4 + 1 Ways to Learn about Cultures, Inspired by Morgenstreich

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Fasnacht may be over, but its impact remains: PWG member Judit Csapo reflects on her unique Morgenstreich experience and how it inspired her to rethink intercultural learning. 

I attended the “Morgestreich” this year in a new way. I had the chance to watch it from a second floor terrace on Marktplatz in the company of about 60 people, mixed Swiss and international.

This is the biggest traditional cultural event in the Basel Region and as I was enjoying the parade from above I realised how great and also complex cultural learning experience the situation offered.

I was standing there overviewing the glowing messages and the perfectly prepared beautiful laterne exploring the sujet-s each clique was presenting. I was looking at the sujet keywords wondering how much my understanding of Baseldütsch had improved. I like the humour and the symbolism of these reality conveying messages.

My Swiss host was explaining to me a little about the sujets and details of the clique’s community life.

When after an hour most people climbed back through the windows to be served at the apero table I was still discussing with him what the elements of today’s Fastnacht means. Behind me it was dark inside the rooms, were people were served traditional Fastnacht food like Mehlsuppe, Zwiebelwähe , Chäswaie und Fastenwähe. Everyone was eating and chatting in the dark beside candlelight, due to the rule to keep  all lights switched off  during the parade.

I had learned that night another few things about Baslers, but most of all I felt that much of what I have read before and my personal experience connected in a new way.

Learning another culture is internal change. Adapting is internalising and including in our behaviour new elements. Understanding and being open to accepting that our beliefs will change or get reaffirmed.

I thought I needed to summarise the ways I have been learning another culture in my life to be more aware and conscious about it. How does the adaptation process work in reality?  I like to get exposed to different cultures and such a reflection offers new insights and learning opportunities.

Learning by experience.
I have a direct interaction with the other culture, experiencing other people’s behaviour and I get direct response to mine. In so many years of our stay in Switzerland this has become a daily experience. Even though I speak high German by now, understand somewhat the dialect, Fastnacht is a special experience, because locals demonstrate their own traditional beliefs and special world view, which I find very authentic.

Learning and speaking the local language is one of the best ways to learn about cultures even if English is a bridging language between them.  I find it much more entertaining to talk to people, – experience local Theater, cinema, club or any community event – by building rapport through the hosting language.

Learning by reading.
I have read quite a few books about the Swiss as well. Reading is a more abstract way of learning, but at least as important as experiential learning.

Learning from others wisdom.
I have had a few discussions with intercultural experts who understand both the culture and the methodology, and can explain why-s. The best is to talk to someone who knows both the new and our original culture to help explain the differences. Such people are more likely to see aspects we might not see yet.  Such a person is ahead of us and has been helpful to me when I was in doubts. They can be a relief to talk to.

Learning by putting the puzzle together through contemplating.
Reflection is a great way to put puzzle pieces in place. Adapting to a new culture takes time and effort. It can be hard. Real adaptation is changing our intuitive behaviour as a response to life’s events.

Learning inside out
The truth is, I did not go to the “Morgenstreich” each year since we live in the region. It was much better to stay with my pillow instead of the cold, rain, dark and loudness in the night.

There is a motivational side of cultural learning as well, so occasionally I ask myself:

How curious am I?
Do I have the patience to pay attention ?
Can I listen to understand ?
Do I have any resistance and why is it there?

I realised that if my answers are positive it helps to inspire myself, if they are negative I can still figure out why.

All in all, intercultural learning  enriches our lives, is creative, is a life long process and Fastnacht Basel is a special event to experience this.

Uf  Widerluege Waggis

Author: Judit Csapo

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