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Students experience Bafá Bafá Cultural Simulation

Lucy Holland explains what she observed of Beta Group to Alpha Group in the Baja Baja cultural simulation on Nov. 9. The groups attempted to figure out traits of the other group throughout the event. Caleb Oswell

Grant Moss, professor of Spanish, and Emely Monsour, assistant director of student diversity programs, presented students with a unique cross-cultural experience through the Bafá Bafá Cultural Simulation.

The simulation took place on Tuesday, Nov. 9 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the Governor’s Room and Heritage Room of the Overman Student Center.

According to the official website for the simulation, the goals of the simulation are to “build awareness of how cultural differences can profoundly impact people in an organization,” “motivate participants to rethink their behavior and attitude toward others,” “allow participants to examine their own bias and focus on how they perceive differences,” “examine how stereotypes are developed, barriers created, and misunderstandings magnified,” and “identify diversity issues within the organization that must be addressed.”

“The members of each culture, you’re going to figure out how your culture works and you’re going to interact,” Moss said at the beginning of the simulation. “We’re going to learn the rules of our culture but, basically, we’re going to learn them in ten minutes. In our personal lives we learn (these rules) our whole lives. It may seem a little complicated, but you’ll get it after a while, so be patient.”

Before the simulation commenced, Moss and Monsour split participants into two distinct groups/cultures called Alphans and Betans. The groups were then led into two separate areas where they learned the specific rules of their cultures, such as a simplified language, trading practices, and cultural hierarchies. As the simulation progressed, members of each culture were able to observe the practices of the other culture and report back. Eventually some of the participants were even able to participate in some of the opposing culture’s customs and practices, deepening the immersive experience.

During the discussion among all the participants post-simulation, it was suggested that the application of the simulation regarding real-world life has the potential to extend to scenarios even simply between regions of the United States.

“Many of you know I’ve lived all over the Spanish-speaking and Portuguese-speaking world,” Moss said. “But I have not had as much culture shock in any of those places as I had in southeast Kansas. I’m originally from Utah, and I’ve lived in Washington D.C., Columbus, OH., so when I came (to southeast Kansas) I thought, ‘Oh, it’s going to be the United States.”

Moss then shared a short anecdote about one of his first experiences in southeast Kansas where he offered to burn leaves for his neighbors and they misinterpreted his intentions, leaving Moss with two full bags of leaves.

“There were these little nuances in language (for the area) that I just wasn’t used too,” Moss said. “And it was such an amazing experience for me because I’m like, ‘Of course, you’ve lived all over the world, and you expect this to be the same? You know it’s not going to be.’ Even just little nuances in language, it’s so crazy.”

Some participants found the simulation to be a combination of challenging, fun, and insightful.

“It was really interesting, first of all learning a new culture and then trying to decode the other culture while you’re figuring out your own,” said Taylor Jones, junior in modern languages. “Then once you get the hang of doing your own culture, the participants who observed the other culture come back and try to explain (the culture) to you and it just doesn’t make any sense. Then you try to figure things out from your perspective, and it makes things hard. I think if we tried to decode from a more open perspective, it would have been easier.”

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