Blog post by Brandi Cook
I remember one day, while studying abroad in Moscow during undergrad, my Russian friend asked me unexpectedly who had won World War II. Of course I replied that the United States and its allies did, because that’s what I had been taught in my US-centric cultural upbringing. Bemused, he simply stated that he learned it was the Soviet Union. It’s been many, many years since this exchange (I won’t date myself!) but I still reflect on this as an example of cultural perception differences- because really, we were both right.
Perception is a tricky thing. You and I can stand next to each other and experience the same event differently. Cultural experiences can vary from neighborhood to neighborhood, let alone across oceans. Our worldview is shaped and molded by our experiences and how we perceive them, and I have found that the more you expose yourself to other cultures, the more open-minded you will be.
I’m very excited to be going to Shanghai in July as part of the Fudan University Exchange, and while I inherently have pre-conceived ideas about how the country will be and what to expect, I’m trying to balance that with education and research. I’ve devoured the program material, looked up things to do in the area, and researched cultural faux pas. I’ve also taken the Cultural Orientations Indicator offered by GW, finding the results compelling, albeit unsurprising. It’s always interesting to learn things about yourself objectively, and that test puts into words things I already knew- that time management is VERY important to me; that I’m a doer, not a relationship-builder; and that I’m very literal and frank in conversation, as opposed to using context to determine meaning. The test then allows you to compare yourself to your destination country, and I tended to score nearly the opposite on every measure of the “average” Chinese person. And that’s okay with me. I’m not going abroad to bring my brand of Americana to them, I’m going abroad to expand my worldview, learn about a rich, diverse culture, and hopefully make some new friends. I know that the people I meet will have their own positive and negative perceptions of Americans and our culture, but it is my hope that I will be able to challenge (in a good way) some of their ideas, as I know that the visit will change me and mine.
Featured Photo: Six versus Nine [Digital Image]. (n.d.). Retrieved June 3, 2019 from http://www.nyspirit.com/spirit-reading/perception-tricky-thing/
Shanghai Skyline [Digital Image]. (n.d.). Retrieved June 3, 2019 from http://www.meet-in-shanghai.net/