A New Reality
In a world full of different cultures it is important to me to be culturally self-aware and understand where people are coming from through empathy and respect. This essay will examine how my experience in China allowed me to build an understanding of what it means to be a responsible global citizen by changing my attitudes.
Before I began my journey towards becoming a citizen of the world I was naïve and ignorant when it came to different cultures. My attitude was based on stereotypes I had seen in movies and on TV. I tended to minimize the differences by assuming they did not hold significance and that under the surface we are all the same. That being said I still considered myself knowledgeable on other cultures because I had a diverse group of friends but I never truly embraced any culture but my own. This attitude changed significantly when I went outside of my cultural bubble and spent time in China.
When I first arrived in China I was excited to embrace everything the country had to offer. I had attended a few meetings, with fellow teachers, in preparation for the trip and felt I had a good understanding of Chinese culture, customs and the way of life. I assumed the transition to China would be simple thanks to my experiences both in school and as a Canadian living in a multicultural country. However, nothing could have prepared me for the culture shock I experienced on the first day.
When I stepped into the Beijing airport it was buzzing with a language I did not understand. Every advertisement, sign and announcement was foreign and I felt excited and scared. I scanned shops and restaurant menus searching for something familiar. Then it struck me. For the first time in my life I felt like a minority. I was a guest in a country that I really did not understand. It was at this moment I began to empathize with all the international people I had met. I began to understand their homesickness, desire to speak their language and have elements of their culture around them. When you are removed from all you know, all you want is a little piece of where you came from.
This lesson was important for me as it forced me to take a hard look at what it means to be a Global citizen. While I claimed to be worldly my previous attitudes had prevented me from participating in global learning. Instead of looking at the differences in cultures I sought out the similarities and made inaccurate assumptions on how we are all the same. Being in another country where there is limited English, the food is different and the people are different was a reminder of how ignorant I had been. It was in this moment I knew I needed to change my attitude. I had to start understanding the differences in order to truly embrace the culture.
Another moment that stood out as life changing was when I was working with some students and one of them asked if I was going to hit them if they were bad. This really took me by surprise because in Canada teachers do not hit students. To do so could be considered an assault. This incident forced me to seek an understanding of teacher and student protocols. I learned about the intense pressure that the students and teachers face. As China has a large population there is intense pressure to do well. Students are streamed to selective high schools based on their grade 6 exams. Only 10% of graduating students go to university. This is determined by external exams. How the students do on the national exams reflect on the school and teachers. In some schools there can be up to 60 students in a class. Simply, there is no tolerance for any disruptive behavior. Consequently, I found that teachers do hit students as a form of punishment.
Realizing the amount of pressure that the students are under allowed me to have empathy for the international students that come and stay with me. I do everything I can to help them with homework, practice their English through conversation and focus on being a support system while they are in my home and after they leave. I still communicate with many of my past homestay guests and take great joy in weekly updates, pictures and phone calls. It is important to me that the students know they have my support because I am very aware of the pressures they face.
Living in China also helped me to understand that being a global citizen means embracing all aspects of different cultures and different countries. Before my trip I was quick to try and show off my culture and not bother to learn about others. Now, when international students stay with me, we have evenings dedicated to their culture. This allows the students to teach me about who they are and what is important to them. Instead of doing all the talking I am finally listening. This is detrimental in becoming a global citizen as it allows me to gain first hand experience of other cultures in an environment where I can ask questions.
These are just a few examples of the how my attitudes have changed towards other cultures. Although some of the situations I found myself in were a little unnerving, at the end of the day they forced me to seek understanding when it comes to different cultures and events and to have empathy for people as you never know where they are coming. This trip also taught me a lot about listening, patience and my responsibilities as a global citizen. In order for me to be a responsible Global citizen I need to look beyond my culture and embrace all cultures. I am excited to pursue my degree in teaching and give my students the skills and desire to be globally competent.