Capturing Culture: A United Nations Roleplay Unit
To enhance global engagement and empathy, students learn about varying cultural dimensions. Then they apply this knowledge by embodying another country's ambassadors at a UN General Assembly Roleplay
Understanding cultural dimensions is a powerful tool for analyzing and planning for potential audiences for a film. Even though culture is never deterministic, it can impact how we engage with concepts, narratives, and campaigns. My impact strategy will be culturally aware and tailored to each audience the film reaches. Deep learning happens and mindsets shift when people use and actively apply new knowledge. This is a strategy I have used in my curriculum design to great effect, and one I will apply when appropriate in the impact space.
Five-six 50 minute class periods
As part of a senior level Global Perspectives and Research class, students are tasked with understanding and empathizing with the culture and worldview of people outside their regional context. One of the main objectives of the course is fostering an open-minded posture towards world issues so students leave the course as more globally engaged citizens. I find this one of the hardest skills to teach since culture is so engrained and often its effects feel invisible to us or just the ‘natural’ response to the world. Instilling this culturally aware mindset is a yearlong process, but I begin with this lesson to bring some otherwise hidden aspects of culture to the forefront and enhance their knowledge of geopolitics and multilateral institutions as well.
We begin by setting our objective for the unit: fostering an awareness and understanding of how everyone’s unique culture affects their viewpoint and understanding how countries can often share cultural similarities that will affect their geopolitical decisions.
I highlight both the research of Dr. Geert Hofstede and Dr. Ronald Inglehart as possible frameworks for getting closer to understanding culture. We approach these theories with a healthy dose of skepticism, critical mindedness, and an understanding that no one cultural framework can define any human being. They are advised to never use these frameworks to stereotype.
We work through the different dimensions, discussing how we see each reflected in our culture, that of our peers, family members and relatives. Videos, short discussions, and other external examples are used to illustrate. We pause to consider the US’s cultural makeup and how it contributed to our pandemic response. Students read and respond to an article about the different ways diverse cultures define happiness to bring the issue to the forefront in their lives.
Students will then be introduced to the concept of the yearly UN General Assembly where each country has a chance to make a speech and share their worldview on the global stage. Another aim of the course is a working knowledge of the institutions that govern geopolitics and international debate, so this information is pertinent. Students will choose a country to represent with a peer, deeply research the current and historical context of that country, the cultural dimensions, and the geopolitical factors to plan for a debate at the UN General Assembly about global issues with other countries. (Assignment sheet attached).
The debate will cover targeted questions that many countries will see differently, based on their level of development, collectivist or individualist nature, and other factors. Students are advised to act as representatives from these countries and speak within their mindset, rather than speak as outsiders arguing for them. This helps them gain the cultural empathy sought in the unit. Half of the class will take the role of journalists each day, asking questions, pressing each country for more information on their stance, and finding inconsistencies.
Sample questions fro the UN Roleplay:
Should more economically developed countries pay for climate related damage to smaller nations given that they emit more?
The UN declares that all humans deserve certain universal human rights: the right to worship as they please, love who they love, and live free of fear of persecution regardless of gender, sexual orientation etc. Do you think the UN’s declaration of human rights should supersede the cultural and religious laws of your country? Why or why not?
Should rich countries be responsible for hosting more refugees than they are currently and than poor countries? Is everyone doing their fair share to help in this crisis?
When the roleplay concludes, students will reflect on how the process affected their worldview, and if the unit achieved its goals. They will also discuss tension points and geopolitical issues they saw arise when countries with vastly different aims engage as equals.
 Hofstede, Geert. “Dimensionalizing Cultures: The Hofstede Model in Context.” Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, 2(1). https://doi.org/10.9707/2307-0919.1014  Inglehart, Ronald. Culture Shift in Advanced Industrial Society. United States: Princeton University Press, 2018.  Brooks, Arthur C. “Different Cultures Define Happiness Differently.” The Atlantic, July 15, 2021, https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2021/07/happiest-country-definition/619441/.