Incorporating multiculturalism in my lessons is often difficult because 99% of my students are ethnically Korean. It is, however, a great way to for them express their own culture while also learning about others. Lessons in EFL classes can reflect most things in the world, so having students learn about other cultures is a great way to meet their interests, broaden their minds, and get them thinking creatively. For example, I want to have my advanced 4th graders do a presentation on lesser-known countries around the world. They’ll practice their Web-based research skills, public speaking, and collaboration to learn about and question their peers’ knowledge.
Having students learn and practice multiculturalism is important because it reduces prejudice and intolerance. Only knowing your culture and area of the world is both limiting and an easy way to develop biases. One common prejudice in the US, hostility toward Muslims, could be mostly overturned if those same people made some effort to get to know individual Muslim people and learn about their culture. Similar hostilities exist in Korea toward people from Southeast Asia and Africa. Educating young people, and having them educate each other and their parents is a powerful tool for fighting discrimination.
Cultural competence, in my eyes, is a relative ease in interacting with people who are different from you. It’s at least a slight interest in learning about different cultures, backgrounds, and histories. It contributes to a sense of scope in the world and an eagerness to know and experience more. Educating the whole child means kindling and helping to sustain this kind of cultural competence, especially in places where it may not be as important in the curriculum or school culture. As I’ve discovered time and again, my students surprise me with their observations, knowledge, and wisdom. Developing cultural competence means being open to receiving that from other people.