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                                    Module Five : Commonalities

At the end of module four, most of the first cartoon showed the culture bumps between Brian and Akira. It was clear that they felt separated from one another as a result of the culture bumps. The focus was on “WHY” they were different. However, when they both admired a pretty girl, they discovered that they had something in common. The things that people have in common are called “universals.” This module begins exploring “HOW” people are the same. In this module, you will begin to:

                  IDENTIFY universal qualities and universal situations

                  PRACTICE analyzing culture bumps


You will also practice:

  1. how to analyze
  2. how to classify
  3. how to evaluate
  4. how to compare


Introduction to Commonalities


Focus Activity


(A) In the Upanayan Ceremony,two young Bengalee-American brothers are formally charged with assuming the roles of Hindu Brahmin. In this ancient ritual (dating back to 2000 BC), the young men promise to safeguard the educational, intellectual and artistic concerns of all of society.

(B )In her quincenera, this young Mexican-American celebrates her 15th birthday with family and friends at a party given to her by her parents. The party both celebrates her childhood and marks her entry into womanhood with new responsibilities.

(C) In her grandfather’s vegetable garden, a young Texas girl learns the correct way to hoe a row of vegetables. This is one of several responsibilities she will shoulder in the family. What do these activities have in common?

                                       A Reading on UNIVERSALS

In modules three and four, we learned that cultural values and cultural behaviors are closely connected. In fact, the cultural values help determine the form of behavior in any situation in a cyclical form. Akira and Brian’s behavior on the biology exam is an example of this. The universal situation is finishing an exam before the class is over. While there are a number of Japanese values that influence their behavior in this situation, one Japanese value—”competition is not acceptable”—means that many Japanese students will do as Akira did. They will check and re-check the exam until the time is finished rather than stand out as being “faster” or “smarter” than their classmates. Again, many American values influence Brian, but we can choose one American value—”fast, busy life”—that might have led him to turn the paper in as soon as he finished and to leave the classroom to go do something else.


Cultural Values and CulturalBehaviors

A model of this cycle of value/behavior/value/behavior might look something like this for Akira:

The value of competition is not acceptable leads to>

–Akira sitting in the classroom until the period is finished even though he had finished his exam which reinforces > –the value of competition not being acceptable which leads to > –Akira not telling Brian the next day that he made an A+ on the exam (etc.)

A similar model for Brian might look like this:

The value of fast, busy life leads to>

Brian leaving the class as soon as he finishes his exam even though there is still time left in the class which reinforces>–the value of fast busy life which leads to –Brian wanting Akira to hurry and answer him which reinforces>–The value of fast, busy life (etc.)

This cycle acts like the cultural generator. They are both reflecting their different cultures in the same situation. Thus, while the situation is common to both cultures, the behaviors are different. It is this difference or “culture bump” that prevents Brian and Akira from “connecting with one another.

Universal Measure

However it is this same culture bump that would allow Brian and Akira to move beyond their cultural differences by examining this bump more closely. In order to properly analyze the culture bump, they need to talk with one another (or with other friends from Japan and the USA) about two levels of “meaning” of the culture bump. First, they would have to know why the other person acted as he did. This is called interpreting the behavior. Modules three and four have given a lot of background information as to why people behave in the way that they do. Secondly, they need to know how they are similar. This is learned through self-reflection and conversation with people from the other culture.

Why or Interpretation

Akira might ask Brian why he finished the exam and left the class before time was up. In order to answer, Brian could think about himself, but he also might think about why other Americans finish early and leave the classroom. He might answer Akira by saying he did so because he was confident that he knew the material very well and could complete the exam in a short period of time. At the same time, Akira would need to tell Brian how Japanese (or he himself) would act if they knew the material very well and could complete the exam in a short period of time. We know from the cartoon that Akira (and perhaps other Japanese as well) would check and re-check their answers until the time was finished—even if they knew the material well.

