Student learns importance of culture
Here in America, we grow up knowing only our own culture. While everyone else in the world sees American culture on TV and the Internet, we get a double dose. I can remember my personal ignorance as a child dealing with culture and language. I thought that all other countries were less advanced than us, that we were the best. I thought that English was the best language and if you didn’t speak it you were somehow inferior. In my mind, only in America could you find amazing human achievements in technology and architecture, such as skyscrapers or fancy cars.
There seems to be a lack of interest by Americans in other cultures. In general, people don’t like change. We don’t like things different from what we are used to. This is fine, but I think it causes the same close- minded ideas from my childhood, an “American Syndrome” if you will. I think my story is much more common than we would admit.
We have all seen the interview with Miss Teen South Carolina Lauren Upton at the 2007 Miss Teen America contest. She was asked the following question: “Recent polls have shown a fifth of Americans can’t locate the United State on a world map, why do you think this is?”
Her answer to the question included some incoherent rambling about South Africans not having maps. This video has become so popular because of her answer, but for me it is the question that I find so shocking. This means that if you have 500 Americans in a room and ask them to show you the United States on a world map, 100 would not be able to do it. It is apparent that an alarmingly large number of Americans are generally geographically ignorant. Try asking random people on the street to see this exemplified. If asked to point to Germany on a map, or any country for that matter, the problem is apparent. I owe most of my current geographical knowledge to a certain professor. One day in class, he pulled up a world map and asked us if we knew where a few things were. While we got most of the larger ones right, with a lot of the other countries, we were nowhere close. After seeing this, he became irritated and yelled “Do you even know where your fellow Americans are dying right now?”
I think he asked a very valid question. Not only should we become more aware of what is happening in the world, but that we should also be more aware of what America is doing in the world.
What can we do to become less ignorant? Though I didn’t know it at the time, my first step was taking a language course. At first learning a language may seem trivial. Many of us may never use our skills and quickly lose them. Personally, it has become less about learning a language than it has become about learning perspective, tolerance, and most importantly, acceptance. Once while in class, my
teacher was showing us a French grammatical concept, and a student exclaimed, “Well that’s stupid!” My professor’s response still affects me today: “No, maybe it’s your language that is stupid! No language is correct.”
Our perspective has been shaped by our lives here in America; we see things through an American canon. Changing your perspective physically can be as easy as climbing on top of a building or a mountain and looking down, or you can go farther with this idea and travel to another country. In both cases, not only have we physically changed our perspective but we have changed our mental perspective on things as well. This change of perspective can help us to understand another point of view and accept people of different cultures.
Learning a language can challenge your linguistic perspective and is also a good seed for changing your cultural perspective. As you learn that another language, which usually sounds like nonsense, actually means something, you may begin to have a realization similar to mine. I remember one day lying in my bed comparing the sounds for the same English and French words.
For example I would say “with” and then the French equivalent “avec.” Suddenly I understood, in both situations it was only a noise coming from my mouth. At the same time, I realized that when other people hear us speak English, unless they understand English, it just sounds like a bunch of babble. Our language sounds just as weird as other languages do to us. This sounds like a small revelation but it shook my perspective at its core. I have found that this way of looking at things can be applied to any situation. At its definition, culture is the shared beliefs and values of a group. These shared ideas include the beliefs, customs, practices, and social behavior of a particular nation or people. I believe that changing our perspective can lead to tolerance and hopefully to acceptance of others and their ideas. This ignorance to other cultures and glorification and excessive pride in our own may seem harmless. The dangers become more apparent when you realize that the world is getting smaller and smaller every day. America may not be the economic superpower it has been anymore very soon. Transportation and communication technology have reduced the world a much more accessible size.
So maybe I have been saved because I was lucky enough to have passionate teachers that will yell at me if that is what it takes for me to understand. There are many ways to take action now by learning a foreign language, reading the world news, getting to know the international students, and more. By changing our perspective and opening our minds to new ideas we are essentially taking our medication for the American Syndrome.