Traveling the United States as a kid was fantastic. It’s crazy to think about how each state has it’s very own culture, dominant culture, barriers, language, belief systems, and at times political views (that’s more an individual thing…). I don’t remember the first time we moved to the country of Panama, and I barely remember the second time. The third though, I remember that. Shopping outside and going to the beach to watch my real dad go deep-sea fishing and night crabbing (hunting for crab at night via scuba diving). Panama is the only country I have been to other then living in the US my whole life and I was to young to account for all the difference cultures and subcultures we have discussed in class. My little sister on the other hand has traveled and still continues to do so. I believe that after talking with Katy about her times in Chili and Costa Rica that over time someone can adopt a culture much quicker then others, Katy is an example of just that. I further believe that it is absolutely necessary for one to better educate themselves by looking into and even studying another subculture rather then just their own one might live in because makes their own and the culture one is studying the wiser. Everyone benefits.
Some information on Katy, who I have interviewed to talk about her time and experience in a culture she loved. Katy, who decided to become a foreign exchange student her Senior year in high school, and to go to the country of Chili to better herself in the Spanish culture and become bilingual. And then to eventually move to this beautiful country to become a teacher. She graduated high school in 2012 and started her college career at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois. Her bilingual degree that normally takes a person five years to get has only taken her about two and a half years. Katy in this time frame has traveled back to Chili and also to country of Costa Rica to submerged herself in the Spanish culture even more and is furthering her education even more by living and studying abroad in both of those countries in her short time at WIU. Katy is also part Puerto Rican and was never taught Spanish by her family.
Sitting down with Katy and talking about her time she spent in other countries in a more-in-depth fashion was a great experience for me to further my understanding about what it’s like to be apart of another culture. The first question I asked her was; what was it like being the new person in a brand new culture. I personally believe that it would be extremely hard for someone to transition and she said just that. “…Well saying good-bye to you and the family was hard, and I feel that just turning 18 I told myself ‘I got this’ but as soon as I stepped on the plane, I was horrified.. Even more so once I landed. I was scared, I have never met my host family, I mean yeah, we talked on the phone and all but it was now a real thing, I’m thousands of miles away from home with people I have never met! So Joe, to answer your question I was clueless, I didn’t really know what to expect.” Katy also talked about how polite everyone was to her and how some complete strangers would go out of their way for her to make her trip, not just a better educational experience, but a fantastic stay, which reminded me of the article by De Mente titled, “Politeness Makes Perfect,” which talks about how the Japanese culture treats and honors guest to their county by bowing and the different degrees of respect each bow shows and respects an individual from a stranger to an elderly family member. It can be hard for someone moving to a new state compared to moving to a new country all together. In the article “ In My Heart, I’m an American”: Regional Attitudes and American Identity,” both Griffen and McFarland talk about the just the small difference between the south and rest of the states in America, including the many cultures and subcultures. Living in the south and moving up north could very easily compare to moving, like Katy did, to Chili and Costa Rica, for some people. Up north one would need to have a faster pace lifestyle, tends to be less polite, and will more than likely get to the point faster as compared to a down south person being more relaxed and polite.
Digging deeper into Katy’s time in both these counties I asked her if she had any major barriers and if she over came them. Katy started off by saying she did her best to prepare herself for the biggest barrier she could think of, communication and speaking the language. Katy informed me that she started changing all her personal stuff that was English (phone and computer) to Spanish so she could learn to read it and the shock wouldn’t be as hard. Her steps worked out somewhat and was a great idea to start everything off, but Katy went on to explain that the classroom setting and merely changing her settings couldn’t prepare her for the speed of how they talked. Katy believed that she was fluent in Spanish but when she was actually in the environment and talking/listening overwhelmed her more then she thought it would. Eventually she started picking up her speed and she said her idea wasn’t a bad one, it helped, but what really helped over all was actually being in those fast past situations when it came to talking and needing to read fast pace in order to keep up with others.
