After I came to this school, compared to my previous school, I realize that this school has a much better international community. It has a more friendly international culture. The International Discussion Group is one of them.
As an international student coming from a quite different culture, I certainly experienced a lot after I came to US. I have a lot of feelings, which I find very difficult to share with other people. I think it is probably because people have different interests. Some of my friends like military very much. It turns me off when they discuss the weapons stuff. In the same way, many people are not aware of the culture thing although they live in it and they are shaped by it. But here in the International Discussion Group (IDG), we share the same interest. Members have certain degree of understanding of culture. I enjoyed sharing my experience with them and happily found out that they have similar experiences. It is also very enjoyable to have opinions from different perspectives.
What should be the definition of culture? We live in a group of people. It is a network of relationship. Our languages are affected by other members of this group. Everyone contributes his intelligence to the group. Everyone learns from one another and has fun. Such group can be as small as a group of friends, a community or as big as people in the same country speaking the same language. In my undergraduate study, our dorm had the Disgusting Culture. The Chinese people share a culture of 5000 years. We share Monkey King. We share Lu Xun. Someone can contribute a lot to this culture. The example is Jin Yong’s contribution to Chinese culture. His novels have been adapted to many TV or films. Many people quoted the stories in his novels. New stories were developed based on the characters in his novels.
When I was in China, I certainly enjoyed the Chinese culture very much. I had lots of feelings for this country and for people around me. After I came to US, all the feelings gradually left me. Thus I began to doubt whether all the feelings I had before is true or not. If they are true, why I cannot feel them anymore? After I went back China for a visit, all those feelings came to me again, and I was telling myself: Yes, these feelings are true.
As we are growing up in a culture, we are shaped and confined by it. Even we hate certain things, we have to fight in its context. Jumping out of this culture is a good chance to distance yourself from what have confined you for all your life and look calmly back at how you are shaped by it. After I came to US, suddenly I felt all the concerns I have cared so much about China are finally off my shoulder. I am not under such a great burden any more. But soon I felt a need of jumping into another culture. Yes, it is a confinement, but it is also an enrichment. All the feelings and the human nature are shaped by it. I have been spending all my spare time in studying American culture. After I came to this school, although I don’t have the same spare time as before, I still try to grasp certain important learning opportunities. IDG is certainly a very precious chance for me.
We come from several different countries. Some from English speaking countries. Many from non-English speaking countries. The language barrier is a frequent topic for us. I personally think the language barrier is the greatest barrier for the international students. Even the member from Romania also felt the difficulty of communication in English. It is difficult to express many complex feelings in English. “Sometimes you look very stupid before these Americans”, she said. We Orientals of course have a bigger obstacle in communicating in English and have more sad and funny stories to tell.
I am also glad to find out some differences within the western countries. People in Bermuda are even more open and hospitable than Americans. I felt very interesting to know what people of other countries care about.
Many students may feel themselves very busy and have no time in studying American culture. They are busy with their course work and research. I have once had a discussion with a friend. He said there was always a question in his mind, which is what the Chinese students should really study in US.
He thinks why the western countries can have the tradition of democracy throughout their history is because the spirit inside the western people’s hearts. For Americans, he said, people in this country have a strong spirit of adventure. I thus remembered the strong spirit for freedom in the movie Brave Heart. I was greatly shocked while watching this movie. This spirit is few and far between in China. Thus he said maybe we really should study is the spirits of the western people. I have several American friends. I felt that the American people really have a different spirit from the Chinese people. Americans are always very confident. Even people who are not very clever or not very excellent are very confident. Chinese are always afraid of making mistakes in public. I felt this difference starts right from when we are babies. I remembered a boy about three years old, still wearing a diaper, walked to me and had a very nice self-introduction. Sometimes when I pass by a mom carrying a baby in her arms, the baby will say”hi” to me. I am always very eager to know how Americans educate their kids. Why their kids behave so differently from Chinese kids? Back in China, I asked a young American teaching English at a local school there what personality he wanted his students to learn the most. He said confidence.
These spirits are something very difficult to learn, but surely very important for us to learn.
