The United States and Asia share many cultural values, but also demonstrate a variety of differences regarding various aspects of their values, beliefs, and behaviors. Certain behaviors in the United States would be considered completely unacceptable in the Asian countries, and the opposite is true as well. These differences would create challenges for someone who, for example, might be moving to the United States from South Korea in order to attend university. Although there are a great many cultures represented in the United States, there are specific differences that come along with each cultural group that would make adjusting to life in the USA extremely challenging, surprising, interesting, but ultimately worthwhile. This paper will discuss some of the differences that I might be experiencing if I was an international student planning to move to the United States from Asia in order to attend school.
One of the major differences between the culture in the United States and that of the Asian cultures, including the South Korean culture, involves the history of each region. The United States is a relatively young country, as opposed to South Korea, and the other Confucian cultures, which date back thousands of years. The history of the US is rooted in the idea of equality and egalitarianism, i.e. the idea that every person has the ability to move up in society regardless of his or her financial status. This presents a great deal of opportunity for people there because they have the capacity to achieve upward mobility regardless of the social class from which they came. I believe that I would find this challenging as well as exciting since I would have a great deal of opportunity to do just about anything I wanted to; on the other hand, this could possibly make me feel a great deal of pressure to succeed since the “land of opportunity” means that if one works hard, they have the chance to be successful. If they are not successful, then what is the reason for that? It could cause me to conclude that I didn’t work hard enough, or maybe I simply am not good enough to have succeeded.
This sense of equal opportunity is in contrast with Asian culture, specifically which is characterized by definite class structures and hierarchies in which there is a lack of egalitarianism. In Asian culture, all relationships are not equal; for example, young people are definitely expected to cater to the older people. I have sometimes perceived that there is a lack of respect for the older generation among Americans, and I would find this difficult to tolerate. In South Korea, we treat our older people with reverence, and attribute a great deal of wisdom to them. An example of this is that we would never really consider putting our older people in nursing homes, but would rather make sure that we cared for them in our own homes, so that they could live out their lives with dignity and surrounded by love.
Another difference between Asian culture and that of the United States involves eye contact. In South Korea, it would be considered extremely disrespectful for a younger person to make eye contact with an older person. I know that in the United States, the opposite holds true. If a person does not make eye contact with another person, regardless of age, he or she is seen as weak or disrespectful. In the US, it would be important to overcome my resistance to avoid making eye contact by making sure that I confidently look people right in the eyes and convey a sense that we are all equal in status and value. Avoiding eye contact would risk giving a mistaken impression that I am feeling insecure or less valuable than the person with whom I am speaking. I believe that I might be able to overcome this cultural difference by taking as many opportunities as possible to practice making eye contact with, for example, my friends or classmates. It would seem that they would be a safe group on which to practice this social skill.
I have also noticed that in the United States, people tend to value individual success as they strive to reach their own personal goals and accomplishments. This would be different for me, because in South Korean culture, we are much more likely to view our identification with our group rather than as an individual process. We are extremely interdependent, and in our society we turn towards each other for support, help, and social connections in financial and emotional ways. Our culture also values modesty, so that it is rare to hear people bragging about their accomplishments in a way that sets them above others. I consider someone like Donald Trump as an example of the difference between the Asian sense of modesty and the American tendency to promote oneself and brag. Every time I hear him on television talking about himself, he is emphasizing how big, great, successful, and wealthy he is. A person like that simply would not be admired in Asian culture where people are much more concerned with expressing a sense of humility as well as working together and cooperating. I believe that I would have difficulty speaking about my success and my accomplishments in a way that would elevate me from others.
Another cultural difference between Asia (South Korea) and the United States is that there is a strong sense of bringing honor to one’s family, much more than I feel is apparent in the United States. It does not appear that young people there pay much attention to how their behavior might impact their family. In South Korea, one would rather die than bring dishonor to one’s family, and so people tend to pay a great deal of attention to how their actions and behaviors affect they themselves, but their families as well. People are much more interested in making their families proud of them than they appear to in the United States. I believe that I would have difficulty distancing myself from my family and how important it is for me that they feel proud of me. My behavior is strongly guided by the way that my parents will react and approval of me. Under no circumstances would I willingly and knowingly act in ways that would bring shame to my family. I believe that this would be a difference between my American friends and I, because they do not seem as concerned with how one’s family will react to what they are doing or saying.
I have noticed that in the United States, the whole concept of conflict is regarded very differently when compared with cultures in Asia. My culture in South Korea tends to seek unity and harmony as well as a tremendous level of respect for others. This means that when communicating with others, including conflict resolution, people tend to be more indirect and polite than is the norm in America. In the United States, I notice that people tend to speak very directly and openly, in ways that would be perceived in Asia as somewhat rude and inappropriate. In the United States, I observed that people are likely to say exactly what they think, regardless of the impact that this may have on the people that are listening to them. I believe that I would have difficulty with this aspect of American culture. I have always been taught to think before I speak, and to keep quiet if I would risk offending someone or making someone angry. I have observed that in the American culture, people will speak up and say whatever they think is correct for them, and they are not paying as much attention to how others may feel about what they are saying. That is a big part of the American culture that I would need to get used to because, as I say, it is not typical of Asian people to be so blunt and direct with their language. We tend to be extremely careful about what we are saying, rather than risk causing hostility or offense to others.
Finally, a big difference that I have noticed between Americans and Asians is the tremendous emphasis on getting good grades that most of my Asian friends have been raised with. Americans appear to be much more relaxed about the whole concept of being graded, and that is extremely different than the way that I was raised, where it was expected that I would put every effort possible into getting an A.. Anything less than that was simply unacceptable. I actually think that that value is one that I would want to continue to hold dear, because no matter where I am living, and what culture I am part of, I like to think that I will always strive to do my best and achieve excellence.
I know that I would be going through a difficult time trying to change some of the behaviors that I have grown up with, such as making eye contact with people of all ages and speaking up honestly with my opinions and reactions to things. However, as stated, there are certain things that I simply would not want to change, such as the way that I respect older people and my determination to get excellent grades. I would not want to compromise what is important to me, no matter what culture I am exposed to during my days as an international student.