Family is also very key in both countries. I asked her how her family and how the US looks at customs compared to how both other counties held their customs. Katy went right into talking about family. She said that she was treated and called “daughter” often and was expected to participate in family activates as you would expect your own child too. Katy said that here in the US it would be kind of awkward for a host family to start calling a student staying at their home, “daughter” or “son” just because we wouldn’t look at them as such. I very much see her point, I know if I had a child or young adult staying under my roof, going as far to call them either one of those would be awkward for my wife and I, yet we would do everything we could to shine some light in our values and what we feel are American values.
Media is also something I was very interested to understand if either Chili or Costa Rica’s news outlets were similar to that of ours here in the US. I assumed so, so I asked Katy about their news and how the media influenced the cultures, environment, and either countries. Katy laughed out loud and started off by saying; “The US news is depressing…” I laughed and asked her, “How so?” She went on further with her statement and stated that by the time most people here in the US are done watching the news, either CNN, MSN, or FOX, you are in a sad funky depressed mood and/or confused by what you just watched. She said the news here in the US is more depressing and something you may not want to watch with your family/kids, but over in Chili, it was considered family time! She said the media was very much more upbeat and reported on more “feel good” news rather then the slightly more violent news here in the US. The news over in Costa Rica and Chili was more family oriented and comedic for the children to watch, thus making even watching the news a joy. Katy said it was a way for those countries to “keep the moral up” rather then reporting “sadder” news. She laughed again and described how the media really didn’t report on celebrities like here in the US, like ET News, talking about the most recent information regarding Miley Cyrus. I personally believe that reporting news that is just “feel good” stories could lead to blinding a community and culture then reporting news that is more “sad” or “serious.” So I found this bit of information rather interesting and conflicting for me. Yes, we like knowing how Brad and Angelina’s wedding was, and yes we dwell on our celebrities far to much, but just reporting stories that are about a fireman saving a cat for that day, is kind of not doing the people/community justice to actually what’s going on in the news.
Understanding the difference between the Spanish language and the English language was another question I wanted to better understand, so I asked Katy and she gladly shared some light on the matter by yelling out, “Structure!” She informed me that the Spanish language is an extremely romantic language. Katy went further to talk about how almost every verb in the Spanish language has distinct verbs that are paired with different types of nouns, She talked about the singular and plural ones. She said our language isn’t as romantic. Katy talked about how the English rules are and can easily be broken and are not really followed, thus creating it almost harder for someone to learn and more irregular as a language.
My final question to my little sister was in regards to the simple day-to-day life in the past vs. today between the countries. Katy responded by saying; “Well Joe, I didn’t live there in the past, so I really can’t answer that. But the main difference there vs. here is that theirs is not as fast past. You wake up have breakfast and have a real convo with your parents. School, relaxed, kids didn’t really show up on time and showed up within the first half hour of class, so class “started at 9:00am and ended around 1:00pm. Now you compare that to here in the US. We all know that would never fly in class.”
Katy had a huge culture shock all the way through and these trips have helped her to not just love the Spanish culture more, but find more appreciation and understanding of not just the language, but a culture and a way of living. I believe that she walked away more mature and even wiser to now be able to go around talking about her experience to kids and other adults who want to better understand another culture. Katy benefited from both Chili and Costa Rica and she wasn’t the only one who benefited. She left behind an impact and a footprint in both these countries individuals who were apart of her life during her time there. Everyone Benefited.
Final Paper: Culture
Instructor: Lejla Tricic
October 6th , 2014
Blanchette, A. (2009) Life lessons in Costa Rica’s rainforest classroom; Eight Mound-Westonka High students are back from 10 days studying ants and learning much about another culture. Star Tribune. (Minneaplois, MN).
De Mente, B.L. (1999, August). Politeness makes perfect. Asian Business Strategy and Street Intelligence Ezine. Retrieved fromhttp://www.apmforum.com/columns/boye29.htm
Georgas, J. (2003, January 1). FAMILY: VARIATIONS AND CHANGES ACROSS CULTURES. Retrieved October 5, 2014, from http://www.wwu.edu/culture/georgea.htm
Griffin, L.J., & McFarland, K. (2007, Winter). In my heart, I’m an American: Regional attitudes and American identity. Southern Cultures, 13(4), 119-139.
Jandt, F.E. (2013). An Introduction to Intercultural Communication: Identities in a Global Community. 7th ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.