For Chinese students, although most of them may be adventurous when they first came to US, this spirit will be lost as time goes by. We face a big barrier here, which is the language barrier. Because of this barrier, we are separated from the society. Because we are separated from the society, some of our functions as human being and the spirit of adventure degenerate. How many of you still want an adventure in US? Do you still have the guts to discover new worlds in US? Thus we become just tools employed by Americans, my friend said. We lost other functions as a human being. But he said, it is still better than staying in China because they can still get some basic human needs here after they make their hard efforts. In China, even these basic needs cannot be guaranteed.
I have once published some articles on a popular site advocating studying the American culture. I got criticized by almost all the people. Their main reason is that we should not lose our own culture. I think when I say we should study American culture, I don’t mean we have to wear American clothing and eat American food. We can learn, for example, the spirits of the American people. I don’t think we will lose anything by studying the free spirits of Americans. What we will lose is probably just the slavery spirit rooted in the hearts of our Chinese people. For people interested in literature and arts, they can also learn the western literature and arts. It will certainly greatly open your eyes and give you a lot of fun. Actually as Dr. Leong’s article in last issue of echo said people studying arts also need the analytical ability. I think people not studying literature and arts also need this kind of liberal arts training. I know it is going to be very difficult. But if you have this potential, you should go for it.
As far as I know, the oversea Chinese students in the beginning of the 20th century were very eager to learn from the western world. Scholars in the May Fourth movement advocated for total westernization of China. For them, westernization is modernization. Now such spirits of learning from the western world are long gone. In term of westernization and modernization, I don’t see China is moving forward from one hundred years ago. Chinese students staying in US for several years are still thinking in the context of information they got while they were in China. They still keep their old views on everything. They don’t know what Americans think and care about. They also don’t know what the present Chinese people think and care about. China may have moved forward. But these oversea Chinese students’ mind stay still. Their minds cannot grow with a society anymore. They are separated from both the American society and the Chinese society. They think they are still kept quite informed because they can read all the news about China through Internet. But they don’t know they can never feel a society by just reading from newspapers. Out of one thousand opinions, only one is somewhat correct. And you will have to find out which one is correct through your own involvement in the society.
I recently had a trip across the western US. Most of my journey is on greyhound. I know exactly what trains and long distance buses are like in China. But I am not sure how the conditions of American buses are. In China, although the majority of the people taking train are the so called farmer-workers who go to the east coast to find a job, there are still a great variety of other people, such as businessman, students and so on. Since in America, most people have cars, thus I had imagined that only very poor people take greyhound buses. Thus I imagined that the condition might be very bad and I need to guard my belongings very carefully. However, now I know greyhound is really not that bad. Compared to the trains in China, it is much better. Taking trains and buses in China is a lot more dangerous and people are in average more hostile to each other, although I enjoyed discussion with many nice and normal guys. In China the buses drivers drove very crazily, not like the greyhound drivers, who always drive at a stable slow speed. In China, some people on the train occupy several seats and you have to pay them extra money to buy the seats. I never met or heard such things while taking greyhound. During the Spring Festival, there are so many people on the train that you cannot find a place to stand. There are people everywhere: under the seat, over the seat back and on the luggage rack. I once stood tilted for more than one day on the train back home. The policemen even use the belt to maintain the order. On greyhound, however, it never gets over-seated. There are still a variety of people on greyhound. Some are construction workers, some are students, some are mothers with children and some are a whole family traveling together. People talk and laugh on the bus. It is a much nicer environment. You don’t need to worry too much about your belongings. Without taking this trip, I will never get to know these details and have the exact feelings about American public transportation. So after this trip, I can do such comparison of the bottom level people in these two countries. You never get such first hand feelings from books. Thus many western people appear to know a lot about China, but they are never able to feel China. When they talk about China, all the say is communism. Yes, China is a communism. But what else do you know?
During this trip, I realize a lot of things. I realize that I am so unfamiliar with American geography and history. I didn’t know the characteristics of the rocky mountain and why it has so many beautiful sceneries and they were so strange to me.