Implicit Interpretation

By continuing the conversation,Brian might discover that his idea about students leaving early would implicitly demonstrate that they were excellent students (or possibly) that they didn’t know anything and left in frustration. Brian,of course, felt that his leaving the classroom showed that he was a good student in that course. We know, of course, from Akira’s thought bubbles that he thought that Brian is either not very smart or was cheating on the test in order to leave the room so quickly.

How are we the same

At this stage, they have explored why they are different. Now, they need to search for commonalties. Commonalities exist in two ways— they can be common situations such as “finishing an exam before the time is finished”(see a partial listing on page 48 of this module) or they can be common qualities such as” being a serious student versus being a good student,” “cheating”, “showing off”, “modesty” and “risk taking” (see a partial listing on page 48 of this module). They might discover that both of them have the same idea about “showing off” and that there are situations when both of them would refuse to show off. It would be interesting for Brian to think about situations where he would not show off. They could discuss risk taking and Akira could think of situations where he takes risks. In discussing these “commonalities”, the two would discover that their differences actually could help them discover their deeper commonalities. Another discussion emerging from this culture might concern the nature of being a student. Again, this would be an example of a discussion about “How we are the same”. This exchange mirrors the universal dichotomy between being a good student and being a serious student.

Regardless of the content, any of these types of conversation basically utilize four key questions.They are: What are you doing? This leads to a definition of a common or universal situation Why are you doing this? and What does it mean to you when you do this? These lead to a common or universal quality. And the last question, directed toward oneself,is: How do I do this or how do I express this quality? An exploration of these questions can eventually lead to shared worldviews. A world view is concerned with universal themes. These themes exist in every culture—for example, birth and death, sickness and need, guilt, love, solidarity and loneliness. By discussing these ideas, Brian and Akira can begin to understand each other’s worldview, not merely as knowledge, but as an expansion of their own world view. As they discuss the meaning of each of these ideas for themselves, they will ultimately negotiate a shared meaning for the term “serious student” or “good student” which is diagrammed in this module. This circular process demonstrates a “genuine”conversation about a universal theme. In short, Brian and Akira can have a conversation about “making sense of human life”. They do not necessarily change their own behavior, but they have a conversation that can lead to the formation of genuine friendships.



          BEHAVIOR—Brian leaves class after finishing a test—even though there are 30 minutes of class time left.

AMERICAN INTERPRETATION                                               JAPANESE INTERPRETATION

Brian:  I knew the material really well                                           Akira : He didn’t know the material and just “blew the test off”AND I’m a good student.

AMERICAN EVALUATION                                                        JAPANESE EVALUATION

Brian : GOod students need to do things correctly                      Akira: Good students need to do things correctly AND

and quickly AND taking risks is good, AND                                act in “unison” with their classmates AND I am sure

even if I fail I will take risk BECAUSE I believe                           that I can do well AND I will use all of the time to make sure

there will probably be more chances in the future.                      BECAUSE I’m not sure there will be other chances..

                                                                                           POSSIBLE COMMON IDEAS

Modesty/Showing off

Last chance/Future chances 

Taking risks/Playing it safe

Being a serious student/Being a good student



  • Letting a member of the opposite sex know you are interested in him/her “flirting behavior”
  • Asking for a special favor from (1 )a superior or from (2) an equal
  • Letting someone know you are angry with him/her
  • Greetings in public between (1) friends of the same sex, (2) between friends of different sex, or (3) between students and teachers
  • Being a part of a community of people, feeling connected to them
  • Wanting to help other people
  • Being inspired; having goals and hopes


  • Responsible or irresponsible
  • Successful or unsuccessful
  • Competent or incompetent
  • Kind or unkind
  • Modest or showoff
  • Caring or uncaring
  • Respectful or disrespectful
  • Considerate or inconsiderate
  • Sensitive or insensitive
  • Loving or hateful or indifferent
  • Comfortable or uncomfortable
  • Helpful or unhelpful
  • Spiritual or unspiritual
  • “Cool” or “dorky”
  • Decent or indecent


Everybody’s Doin’ It

In this activity, you will practice looking for the “universal” or commonality in specific situations. Look at the following pictures and answer the following questions. A partial list of universal qualities is listed above.

