Category Archives: Cory Tran

Past and Future: Culture Shocks

Having only been to foreign countries a few times in my life, all when I was young, I cannot explicitly recall a feeling of shock from being in a new culture. In addition, I was never in a foreign country or city for more than a few weeks at most, and I was also usually in a group (family or friends). As a result, I did not have the time to notice these cultural differences, nor did I feel the effects immediately as I had my group to fall back on.

My first venture into a foreign country took me to Vietnam in the fifth grade. As my family is Vietnamese the culture was more or less very familiar to me, the shocks came from aspects much more visual. The vast amount of motorbikes filling the road in a seemingly chaotic fashion was quite a sight to see. Stop signs and stop lights were also fairly rare from what I remember, causing me to wonder just how anyone was able to get anywhere on the road. However, the act of simply crossing the street required the very young me to change my way of thinking. In America one would go to a crosswalk and wait for the lights to signal them to cross, here in Vietnam one just needs to cross the street when it seems clear. I remember that just taking those steps onto the road was nerve-wracking for me. I eventually learned that the key was to cross with confidence, as in do not try to dodge the incoming bikes. If one just walks across the bikes will avoid you, but if one tries to move out of their way they are much more likely to be hit. When I was in New York recently over the summer, the people there had a similar habit (ignoring stop lights and crossing the street whenever its clear) and I was able to quickly emulate their behavior. Overall a very small and simple culture shock in my eyes, but one none the less.

Looking ahead, if I am able to do my co-op abroad in Japan, the culture shock would be much more apparent. Specifically due to the fact that I will have to live there for about six months while also working there. I will need to adjust to both the general culture as well as the workplace culture. I believe the hardest aspect for to adapt to would be the way in which I communicate with the people and present my ideas. The people generally try to preserve the harmony of the group, looking to avoid conflicts. While I tend to do this at times, when I feel the need to present an idea or argue against one I generally will do so without hesitation. This will be something that I will simply need to adjust to in order to communicate more effectively. With the transition itself, I think that I am likely to at first avoid aspects of the culture that I find uncomfortable and then gradually adapt to this new way of life. Also, I feel that I am fairly stubborn, so I am likely to mix in this new culture with my own, keeping the old aspects of my culture alive.

The American Culture and Me

Like I said in my last post, I feel that my values are a mix originating from both my Vietnamese heritage and from living here in America. Looking back upon my life I can see how some of my core values clash with that of both my family and friends. For instance, I believe in having a private space for myself, that space being my bedroom. There are several instances where my parents would come into my room without permission. In addition, my mother would occasionally come in and clean up my room, making assumptions on what is and is not trash, which has led to problems with something important being thrown out. On the flip side, my sister and I are close enough that when I am home I usually spend most of my time in her room (mainly due to the face that her desk is positioned in such a way that allows me to easily plug in an Ethernet cord for my computer) and she does not mind. As a result, I am also not bothered if she needs to go to or use my room for whatever reason. This opening of the private space also extends to my friends, if my close friends are visiting I have no issues with them having a look in my room.

This “switch” of my values I believe is heavily influenced on how close I am to someone. Like other Americans, my family believes that I am very informal when interacting with others. This is true on most occassions, but if I am instead speaking with someone I do not know and/or they have some sort  of control over me (such as an employer) I tend to change my speech to be more formal, often overly so. The lack of a middle ground has gotten me in a bit of trouble at my old job at a tutoring center. There were several times where my boss believed I was too friendly with the children I was helping and had to remind me several times to be more professional.

If I then examine my experience with hospitality, I believe it to be accurate that it has more American characteristics of hospitality. My parents always required me to inform them whenever I would plan to have my friends come over. The time was fairly lenient though, I recall instances where I would tell them that my friends would be over within the next couple hours and they had no trouble with that. Also, unless we planned to provide our own food, my parents would also make sure that we had something to eat, usually by ordering food for us or offering whatever we happen to have on hand. I have also witnessed similar tendencies when my friends and I visit someone else’s home. Occasionally we would visit on extremely short notice, and yet the parents would still offer us whatever they had on hand. There were several times when we would stay the night, despite not planning to at all, and in the morning my friend or their parents would make breakfast for us. The hospitality we were shown may be more due to the fact that my friends and our families are fairly close, there was definitely a sense of “our home is your home” and “help yourself” whenever we visited.

Overall, these aspects of American culture have mainly allowed me to enjoy life as I grew up. Granted there were times where my cultural ideas have clashed with others and led to some misunderstandings, they have not caused me serious issues here in America. Perhaps when I go abroad they will result in more issues, but for now this mix of American and Asian values is serving me just fine here.

New and Old

Both of my parents are from Vietnam and such I  have grown up with the Vietnamese/Asian culture all my life. However, I was born here in America and when I began to attend school, this Asian culture began to fade. There was a heavy emphasis on me achieving high grades so I needed to learn the English language. I feel that from here on I began to “dilute” my existing Asian culture and began to adopt the American culture within my own life. Though both cultures have aspects and habits that reside within me, I think that it worries those of the older generations of my family that this culture and tradition is being slowly washed out among the younger ones.

As I grew up, I became more absorbed in America, through its schools, people, television, etc. At some point, I lost the ability to speak Vietnamese, the first language I was able to speak. I had spent so much time in contact with the English language that it eventually became my primary language. Now, I have trouble speaking in Vietnamese, though at the very least I am able to understand what others are saying. Also, the best i can manage is basic phrases and responses that I make on reflex when being talked to in Vietnamese. In addition, when looking back on the readings, especially DeVita chapter 6, I have noticed that I have a tendency to be overly casual with my elders if I am not a stranger to them. My parents have scolded me about this on occasion, but most of the time it just flies over my head. Slowly over the years, I began to embrace the idea of being independent, trying not to rely on others or follow in someone else’s path. My mother had a strong desire for me to go into the medical field in the future, but I refused and am now studying in the engineering field. Though it may annoy her, me trying to forge a path different than what is expected or desired of me is something that I am proud of.

Despite all this, there remains aspects of my Asian culture that I hold dear to me. First and foremost, my family is of the utmost importance to me. Though I may not openly show it, the traditional Asian ideal that the family is held above all else is something I still believe in. Both this and last year, I have spent large sums of money for gifts for my sister. I still address those older than me within my family with the proper titles in Vietnamese, unlike I do with those outside my family. Though I have forgotten much of the language, I hope to one day be able to learn it again so I can communicate with my family in our native tongue.

If I were to describe myself in terms of my culture, I would have to say that I am Vietnamese but a very Americanized one. It may not be actually “bad,” but I would still like to keep my family’s original culture alive as we grow over time. I can be who I want to be, but I should never forget the roots of where I came from.