Culture Survey on Chinese Identity Compared with US Thought

This culture survey is meant to show the similarities and differences within cultural ideologies between two people and their different countries of origin so that the reader can have a broad understanding of what it is that two countries may have or may not have in common amongst its people. On top of that, the paper will end with ways of how an instructor can teach cultural differences and what factors need to be taken into consideration when teaching.

The person chosen as the interviewee is a friend of mine who is from Beijing, China. My friend, who is twenty-three years old now, grew up in Beijing her whole life up until she chose to leave to study abroad in the USA, which was approximately 1½ years ago. Before she left China 1½ years ago, she was educated at a university in Beijing, majoring in English. While studying there, she had opportunities to interact with native speakers of English primarily from America and the United Kingdom. She considers those native speakers of English to have had an influence in her life, but not necessarily on her philosophy of cultural ideologies (e.g. influencing her ideology of what is deemed right in society such as work ethics and the way respect is conveyed). Currently, she is a graduate student at Boston College who is studying Education and often gets to experience various kinds of holidays and activities with natives.

For me, I have lived in the same house within Minnesota my whole life except for when I studied abroad. During the second semester of my sophomore year in college, I took an eight month long trip that brought me to seven different countries ranging from Africa, the Middle East, South East Asia and East Asia. For me, I consider my experience abroad to have deeply impacted my way of thinking regarding what it means to be successful and what it means to show respect. The people I met abroad did influence my life and I believe that the experience has made me the person that I am today.

When asked the question “what do you call your people?” and “where do they come from?” the interviewee seemed perplexed that a question, ostensibly obvious in nature was asked. I had to repeat those two questions several times, each time phrasing them a bit differently in order for her to make sense of them. However, what really made her understand was when I explained to her how most of the people in America have roots from places all over the world and that America and Americans in my opinion, are defined by diversity. After hearing that, the interviewee responded with “we are Chinese and we come from China, nowhere else.” Having listened to that, it was then that I understood that the interviewee and my way of thinking regarding identity was from a different background and that our answers were defined by differentiations throughout ancestral history.

Another difference between the interviewee and I has to do with success. For me, I view success as having a goal in mind and fulfilling it out no matter how lucrative or affluent the outcome may be. For the interviewee, success means that she is able to prove to society that her skills are useful. How she knows whether or not society finds her skills useful is based on people telling her that she is successful. Therefore, I believe it’s evident that I take more of an individual standpoint and don’t necessarily worry about what others think whereas she takes on more of a collective standpoint in which others way of thinking influences her own.

I asked the interviewee afterwards if success coincided with work. She said that it did because in China if you have a good job and are making a lot of money, people will see you as successful. I asked then “ if success is making money at a good job, then is that why people work? So that they can feel success from society?” The interviewee paused for a while before saying “people work in order to support their lives. People should do any kind of work to live. But, if you are not successful to other people it is not the worst thing.”

When I told the interviewee that my idea of why people work had to do with their means of how to achieve certain success for themselves, she agreed. Even though what I was saying regarding success and work dealt with more individual purposes while she was emphasizing more on how a society views others and their work and success, she still felt that it was admirable. I asked her why she agreed because it seemed a little different from what she originally said. She replied that it had to do with her father.

As it turns out, the person she respects the most is her father. He came from a poor family with not much to their name and yet, managed his own way through college. Now he has a job that is successful and many people look up to him for direction day in and day out. The interviewee says that she shows respect by telling him how much she admires what he has done with his life, but feels that for the most part she lacks the emotions and confidence to tell him how much she really respects him.

For me, I said that the people I respect are those that think for themselves and act out of kindness for other people. I said that I show respect by being honest with people and also by encouraging one another that what they do in life (i.e. their work, hobbies) does make a difference and is admirable, no matter what. So, for me, it seems that I voice myself more in opinion and thought while the interviewee is more modest and reserved. From what I understand having been to China, not revealing emotions verbally and explicit is a rather common thing, but it could very well be that it is an idiosyncrasy of the interviewee. Nonetheless, it is a difference worth mentioning.

When the interviewee and I switched over to the topic of children, our common ground of ideas seemed to broaden a bit more. Both the interviewee and I thought that children should have the opportunity to express themselves creatively through art forms such as music and visual art so that it will help them develop skills necessary for personal expression and thought. We also agreed that children should be exposed to the various cultures of the world in order to gain a true understanding of the beliefs and diversity within the world they live. Therefore, parents should be a child’s guide in understanding the diversity within the world and also should lead the child in the right direction of how to be creative not only with themselves, but also with other people.

