This week I got one of those emails from a student that makes everything I do as a professor worthwhile. Beyond the cherish-worthy gushing, one thing pleased me most. Something I taught her stuck with her. Yes, it would be great if students would send me lists of things they learned in my class that they retain long after they leave, but I’ll take just one. It’s better than none.
She wrote, “It is funny, for some reason I keep going back to an assignment you gave me. I don't remember exactly, but it was basically a pie chart of what makes us who we are. Every once in a while I visualize that, and how it has changed just over that last few years, and imagine how it might change as my life continues to grow and change.”
The entire first unit of my intercultural communication course is focused on exploring one’s own culture. The fundamental premise is that you can’t interact well with someone who is different than you if you don’t know who you are and why. So, the assignment she mentioned is one where students list all of the subcultures (micro, co, whatever term the textbook uses). Then they have to consider how important that component is to their identity by creating a pie chart (Sample is NOT mine, by the way).
Among the points, I hope students take away are (and I usually have one):
- People are complex.
- People have multiple identities, many of which we cannot see by looking at them.
- People who look like us on the outside may be very different on the inside.
- People change.
I can list the components of my identity next week, next month, next year, and there will be differences. I might add or delete ingredients to my pie (For example, maybe I’ll be able to add “author” someday), or perhaps, the sizes of the pieces will grow or shrink.
Simple lesson, right? Except it’s easy to forget those take away points in our day to day lives. Ever get all excited about a box of chocolates or a donut until you take a bite and discover your expectations were way off base? Ever had someone treat you as if you were the same person you were five years ago? I kept getting Barbie dolls for gifts long after I played with them because some relatives couldn’t see the change.
What I liked best about the student’s email is that she got the most important part. Knowing what’s inside you matters as much, if not more than, figuring out whether the chocolates have caramel or strawberry cream filling.