Growing up in American Culture I've been flooded with ideas, images, and stereotypes of the American dream, a liberal individualistic approach to life. Americans believe that happiness is tied to some sort of financial security or an accumulation of possessions. These socially-learned behaviors I grew up with just haven't sufficed. Recently I was in the Macabebe Philippines an extremely poor area in the northern part of the Philippines. I noticed something different about the culture I was in. In this society, there was a genuine happiness, vibrant relationships, and a beautiful display of community. An aura surrounded them. I admired their way of life. They valued people, they cared for each other. This experience had shattered my Americanized worldview and opened my eyes to something new. That the culture I’ve lived in all my life and the things that I valued were beginning to lose their luster. This culture was having an impact on my identity: my values, beliefs, and my pursuit of happiness.
There are many elements that impact one’s identity: Family, culture, socio-economic status, education, peers, social media and many others. According to Dr. Maclachlan in His article “Cross-Cultural Communications styles,” he claims that high-context cultures focus more on relationships and low-context cultures are more task orientated. (Maclachlan) In other words, different cultures share different value systems, but what happens when high-context and low-context cultures meet? How does coming into contact with another culture impact one’s identity? Is there some sort of conflict or collaboration? Cultural synthesis begins to take place; beliefs, values, and ideas are exchanged-differences and similarities arise but a synthesis nonetheless. Personally being exposed to the Filipino culture and how they value relationship has affected me deeply. Although Americans take pride in their autonomy and independence I admire the Filipino’s sense of community and togetherness also known as “Kapwa.” Connecting cross-culturally can be difficult and uncomfortable, however allowing oneself to embrace cultural differences, opens up possibilities to renew and shape one's identity.
When I first arrived in Macabebe Philippines I was warmly welcomed by 350 Filipinos-kids-and-families. They screamed “ Mabuhay!” They greeted us with songs, flowers, and coconuts. It was exuberant and over the top. I began to weep. Tears began to roll down my face in awe of what was happening, I didn't deserve such a grand entrance. I was overwhelmed and humbled by their love and hospitality. According to Jeremiah Reyes in His article “Loob and Kapwa: An introduction to a Filipino Virtue and ethics. Filipino’s strongly value community. Their very nature is dedicated to strengthen and preserve human relationships.(Reyes) In other words, Filipino’s love people and I was a recipient of that love. A foundational virtue to the Filipino culture is “Kapwa,” kapwa means a “shared identity” or a togetherness.(Reyes) This term “Kapwa” interested me greatly; this oneness or “Pagkakaisa” a deep level of interpersonal interaction, intimacy and connectedness began to unravel places of my heart I didn't know existed. According to an American anthropologist, Frank Lynch famously coined the term ‘smooth interpersonal relationship. To describe the greatest value of Filipino culture (Lynch, 1962, p. 89). This everyday interpersonal interacting nurtured my soul, it's as if this relational harmony I experienced in the Filipino culture was what I was designed for. However, this deep intimacy and communal way of living I was experiencing also had its difficulties.
Building relationships cross-culturally can be difficult and uncomfortable but also very liberating. According to Dr. Maclachlan in His article “Cross-Cultural Communications styles” he claims that high-context cultures “such as Saudi Arabia tend to place a larger importance on long-term relationships and loyalty.” and low context cultures “such as the UK tend to have short-term relationships, follow rules and standards closely and are generally very task orientated.”(Maclachlan) In other words, high-context cultures focus more on relationships and low-context cultures are more focused on task lists. Living in a low-context culture like the US and then going to a high-context culture like the Philippines one might experience tension from this new environment. According to a student on “UKessays” In an essay titled cultural studies, when low context cultures interact with high context cultures, “There could be a number of problems in many aspects including language, attitudes toward time and personal space, and interpersonal relationships. These problems may not only cause misunderstanding and disappointment of both sides but also may lead to failure of business, so effective solutions are necessarily needed.” (UKessays) In other words, many problems can occur when communicating cross-culturally. One must learn to adapt to cultural traditions to build a bridge to the culture one is in contact with. Some cultural traditions in the Philippines are communal gatherings, food, and honoring elders. Someone who was born in American culture might not be so used to this ongoing interpersonal interaction or central sense of community and be stretched relational and forced out of their comfort zone. One might perceive it as uncomfortable but rather soon one might begin to really enjoy the conversations and interactions one might experience.
For Instance, myself being thrown into the “contact zone” or into a new culture I was forced to adapt. Feeling like an outsider. It encouraged me to be more relational. According to Mary Louise Pratt in her article “Arts of the Contact Zone” she coins the term “contact zone” which is when two social spaces or cultures meet, “clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power, such as colonialism, slavery, or their aftermaths as they are lived out in many parts of the world today.” (Pratt) In other words, the contact zone is where two different cultures connect; conflict arise, differences are experienced, and values are exchanged. I experienced this conflict in the Philippines. My American culture colliding with theirs. My independent task focused mindset had been interrupted by kindness. My ambition and drive had been stilled by their patience and genuine hospitality. At first, this change of pace was uncomfortable, but soon as I began to embrace what was happening, I began to feel alive. It as if I was still long enough to really experience their culture, this sense of togetherness, “kapwa.” Low-context cultures have the ability to not focus on their poverty or harsh living conditions but focus more on each other, which brings a sense of fulfillment to their lives. On the other hand, American culture is innovatively competitive and focuses more on an accumulation of wealth for fulfillment in life. Both identities hinge on someone or something else.
There are both good and bad characteristics of an identity of both cultures. In America a low-context culture pride themselves on education, ambition, and innovation. Although in the Philippines a high-context culture value Community, charity, and hospitality. Both cultures obtain virtues of strong character. According to Sunniva Heggtveit-Audio in her article titled, "Culture Values and the impact at work," ‘It is important that we try to learn and appreciate these differences in order to work effectively with people from other cultures.’ (Culture) In other words, we must expand our understanding of different cultures and learn to be accepting of other cultures in order to better get along. One must expose himself to cultural diversity to broaden one's understanding of self, and allow oneself to formulate a unique sense of identity; rather than being subjected to only one type of culture.
In Alice Phang’s Essay “Me, Myself, and I: Study of Self” she shares the cultural synthesis that occurs in her life. Alice being a Chinese American grew up practicing the principle of giving a group priority over herself which caused conflict living in an American individualistic society. She goes on to say, “Therefore, although I may perceive myself today as both an American and Chinese-American, one who values both individualism and collectivism, my identities are fluid and contingent in relation to historical and cultural circumstances--that is, forever changing upon exposure to various contexts.’ (Phang) In other words, she embraces both cultures, she thrives on her ambiguity, she embraces diversity and renews and enlightens herself.
We live in a time where different societies are merging together- a confluence, a meeting place of different tribes and tongues. One must learn to embrace the diversity of the times we live in. When one embraces the discomfort of cross-cultural communication and grows closer in relationship to other people groups, one renews our human need for personal interaction and sharpen one's identity.