Despite this, the members of the congregation were good. They made me feel welcome.
What I experienced during the visit to the Hispanic Catholic Church taught me a lot about myself. I came to realize that some of my beliefs about the church were based on assumptions and negative stereotypes. For instance, I came to realize that everybody was welcome in church regardless of his or her cultural and linguistic background. This was contrary to my thinking that since non-Spanish speakers were not welcome. I also realized that the members of the congregation had their own bibles, and that not all prayers were conducted while kneeling down. I had never thought of this before.
From this experience, I can say that I am now well prepared for cultural differences. I can also admit that I now understand what it means when you find yourself in a situation where you are treated as a minority. Since I did not understand the Latin language, I was not able to follow what was spoken out. As a result, I felt that I was at the wrong place. However, my cultural bias towards the Hispanic and Latino cultures made me to be aware of how they influence the Hispanic religion and culture. With this experience, I have been able to increase my knowledge and awareness of a religion and cultures that I am not part of.
There are four main objectives of cultural plunges. The first objective is to ensure that one has direct contact with persons from a different culture (Elmer, 2002). During my visit to the Saint Andrew Catholic Church, I came into contact with worshippers from the Latino and Hispanic cultures. I am a white American who has Irish roots. I am also Protestant. The second objective is to ensure that an individual gains important insights into the characteristics and circumstances of the new cultural community (Hiebert, 2002). My visit to the Catholic Church enabled me to learn similarities and differences between Protestant and Catholic Churches. I also learned the difference between Hispanic and Latino cultures and the white American culture.
The third objective of cultural plunges is to enable one to experience something very different from the people around him or her (Elmer, 2002; Geng, 2014). As a stranger in a new religion and culture, I experienced many new things, including the ritualistic aspect of Catholic worship, reverence of saints, and the significance of Holy Water. Unlike to the members of the congregation, these things were unfamiliar to me. The last objective is to ensure that a person gains vital insights into his own biases and values (Hiebert, 2002, Hansen, 2007). My visit made me understand that everything I knew about the Hispanic Catholic Church was not all true. Some of my beliefs were just misconceptions.
Implications of the Plunge Experience on My Work as an Early Childhood Teacher
As an early childhood teacher, the above plunge experience has various implications on my work. To begin with, the experience provides me with what I need to consider when dealing with children from minority and immigrant groups. Any effective system of education should be accommodative to diverse groups (Fitch, 2002). I left the plunge ground with the awareness that education is an activity which is culturally sensitive. All learners should be treated equally regardless of their cultural backgrounds (Glazier, 2003). From the experience above, I realized that the Catholic Church is based on iconography and symbolism. These aspects of religion serve the universal didactic function and they engage the mind in a meaningful way (Wicks & Estadt, 2005). I believe that it is necessary for me to design and communicate my lessons using various symbols and icons (Cochran-Smith, 2003). This can enable my young learners to easily understand what I teach them.
My plunge experience also enabled me to understand that religion serves the purpose of uniting humanity regardless of their racial and cultural backgrounds (Fitch, 2002; Hansen, 2007). Like religion, education serves the same purpose. It unites educators with other staff members, children, and parents (Lin, 2001). It is important for education policy makers to know that all these people are important stakeholders in the education system. Their input is important whenever making education decisions and policies. My plunge as well helped me to understand that the kind of reception that one gets in a new culture matters a lot (Hansen, 2007; Hiebert, 2002). Since I am an early childhood teacher, I need to be careful in the way I welcome and handle new learners in school (Berlin, 2004). This will make it possible for them to think positively about education and embrace it. It will enable them to settle down and embark on achieving positive academic outcomes.
A cultural plunge is indeed an important experience. It is a form of education which is experiential, challenging, and interesting in every aspect. The experience enables one to have important insights into a new culture. These insights can have important implications to the person’s work. A cultural plunge is important for an early childhood teacher. It enables the teacher to understand how to design his or her lessons and interact with learners. Having a cultural plunge can help to ensure that positive educational outcomes are achieved among the young learners. It can make it possible for the early childhood teacher and other educational stakeholders to cooperate well in the design and delivery of an educational curriculum.
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