Both the interviewee and I also have similar viewpoints as to what we wish our children could have that we couldn’t. Primarily, it has to do with how we see both of our cultures modernizing. Neither of us are happy about the way the media views certain cultures of the world in terms of their progress or what a country has to offer culturally, spiritually, or economically. In China’s case, the interviewee is upset by the lack of information the news gives regarding the state of worldly affairs whereas I take the stance of being rather disgusted by the overuse of misleading information here in America via broadcast stations like CNN and Fox News. We both wish that our children wouldn’t have to live in a world like that, but rather, a world where information can be presented for what it truly is, allowing the viewer to decide for his/herself and not the media. On top of that, we both want our children to maintain a connection between their heritage/ancestral roots and the society that they grow up in so that they can have a sense of connection to the past and use that as inspiration for creating their lives in the future.

Another similar viewpoint that both the interviewee and I share has to do with dependency and self-sufficiency. We both feel that if a person can’t achieve a task/goal by his/herself then that person should be willing to ask for a helping hand and depend on others. Otherwise, people should trust themselves upon whatever they do and therefore, should be as self-sufficient as possible.

In terms of what I do when I get sick, there isn’t really a whole lot considering my mom is a nurse. If anything is remotely wrong, I immediately go to her for help and she takes care of me. It’s always been easy. In the interviewee’s case, since she is now in America, she tends to call home every time she is feeling under the weather or looks to her boyfriend for comfort. She doesn’t have some one to pamper her per se and for the longest time, has been unclear as to what her medical insurance in the states provides, hence the reason why she hasn’t received some care that she desired. In essence, she feels a little uncomfortable still regarding her health concerns and is still trying to get things squared away. So, in regards to health and what one does when we are sick, we differ here in America. But with the information I received, it’s hard to tell whether or not her situation is indicative of her life in China or of others’ lives in China.

The next topic that I want to address deals with what the interviewee and I find unique about our homelands. For me, I feel that America is unique because it is full of people who have ancestors that immigrated from all over the world. If one travels through America, s/he can see remnants of all the different cultural attributes that coincide with years of immigration and assimilation. This indeed is a unique and special thing. In China, the interviewee thinks that Chinese hospitality is a special thing. She believes that in general, Chinese like to cater to the needs of others and believe in maintaining a warm heart towards one another when showing hospitality.

On top of that, what is more unique about China is its history. The interviewee pointed out how China has one of the worlds longest history that has seemingly “flowed like an endless river” of information. Within this “river” of information, China (this includes all of mainland China, Tibet and Taiwan because she feels that China is homogeneous) has made many discoveries. The fact that the Chinese have invented paper and silk, which is now used all over the world is indeed a unique thing. Also, she feels that the philosophies/religions that have stemmed from China’s history such as Daoism, Buddhism and Confucianism have played an important role not only in China, but also extensively through the world which indeed is unique.

In terms of common body language within America, I think people like myself use a lot of hand gestures to further convey meaning. Furthermore, when it comes to greetings and departures, it is not uncommon to shake hands or to hug one another depending on how well you know the person. In China, it is very rare for friends to hug one another unless they know that they will not see each other for years on end. Even parents and their children almost never hug, including the interviewee when she left to study abroad. However, she is use to it because even handshaking is rarely used unless one is part of some kind of business interaction/work, which she is not. Also, she said the Chinese don’t like to use body language to enhance the meaning of something because most people in China are trained to be proficient in speech and find the overuse of movement somewhat distracting.

What I found the most interesting about the survey has to do with decision making within communities. In China, within any given city there are hundreds if not more communities. Wherever there is a different set of apartments/townhouses, there are gates around it except for entryways for vehicles, which are often found only in the northern and southern parts. Within each of these communities are decision- making people (whom of which we would probably regard as a city counsel), 95% of which are retired that decide what should be expected of the people living there (such as certain yearly fees for cleaning etc.) If anything else is outside of a community however, such as businesses, then the government makes decision-making. For me, hearing her tell me about that in English somehow surprised me even though I have been to China and lived in one of the many communities there. It made me realize how one can be unaware of certain differences within a situation even if that person has experienced it first-hand.

The implications that I have gathered from doing this survey is that variations in ideologies for a great part not only come from and deal with one’s country of origin, but also with one’s personal upbringing. Both the interviewee and I have had experiences that perhaps a lot of people have not had within both of our countries of origin and the same would go for other people as well. Because of this, a survey like this is bound to have many different answers.

It is almost impossible to pinpoint and label some one from a given culture that they will automatically believe or act in a certain way. There are too many factors that need to be taken into consideration, especially when dealing with diverse cultures like China and America. So, I believe that as a teacher I should be as sensitive and open-minded to individual’s needs/background/country of origin as much as possible so that I may know what kind of a class I am really dealing with and what it is that the students want/need to get out of an English class. This way, I can find a medium through which the students can cope with each other which will end up promoting understanding and tolerance of one another. In the end, encouragement will be provided in the classroom from their understanding of one another and people won’t have to be afraid of learning. As a teacher, utilizing that encouragement for helping students succeed and providing the necessary materials for teaching English is a key concept of mine and I believe that it will help them immensely on their road to mastering English.

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