Cultural Differences: East and West
Being new to this Scandinavian land, it has been one of my objectives to allow myself to integrate into the society, not just to have more opportunities and establish social networks, but also for me to learn new things, enriching the values I had before coming here. On the other hand, there are also from the West who are wiling to embrace a new culture from the East, bringing forth the necessary cultural exchange that may augment understanding of similarities and differences. This is enabled by those living on each side of the globe. This is the focus of this blogpost.
When East meets West
The East is composed of diversed groups and ethnicities, but there is one common among all those groups, collective representation and gain. What one achieves or does, whatever it is, is a representation of the group he or she belongs. By saying whatever means anything from taking pictures during travels, taking education or doing good at work. This is because most from the East loves to give pride and honor, not particularly for themselves, but the groups they belong. Pictures may provide inspiration for other members of the group to excel or do something unique which others within or outside has not done. This is what we mean of collectivity.
However, when a group-oriented Easterner integrates himself or herself, he or she will undergo the long difficult process of social isolation, identity crisis and even depression. For a person who relies and lived in a group to accept the reality that he or she needs to live on his or her own is a melancholic message for those coming from the East. Worse, when the Westerners expect the Easterner to be more assertive and articulate one's thoughts and feelings. It is quite intimate for Easterners to do so, thereby making them akward and uncomfortable. This further hinders integration into the new Western society. An action just for oneself for an Easterner would mean loss of collective gain, making them insatisfied and losing their very own identity.
When West meets East
The major value of the West is self-determination, such that one has the liberty to choose whatever he or she desires in his or her life. Because of this, an individual is more important to any social group where a person belongs. Social groups serve support systems, but still in the end what matters most is what the person wants. Every action of a person is directed for the benefit of one self and actions are plainly affecting only the person. One learns accountability and independence in this manner.
However, when an individual-directed Westerner would want to understand or perhaps be more socially-engaged from people in the East. The challenges are seemingly personal as well. Since those from the East are accustomed to collective gain and group effort, any foreign individual is simply seen as an asset or addition to an ever-growing social group. Whatever the Westerner brings with him or her would highly be appreciated, since just by being part of a particular group is already considered an honor and priviledge of the larger group. This is perhaps many Westerners find those from the East hospitable and thoughtful. Those are not actually personal traits, but a common expectations among those from the East as part of social customs and traditions.
Cultural exchanges entail compromise from both sides. The challenge is to keep one's mind open to facilitate understanding and continued flow of information. Moreover, the greatest challenge would be interpreting the other in the light of what that person is used to - his or her own culture. By doing so, one might be imposing one's beliefs and values into another. Ofcourse, the person integrating into a new environment had already lost a significant part of his or her culture by assimilating what is normal in the new society he or she is in. What is perhaps incorrect is to expect that the one integrating would eventually become like the natives in the way one thinks and acts. Cultural differences are innately weird, and sometimes unacceptable as seen by another. What is important is to keep an open, objective eye of what those differences, without making any judgment as to whether it is appropriate or not.