  • What are they doing? (Universal situation)
  • Why do you think they are doing it?
  • What does it mean to them when they do it?(Universal quality*)
  • How do you do that (universal quality)?


With Grandfather

Two brothers

An Activity:

Revisiting the Space Ship

Now that we have practiced the analysis process, in Module One, we saw how different Korean, American, Syrian and Indian perceptions were about Mecca, about a traditional Korean wedding and about an elderly American woman. In that activity, the responses reflected “why” each group felt the way they did. With this information, we can now ask the four key questions. As an example, let us analyze the Mecca poster again. First let’s remember some of the phrases that Mazen and Muhbeen used as they talked about Mecca:

to pray to God, historical, spiritual peace, no differences between people, close to God, thinking of others.”Look at the questions.

  • What are they doing? (Universal situation)
  • Coming together with diverse people with whom they share beliefs and ideas and praying and meditating
  • Why do you think they are doing it? It is something that is important historically, it is helps them to be the best kind of person they can be—thinking of other people
  • What does it mean to them when they do it? They feel spiritual, connected with other people, close to God
  • How do you connect with other people, be the best person you can be? What is something that is important to you historically?

For Mazen and Muhabeen this was a part of their religion. It may be a part of your religion also or it may be something that is not religious at all—such as being in nature or being a part of a family. Notice that the culture bump (Mecca) is merely the gateway to examining some deeper questions about yourself.In groups of two or three, practice the questions about the other two pictures from Module One.


Some of Katie’s and Tuk Bum’s phrases were: Traditional versus modern, meaning of details, ritual, feeling warm and happy, secure in future.

What are they doing? (Universal situation) Why do you think they are doing it?

What does it mean to them when they do it? (Universal quality*) How do you do that? (universal quality)


Some of Josh’s and Cheyenne’s phrases were: Endearing, adventurous, try anything, relate to elders on a personal level, admiration and hopeful for self. What are they doing? (Universal situation) Why do you think they are doing it? What does it mean to quality*) How do you do that?(universal quality)

Now, you will practice looking for the “universal” or commonality in specific situations. In groups ,look at your picture and answer the following questions. What are they doing? (Universal situation) Why do you think they are doing it? What does it mean to them when they do it? (Universal quality*) How do you do that? (universal quality)

TO Finally, practice answering the four questions about your culture bump in Module Two.

                                                                             An Activity: Self-awareness

Take a few moments and look at the partial list of universal qualities listed above. Choose the three that are the most important for you. List them as (1) the most important (2) the second most important and, (3) the third most important. Write the numbers 1, 2, and 3 in the space in front of the words that you choose.Now, think of three times when you have been ______________ (your first choice above).

In the table below, list the specific behaviors that are in that incident. For example,if RESPECT is my first choice above, I might write “I say, ‘Yes ma’m to my mother to show respect for her.'”

The most important quality for me is:


  • Example 1:
  • Example 2:
  • Example 3:


Now list three times when you have not shown that quality. For example, I sat inthe back of the classroom and doodled during his lecture to show disrespect to my teacher.


  • Example 1:
  • Example 2:
  • Example 3:


Sit in a group with other classmates who share your first choice. Share your answers with one another or on the culture bump forum.What do you notice?

                                                                                           FINAL REFLECTION

Watch the video of Josh and Mazen.

How does their conversation represent universal, cultural and individual values? Name five adjectives to describe their conversation.


Phoebe the Culture Bump Cat says, “CONGRATULATIONS!!! ”  You have now completed the fifth stage of your journey. You have learned what a universal value is and have begun to reframe incidents to include a universal meaning. You have practiced analyzing, classifying, evaluating and comparing.