A day in the life of an American teen

Learning how to interpret our own culture can help teens become globally competent leaders.

Participants in the 2018 4-H Youth Leadership and Global Citizenship Spectacular interview each other to learn about culture. Photo by Jan Brinn, MSU Extension.
Participants in the 2018 4-H Youth Leadership and Global Citizenship Spectacular interview each other to learn about culture. Photo by Jan Brinn, MSU Extension.

Ethnography is the study of culture. Learning about other cultures in the context of the various factors that shape them over time (geography, climate, major events, politics, etc.) can help youth see connections between cultures as well as appreciate their differences. Michigan 4-H teaches youth about accepting and valuing differences in a variety of settings and frameworks.

Understanding your own culture is one step towards appreciating other cultures. Seeing the influences of outside factors on our own culture can help us interpret how culture shapes individual lives. Here are some examples in Michigan:

  • Climate: affects the clothes we wear to stay warm.
  • Geography: the abundance of recreation in our state that is connected with our water resources.
  • Politics: how our state became a “swing” state.
  • Major events: how the Depression affected food rationing.
  • Food: how our growing season affects the food we produce and consume.

One way to delve into the idea of interpreting our own culture is to put together a presentation about a day in your life. What are the foods you eat on a regular basis? What does your schedule look like? How do you greet friends and family? How would you describe your hometown to someone who’s never been there? Does your family have unique sayings or traditions?

Teen leaders could organize an event where several “Day in the Life” presentations are shared. Presentations could take the form of videos, still photography, essays, speeches, scrapbooks or other visual exhibits. Pulling these displays or demonstrations together is a great way to think about the influences of culture on individual lives; it is also important for participants to reflect on these experiences to think through what they learned about themselves, and what that tells them about others they meet. Interpreting their own culture can help youth become better informed leaders.

Full instructions for this activity, including reflection questions, variations and references, can be found in the Michigan 4-H curriculum “Backpack to Adventure: Youth Leaders in a Global World.” This curriculum explores a variety of ways to learn about other cultures, as well as activities to dive deeper into your own culture and traditions. In a globally connected world, successful leaders are competent communicators with knowledge of their own and other cultures.

To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth leadership, citizenship and service and global and cultural education programs, read our 2016 Impact Report: “Developing Civically Engaged Leaders.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H have positively impacted individuals and communities in 2016, can be downloaded from the MSU Extension website.

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