I didn’t know many cities names. Like many cities in California, when people are talking about these cities, I don’t know what the hell they are talking about. Previously I don’t know where is Berkeley, Stanford. I don’t know what is the geographical concept of the silicon valley. Is it just several blocks of streets or a group of cities? When people were introducing the history and culture of their cities, I had no clue what they were talking about. I just realize that I lack the middle school education in US. I remember when I was a middle school student in China, we need to memorize a lot of things about the geography and history of China, such as which area has a lot of coal, which area has a lot of oil and so on. I used to read Chinese map very frequently thus I remembered the names of many cities, Mounties and rivers. When I go to any city of China, there are a lot of stories behind it, and I can realize them immediately. Such as in Hangzhou, when I see the Lei Feng Tower, I will think of the love story of the snake lady, the article of Lu Xun and so on. So this trip makes me realize that I very much lack the middle school education of US. I also realize I lack the everyday living with Americans. For Americans, they get a lot of information from conversation with each other. So maybe from these conversations, they can know how the Silicon Valley is like, how the bay area is like and some daily events. All these builds-up make them “Americans”. When they go to a new city or hear of anything, they will have responses. When they can combine many different things together, they will have enjoyment out of it. That is the culture. It will be a great enjoyment if you know a lot of different things and you really understand them. But we foreigners normally have no response. Then people would say you don’t have the culture. When we oversea Chinese are together, most we will talk about is still things about China.
As oversea students in US, we really know too little about this country. There are many details we need to learn. Without this trip, I won’t be able to know that in Washington State, there are mountains of wheat fields. That is the best wheat filed of America. I witnessed how American farms are managed. The farmers fly on small airplanes. They harvest the wheat using trucks. They irrigate the field with a very long pipe, which has several fountains shooting out water. This long pipe also has many wheels so it can roll across the whole filed. China really has no way to compete with America in wheat growing. China doesn’t have so many plains. But China is certainly much better in growing vegetable and fruits, which need more manual work and thus cheap labor. Washington is also a state providing woods all over the world. There are many forests in this state. In this trip I got to know various features of the rocky mountain and how they are formed. I got to know the west: rocky mountain, gold rush, gambling, ranching and farming. I visited several state capitals. Although I had known previously that the state capital in US is quite open and welcomes the tourist. I am still quite surprised when I was really walking around freely in their state capitals. There is usually some information desk where you can get some brochures about the state capital. Some even have some guides to guide tourists around every 30 minutes. In Salt Lake City, I saw the lieutenant governor’s office is with a big glass wall so the tourists can view him working, just like watching animals in the zoo. Without coming to US, I really cannot imagine that the western people can make their government so open. In our tradition, the government building is always the most forbidden and formidable. What can I say? These western people must have a complete different spirit from us.
Most of the places I visited during this trip are in Washington state and California. What impress me the most in these cities are the great degree of diversity and how well different races are melting together. Not like in the mid-south or mid-west, different races there seem really be playing together. In mid-south or mid-west, white people seem to tend to play with white people, black with black, Chinese with Chinese and so on. But there you often see people of different colors together. You will also often see lovers of different races. When I was surfing Internet in the school library, some white people come and sit right next to me. I am a little surprised because there are still a lot of other seats and I know in the mid-south, they will probably sit at some distance from me. So what I feel in the west coast is that people seem to have no such concept of race. People of different races are just playing together. While I was walking on the street of San Francisco, I really don’t feel like a foreigner because there are so many Asian people on the street and there are so many Chinese stores on the street with Chinese characters on their doors. I went to the Chinatown, it is exactly the same as China. The stores are selling Chinese arts, books and music. There are Chinese music everywhere, even from the Karaoke house. When I went to see a small European style fishing port in Seattle, I told my friends if more and more Chinese move here and build more and more Chinese houses here, what we will be expecting to see here in the future will not be an European style town but a oriental garden. In America, it allows fair competition. If you have valuable stuff, take it out and compete with other people. Thus different cultures can compete fairly. If your traditional culture really has a great creativity and imagination, it will have a good chance of winning out. When I went to the Chinese theater in the Hollywood, I see that the Chinese style arts are really appreciated there. In California, it protects the cultures of other races. English is not above other languages. Many public services provide multi-language support. The information center in Los Angel is very busy in assisting people coming from different countries. They have staff speaking different languages. The greyhound driver in California can speak both English and Spanish. They have to repeat the information in Spanish again. Since here other cultures are respected and protected, the tension between different races is released. Without such tension, people are more willing to learn from other cultures and appreciate other cultures. The under-educated people from other cultures get protected in such environment and are able to speak their own language and keep their cultures. The more educated people can thus have a chance to learn from other cultures and greatly expand their horizon and get a lot of stimulations for their creativity. When I was viewing the native Indian arts in the museum, I am greatly impressed by their imagination and creativity. Such impression will certainly nurture my creativity, maybe in the way of website design. Imagine a website of native Indian style?
