All posts by t_odonnell

My First Cultural Shock

Throughout my life I have experienced many different “culture shocks” or changes that I was not expecting. One example of this shock is when I went to Guatemala to study Spanish over the summer, and was thrown into a culture I had never seen or even read about. While I was reading the article, “Transition Shock: Putting Culture Shock in Perspective” by James Bennett, the author explained how individuals experience culture shock, which resonated with how I dealt with my first “culture shock” when I went to Guatemala.

When I first arrived in Guatemala, I was very confused as to what was happening, since everyone around me was speaking Spanish, which I knew known of at the time. I had a difficult time communicating and felt hopeless for the upcoming weeks I would be there, which Bennett explains as a normal symptom many people face when they enter a new place they aren’t familiar with. Thankfully when I was in Guatemala, I had traveled with a group, so it made experiencing these shocks somewhat easier, but still required me to overcome them and immerse myself within the new culture I was living in. In response to my feeling of hopelessness, I talked to some of my group mates, who helped me learn some basic Spanish for the first day, so I could understand and ask for simple things. As the first week continued, I began to  become more comfortable in the new culture by saying hello to people on the street and even ordering food and drinks for my self at the local restaurant, but not without asking my group mates first if what I was saying was correct. Though I had begun to adapt to the new culture, I was still very hesitant and reluctant to fully immerse into the new culture.

When reading the article by Bennett, the author explains how individuals have to “flex” in their new culture to adapt to it. Bennett suggests that a person who “flex” properly uses a “variety of adaptations which may be employed to reduce the dissonance in the new culture” and it will “lead us to either ‘go native’ and to submerge ourselves in the host culture, or cause us to retreat to the safety of our fellow countrymen in residence”. Many individuals when they travel abroad, usually do not “flex” well and as a result do not submerge themselves in the new culture. While I was in Guatemala though, I did submerge myself in the new culture by living with a Guatemalan family, speaking Spanish everyday, and walking around the city to meet new people. By the end of the trip I was able to go to the local bakery and order food for all my friends without needing any help.

Seeing that I was able to “flex” into the new Guatemalan culture, I was able to understand a new perspective of living that influences me even today.  One example of this is how relaxed people are on a daily basis, not being stressed over meeting times or normal stress of life that the American culture has. Since I immersed myself in the culture, I try to implement this into my life today and not to get stressed over little things in life. The experience from Guatemala has changed the way I see the world and other cultures, and I can not wait to be immersed in more cultures and countries in the future!

A Few Core Values

Throughout this semester, we have read many reading that compare the American culture, to that of other cultures around the world. In one of the articles that we have read this semester is about the American culture and the assumptions that are being made about it. The author Atheln, discusses many different aspects of the American culture, and the first one discussed, is something I definitely have as a part of my culture, which is individualism. As Athlen wrote, from a very early age the American child is taught to be individualistic, and “consider themselves as separate individuals who are responsible for their own situations in life and their own decisions”, which is a common value not shared around the world. Many cultures, consider themselves a family unit with a hierarchy system from oldest to youngest, but in the American culture, you are accountable for your decisions and you make them on your own. I certainly follow this American value, since my early age I have always been able to decide for myself what I want to eat, what to watch for TV, and many other decisions, that normally my parents would have made for me as a young child. Individualism in America, is a value that is embodied in the culture, with kids today dying their hair in elementary school to, playing or dressing however you want. Our culture has come to the point, where not being an individual is frowned upon, and being individualistic and independent is seen as the best way to be yourself in our own culture.

Another value that many Americans embrace, including myself is, privacy. Athlen writes that, “Americans assume that people “need some time to themselves” or “some time alone” to think things or recover their spent psychological logical energy”, which I feel holds true for me. In my life, I plan time in my day to spend by myself so that I can recover from the daily stress that life brings. In the American household, privacy is a huge importance as well, where children are allowed to have their own bedrooms as their private space, which parents usually knock before going in, or don’t go in at all to keep their child’s privacy.  Another author, Peeradina, compares the American culture, to Indian culture and how they are different, with privacy in the household. The Indian household s almost the opposite of the type of household I grew up in. They welcomed random guest to their homes and treated them as honored guest, the American culture, including my family, don’t enjoy surprised guest to our homes. The Indian household also let’s guest stay in their home, in their bed, invading privacy while in the United States, we don’t let people stay in our home, and very rarely let guest go into our private areas, like our bedrooms. Privacy in the American culture is a very strong value that many share, with times to themselves on a daily basis.

The final value I will focus on is Athlen’s point of “directness”.  Athlen makes the point that it is very common in the American culture to express your displeasure of something among the people it involves openly. For myself I definitely consider this true, one conversation I have regularly while talking with close friends is “something is wrong, I should tell them so we can talk about it”, with the objective of resolving the conflicts. Speaking as an American I can say I adhere to the American ideal of directness because it seems to be the way, we as a society have found to resolve some conflicts and save those precious human relationships. However reading Ahlen’s next point of how “Asians feel embarrassed around Americans who are exhibiting a strong emotional response to something.” This brings the realization that the American idea of directness or assertiveness is not global. Realizing this brought to the forefront cultural advice I did not have, and encouraged me to become a bit more culturally aware of this particular value, because I have been subjected to only the American ideal.