Crossing Borders by “Walking around” Culture: Three Ethnographic Reflections on Teacher Preparation

Fall, 2011

Source: Issues in Teacher Education, Volume 20, Number 2, Fall 2011, p. 53-66.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this article, the authors present the idea of “walking around” culture.
By “walking around” culture, they mean that teachers need to put feet to pavement and purposefully “walk around” the neighborhoods of their students, similar to ethnographic study.

First, each of them will tell their stories (their ethnographic reflections) of “walking around” culture and how those experiences have helped them cross borders to become better teachers.
The authors describe how each of them has “walked around” culture ethnographically.
As they describe their experiences, they write in their own voice.
Voice 1 discusses “walking around” an urban culture.
Voice 2 discusses “walking around” an Asian culture.
Voice 3 discusses “walking around” an American Indian culture and an English- as-a-second-language culture.
It must also be understood that as they “walked around” in their separate cultures, even though they used the technique of participant observation (because they were living in the setting.


Each of the authors has had fascinating experiences “walking around” culture.
As they have analyzed their experiences, several common themes have emerged.
They have combined these themes into five critical factors, which they have labeled as “key principles”:

1. Culture is communication
From “walking around” cultures the authors have learned that there are similarities and differences across all cultures.
To effectively communicate in a culture, however, teachers must fully understand their culture and how their culture is similar to and different from another culture.

2. Culture is personal
They have learned that everyone has a culture, but at the same time culture is personal.
They have learned that the persons in a culture take pride in that culture.
When teaching across cultures, teachers must be mindful of the personal nature of culture, and be sensitive to how what they do or say in the classroom affects that nature.

3. Culture has boundaries
All cultures have parameters of behavior.
In order for teachers to be successful crossing borders, they must know and be familiar with the boundary conditions.
They must understand that what is acceptable behavior in one culture may not be acceptable in another culture.

4. Culture is perceived by those who stand outside the culture
Perceptions lead to stereotypes.
To be successful in cross-cultural teaching, teachers must set aside any perceived stereotypes or beliefs they may have about that culture.

5. Culture is defined by the people in that culture
Often we see culture in the abstract.
It is much easier to discuss culture if we view it in the abstract; however, understanding that culture includes real people who have real lives, makes culture concrete.
To be effective cross-cultural teachers, we need to know the people in a culture.
When we get to know the people in a culture, it changes our perceptions of that culture, and knowing people and changing perceptions is what “walking around” culture is all about.


The authors believe that, in addition to teaching the curriculum, a major responsibility of any teacher is to help all students learn how to successfully navigate the mainstream culture.
To be able to do this well, teachers must understand not only their students’ culture, but their culture as well. 
The article present a method teachers can use to learn about culture, both theirs and their students’: They call this method “walking around” culture, and each of them related stories about “walking around” culture; yhey have learned a great deal from those experiences and learned that crossing borders takes determinationand that the pay off at the end is worth the effort.

Updated: Nov. 25, 2014