Cultural Conversations about COVID-19 | Part 2

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This is the second installment of Dr. Grinde’s look at the ways she adapted her Cross-Cultural Psychology course amid a pandemic. You can read part one here.

Human relationships and the manner in which we connect—and feel the need to connect– to others is always a fascinating study. The guests from both France and Spain focused on their country’s restrictions on touch (hugging, kissing, handshakes, etc.) and socializing during the pandemic and how these were so antithetical to the norms within their culture. Both countries had severe restrictions on contact. Cristina and Jaime, in two different locations in Spain, shared that they were just now (early May) being allowed certain hours of movement outside of their homes. Children were able to go out for the first time in six weeks, and only those over 70 years of age were allowed to be out from 10 a.m.-Noon. They were curious to see how the continued social distancing restrictions would be followed after so much time in isolation.

Movement was less restricted within communities in China, not in red zones of positive cases and Eric, who is an American now residing in China, explained the different structure of the physical culture and how it accommodates fewer restrictions. He talked about how the villages and urban areas in China are very structured, with his village having only one driving entrance and two additional working entrances. Urban areas are often gated and rural areas are designed differently than those in the U.S. with all the homes in the center of the village and the fields surrounding the central village. With this structure, it is quite easy for all communities to monitor its residents and establish official checkpoints to enter and leave areas. During the pandemic, residents registered at the checkpoint and had their temperature taken. Once communities started reopening, citizens wore and displayed different color badges that indicated what level of participation in society they could have based on their current risk status.

Mariana Bayona (’22) with her sister, Angelica (a medical student in Colombia) from their home in Colombia.

Technology has been an important part of cultural development and was also mentioned in a couple of conversations. Students learned about South Korea’s use of Blue Tooth tracking in fighting COVID-19, as well as the use of phone booth-style testing sites, which can provide results in 7 minutes. Many students agreed that that level of tracking and monitoring of individuals would not be tolerated in the U.S. Natalie mentioned that the Netherlands is heavily focused on studying how businesses, communities and families utilized technology during the pandemic and to build upon the momentum of greater effectiveness and efficiency. She went on to talk about the pragmatic nature of the Dutch and how they are consistently looking for ways to move ahead.

Through our readings, discussions, and cultural conversations, the global pandemic also brought to light some cultural factors that can otherwise go unnoticed, such as the prevalence and treatment of the elderly, the distribution of population in urban and rural centers, the number of families living in inter-generational homes, the number of people living in nursing homes, beliefs in modern science, and the general health and lifestyle practices of the overall population. The global pandemic has also spotlighted the vast differences between those cultures that have an individual versus a collectivistic focus, the quality of healthcare systems, and the role of government in the daily lives of citizens. These cultural conversations with people all around the world gave my students a unique and meaningful way to learn about culture and to better understand their world.

Natalie, who is Ukrainian but has also lived in both the U.S. and Netherlands and has traveled extensively, was asked by a student what she has learned across all of her cultural experiences. She replied, “Everyone is a human being. People want to be happy. People want to make something of their lives. People want to feel safe. They want to have their basic needs met and also take care of all who they hold dear. To find out what people in each culture cherish, you have to be willing to pay attention, and you’ll find what they cherish is likely similar to what you cherish. You must be willing to not only look for differences but try to find common ground.”

One of the students in the class, Elainna Simpson (’21), shared the following reflection: “The cultural conversations helped me apply the different cultural factors we learned to the different cultures to which we spoke. Also, it helped me gain a broader sense of what culture is and how it means different things to different people. Although there may be aspects of a culture that the U.S. has in common with a different culture, there are variances of how we view that commonality, how we express it, and the importance we assign to it. I think it is amazing that our everyday experiences can be a learning experience for someone else, and yet we often take our everyday experiences for granted.”

Upon completion of the cultural conversations, I met with the students collectively to discuss the various cultural factors that they heard, affecting how each country was responding to the pandemic. This final discussion provided evidence that students had gained an understanding of the complexity of culture and its multiple layers. I believe the pandemic allows for an intimate examination of culture.

I look forward to using the personal cultural information gained from the conversations, in addition to the many journal and magazine articles from various cultures I have gathered since May, in future offerings of this course.

About Loras College
Founded in 1839, Loras College leverages its historic roots as Iowa’s first college, the second oldest Catholic college west of the Mississippi River and one of the nation’s 10 diocesan colleges to deliver challenging, life-changing experiences as part of its residential, Catholic setting. In 2020, Loras was ranked the 16th Best Regional College in the Midwest by U.S. News & World Report and one of America’s Top 200 Most Loved Colleges/Universities by Forbes Magazine for the fourth consecutive year. Loras students ranked No. 2 in the world as part of the global Peeptrade Investment Challenge while a second group ranked No. 4. For the 12th consecutive year, Loras Media Studies student-led television station (LCTV) was named the TV Station of the Year by the Iowa College Media Association (ICMA).