With globalization, people are coming closer and closer. Less and less different are people of different races. But I certainly noticed that people in the same race are more diversified. Now people in China don’t have to dress the same way, eat the same way and think in the same way. Individual is more encouraged to be different and express himself.
This trip is very important for me. I won’t have much time to study American liberal arts in the following year. As before, I will just keep on reading some news and watch some movies, sometimes maybe some books. But because of this trip, I have opened many gates of perceiving information. Thus what I can realize from this information should be a lot more than before. For example, when I read a novel, I may notice I have been to the town described in the book and I have learned some features and some history about that town. I certainly would be interested to learn more about that town from the novel. I would also recognize the various features of the rocky mountain, the history of the gold mining and the gambling of the west.
Many of you may still have doubts. Why should we study American culture? Will we lose our own culture? How hard or how deep should we study it? Let me try to summarize my answer in the following:
I grew up in Yungui Plateau. Where I live is all mountains. These mountains have one feature: simple. I like hiking. When I climbed up to the top of the mountain and looked around, I saw endless mountains fluctuating. I cannot say it is beautiful for those mountains are just like one bread beside one bread. It is simple. But it is great. The cultures in that province including food, clothing and literature all embody this
simplicity. I think they are all influenced by the simplicity of those mountains. As I like hiking so much, such simplicity melt into my blood.
After I went to Hangzhou for my study, I was faced with a completely different scenery. It is so beautiful. However, it is so subtle and gentle. The culture of Hangzhou is deeply influenced by such a gentle scenery. No matter how much my original culture in my blood rejected it, this culture gradually melts into my blood as I am so easily influenced by the scenery around. I studied many literatures as well as the Chinese tea culture during my stay in Hangzhou.
It seems to me that a local culture is deeply shaped by its scenery. Since people are living in such scenery everyday for their whole lives, their minds will be gradually influenced by the mood of the scenery. Thus this will influence how they sing, write, wear and eat. Generation after generation, such influence becomes deeper and deeper. Thus a culture is generated. I once read an article on BBS analyzing why Chinese have such a different culture and social system from the western world. After he criticized all the reasons listed by other people such as language (because it still cannot explain why Chinese create such a language different from the western world), he said geography environment should be the final root reason. Because all the boundary of China is very difficult to surpass, Chinese became very conservative, not eager for a change and easily satisfied. However, in Europe, it is a much opener environment and facing the sea on many sides. Thus the European society is more open and adventurous. I would tend to think what he said make a lot of sense. Only after you stay in one place for a very long time and jump into its culture, can you really let the culture melt into your blood.
As the people on the earth had been so isolated, they created dramatically different culture. People in its local culture were generally forced to keep their culture, which means to live like all other people. However, with globalization, now it is very easy for people to travel around and migrate. Thus people can see different sceneries and experience different cultures. Some people may even have a chance to experience many different cultures in their lives. Their native cultures may not fit their own personalities very well. After other cultures melt into their blood, they may find some other culture is more suitable for their nature. Or they may feel that certain elements of several cultures combined together suit themselves best. I have once watched on TV that some white people feel they are deep inside black people. Some black people feel deep inside they are white people. It is very funny.
I think up to now it should have already explained why we need to study other cultures and how hard and deep should we study them. Since we are in US, of course we should study the American culture because it takes so much effort to let one culture melt into your blood. For some people still worrying about losing their own cultures, I want to simply ask what the hell in the world is yours?
I really feel that it is possible to get into another culture and get the same or much bigger happiness as in your own culture. It is a wonderful world out there. Don’t miss it.