If language is what divides ethnicity, then education is what unites people from understanding different cultures. The education system is one of the vital tools to train people for global awareness and helps to overcome barriers between diverse societies throughout the world. However, due to cultural differences within the society, education is thought of differently in different countries. Especially in West Africa, Ghana, has an education system that reflects high-power distance dimension. Additionally, their education system contradicts the different relationship between low and high power-distance dimensions, why the teachers are center of education, why students must respect the teacher, and what are the relationship between the teacher and the students. Moreover, the key concept of high and low power-distance dimensions leads to the ideas of what is cultural communication, why study intercultural communication and its outcomes.
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Summary of Interaction:
Throughout history, education in Ghana was curved into the system of high power-distance dimensions. In order to understand what characteristics create a high power-distance dimensions system, I interviewed a friend from Ghana. Thomas Appiagyet is Ghanaian from West Africa. He came to America for higher education and wants experience in the Petroleum engineering program for his major in college. He particularly chose the University of Kansas because he got a Scholarship in the engineering department. This is his second semester studying in the States.
I met Thomas in Watson library because it was a perfect place to interview since the surrounding was very moderate and quite therefore, it was easy to ask questions and helped to me to concentrate on his ideas and reflect on his responses. We had our interview on February 24, 2011 around 4pm because that was the only available time for Thomas. I started the interview by greeting him and tried to blend the questions into it. My questions were mostly based on the education system and focused on how Ghanaian’s perception could be different from the American cultural system.
Application of Concept:
White interviewing Thomas, his personal life stories led me to see a different concept which was the power distance dimensions by Hofstedes. According to the article of “Cultural dimensions and social behavior,” Hofstede’s Power Distance dimension relates to the degree of equality and inequality present in the society, also it relates to how people accept culture and power differences. High power-distance societies have relationships in which people are distanced from their superior and respect their opinion. Thus, countries with high power-distance culture accept the fact that ‘inequality in power is considered the norm; and the condition of inequality is authorized by the leaders rather than individuals (Ahmed, Mouratidis, & Preston, 2009, p. 49).’ According to Magdalena Polack, the culture of a high power-distance dimension society is characterized by certain distinctions such as students respect their teachers , teachers are the center of the education; therefore, the order and the rule of the classroom has to be followed, students wait until the teacher gives directions (Polak, 2001)
In contrast, low power-distance societies depend on their superiors in an approachable way and the decisions can be negotiable (Basabe, Nekane; Ros, María, 2005, p. 192). In other words, in this society, each individual person has less power over a group of people and the society is treated as equal even in an unfair situation. Low power-distance societies also have certain distinguishable characteristics such as students have more independence over the teacher, students are the center of the education, students’ initiative and communication is highly valued, students are encouraged to ask any questions and express their own ideas (Polak, 2001). Hofstede’s model identifies that generally, most of Western/Northern European culture is considered as low-power while Asian and Latin Americans are known to be high power-distance (Ahmed, Mouratidis, & Preston, 2009, p. 53).
This cultural dimension helped me to differentiate between Western and Asian cultures and understand the different characteristics of each culture. It helped to understand the gist of the cultural differences and its society, especially in Ghana. First, Ghana has high power distance dimension society. According to Thomas, the teacher was the center of education where during the lecture. The students debate the problem before approaching the teacher because the teacher expected students to find their own solution to the problem rather asking questions. Students don’t normally go to see the teacher during their office hours and most of the time, the teachers can’t be found in their office. Also, they establish rules. Students can’t go against their authority and criticize. If not, there will be punishment for the students. According to Thomas, their school used two types of punishments to the students such as corporal punishment and capital punishment. In corporal punishment, when the student fights against other students or other people, that student is physically punished which involves pain such as hitting the back of the student using a stick. Other punishment is capital punishment where if student is guilty of plagiarizing work, they are suspended from school. In addition, the students can’t leave the class room without the permission of the professor even though the lecture is finished.
Second, it is considered rude if the student expresses their opinion or challenges the teacher. So, during class, students normally don’t ask questions or express their opinions. Last but not least, the relationship between the students and the teacher is very formal even after the class. Unlike in the States, it is very rare that students become friends with the professors. There is always a huge border line which separates the occupation of each person. Therefore, Thomas’s favorite teacher was Mr. Aggry, a physics teacher, who always welcomed him and treated him as a friend.
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Through the interaction with Thomas, I realized that our difference of culture, ethnicity, and language did not matter of understanding his perspective and putting myself into his shoes. I understood every detail stories he was explaining because I also grew up in a culture where high power distance dimensions is carved in to the culture. However, I was surprised how the concept of power distance dimensions was ubiquitous and it did not represent just one ethnicity. Especially, Ghana being ruled by England during the past history surprised me that West Africa was most considered to be high power distance dimensions society. By experiencing this phenomenon, I gain broaden knowledge about Ghana’s education system and somehow I could set correlation between students from high power distance dimensions versus low power distance dimensions culture. I also realized that intercultural communication was not just all about globalization, but rather how language is understood through different mediums such as using body language, tone of voice, and eye contact. These nuances of communication play a vital role in fully understanding the relationship between basic communication and intercultural communication. Through interaction with Thomas, I realized both of us used body language when there was a certain concept we did not understand. For example, when I was asking the question “What influence in your experience has led to develop positive feeling about your education?” I noticed I was using lot of hand movements in order to explain the question. Thomas did the exact thing when he was explaining particular situation. Besides body language, eye contact and the tone of his voice helped me to visualize how engaged he was in the interview, and that he fully understand the mood of the interaction.
Only interviewing one person did not help to fully understand the depth of the differences between low and high power distance dimensions. Just like all science lab experiments need constant values, interaction between more ethnicity and view perspective are needed to create better understanding of intercultural communication. However, the interaction gave me a good solid view point on how high power distance dimensions exist in various countries. Also, just by making questions out of one chosen concept, I was able to draw a correlation between Thomas’ experiences to Hofstede’s cultural dimension method. Therefore, fully analyzing his method could make me understand not just other culture’s education system but also see cultural pattern during intercultural communication.
In conclusion, Ghana’s culture is blend into high power distance dimension society. The difference between high and low power distance dimension helps to understand the difference in education system across the world. Low and high cultural dimension method can be differentiated between different cultures. Ghana has a culture where teacher has more rights and authority than the students and they must respect the any aspect of the teachers are making. The relationship between them is also official and has boundaries between them. In addition, despite cultural, linguistic, or ethnic differences, the interview was not difficulty and also to communicate. Communication is not exclusively about globalization, but relies heavily on non-verbal cues. However, having one experience is limited to only one interaction, thus cannot make any concrete conclusions about globalization associated with intercultural communication. Every ethnic may have cultural differences; however, by understanding their culture in a different perspective is important to surpass havoc between nations.
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