One of the things that make human life intriguing and to some extent captivating is the diversity and variation exhibited by people as a result of their differing cultures, jobs, personalities and physical appearance. The American society in particular exhibits this great diversity since people of differing races and cultures have made the country their home.
Moreover, people are constantly immigrating into the United States therefore increasing the diversity of the country. At times there exists misinformation about the new immigrants which results in over generalize and people judging the newcomers based on narrow minded and often misguided preconceptions that they have about them. Being an American of Chinese origin, I view myself as an open minded and accommodative person who respects people of all cultures.
As a teacher, I get the opportunity to interact with new immigrant students who are at times going through cultural conflicts as a result of the change in their environment. One such experience was with a Korean immigrant named Chung. My interaction with him resulted in a deeper appreciation of the difficulties that new immigrants experience as well as in my helping Chung to best cope in class and in the community.
As a child, Chung had great aspirations in life and his parents looked on with pride at the young boy whom they knew would grow into a great man one day. He attended school from an early age and showed keen interest in the various lessons that he was taught. Even as young Chung undertook the physically exerting martial arts training that were mandatory for young people in Korea, he appreciated each moment since he knew that this training would build in him great discipline that would be useful in his future dealings with the world.
The role of family in Chung’s life was very important and from an early age, he was taught to value his family ties. This resulted in the formation of an identity as an individual that was closely linked to that of his family. The most important people in Chung’s life were his parents and siblings and everybody else was secondary.
However, this familiar environment was about to change following the decision by Chung’s parents to immigrate to the United States of America. Chung’s father who was also the head of the family viewed the US as the land of opportunities where one could be given a chance to achieve great exploits. Chung’s father therefore viewed this move as a good opportunity for himself and his children to make a better future for themselves.
Chung was excited about the new possibilities and he was anxious to experience for himself this great new land that he had heard about from so many of his friends. In preparation for this great move, Chung practiced to communicate in English, a language that had been until then foreign to him. His parents emphasized that he would have to master this language in order to enable him to communicate with the people he was going to meet in the new country.
On arrival at the United States at the age of 15, Chung was struck by the great cultural difference that existed between his new country and his motherland Korea. For starters, there as a language barrier and his lack of a deep knowledge of English made it hard for him to relate with the other people.
In addition to this, America seemed to him to be made up of people of differing colors, cultures and religion. This was new to him since he was used to a homogenous population back in the Korean Republic where almost everyone shared a common ethic, language and historical background.
While Chung viewed this as a setback since it was different to his homogenous population that he was used to back in the Korean Republic, I as his teacher showed him that this was indeed a favorable thing to him. Since the US was a land of many cultures, I demonstrated to Chung that he could easily fit in since the American people appreciated diversity and would therefore be least likely to single him out for discrimination.
School was the place where Chung got to receive his first impression of what life in America was like. As a new immigrant, Chung was the only member of his class who was of Korean origin. This would have been easy for him to handle had it not being compounded by the many lack of familiarity with most of the activities.
For example, the meals offered at the cafeteria were different to the ones that Chung was used to and the other students did not invite Chung to take his meals from their table. This lack of hospitality was in contrast to his motherland whereby strangers were made to feel at ease by being given guidance until they became familiar with their new environment.
While becoming accustomed to the new environment was something that Chung would have to do on his own, I as his teacher could help make the process simpler for him. From my personal experiences, I had over the years noted that immigrant students tend to be more sympathetic to the plight of new immigrants since they understand their situation best. As a teacher, I could therefore introduce Chung to older immigrant students who would help familiarize Chung with school life therefore help make the blending process easier for Chung.
One of Chung’s most priced possessions was his Kimchi. This was a meticulously carved walking stick that had the Korean national colors painted on one side and the carved image of an old man on the other side. Chung explained to me that he had inherited this artifact from his grandfather and that it had been passed down through generations in his family.
In addition to the Kimchi’s historical significance, Chung also revealed to me that the artifact was a symbol of his beliefs in ancestral powers. Given the historical and religious significance of this artifact, I now understood why Chung valued this object and held it in near reverence.
It struck me that without knowledge of the history of the Kimchi, I would not have appreciated its significance to Chung and would have stereotyped him for it. This is what had been happening in his school whereby other students had been teasing him as a result of his alleged attachment to such items.
While the prejudices that Chung felt only resulted in verbal attacks, they can deteriorate further into levels such as physical attacks or even discriminatory behavior if they are not dealt with. Using my newly acquired knowledge, I as a tutor could encourage the students to share their cultures and have them bring family heirlooms to class. By doing this, the students would learn to appreciate each others diversity therefore resulting in more cohesion in class.
One of the issues that greatly troubled Chung was his lack of fluency in English. Having identified the language barrier as one of the most significant one in his relation to the society, Chung’s parents made efforts to improve on Chung’s language skills. However, Chung was disheartened by the school environment which he regarded as hostile.
This was an issue that I could relate with since I am a native Chinese who came to the US at the age of 15. In my experience the best way to master a new language is to practice it often. As such, I encouraged Chung to communicate with me and with his parents at home in English despite his lack of fluency.
There also existed many beginner books and audio language tutorial material in the library. By giving Chung access to this material, he would improve his language skills. His ability to communicate fluently in English would undoubtedly enable him to obtain better grades in school.
As a result of unfriendliness towards him at school, Chung had forfeited his opportunity for fulfilling his educational goals by dropping out of school. As a teacher, I could tell that Chung did not give up on school as a result of his lack of interest in learning but rather because he did not have any friends.
It was therefore possible that gaining friends would rekindle Chung’s interest in school and give him an opportunity to fulfill his educational goals and have a bright future. I therefore decided to introduce Chung to various activities which would give him an opportunity to meet and socialize with other students of his age. Sporting activities like basketball and skating provided the best grounds to fulfill this.
I therefore introduced Chung to basketball and he showed a flair for sporting activities as a result of his physically disciplined background. As he played, Chung interacted with other students and soon he had many friends who were willing to introduce him to other activities that enabled him to assimilate to the American culture which had once been alien to him.
From his Korean background, Chung had differing cultural practices to those of the people in America. One of the more significant ones was the Lunar New Year (Seol-nal) which was regarded as a very important celebration in his native Korea Republic. At the time of celebration, the families would gather around in their hometowns and traditional food would be prepared for all to enjoy.
Chung lamented that his American peers did not share this cultural background with him. With time I realized that while on the surface it looked like Chung’s practices were alien to American ones, a closer look revealed that Americans also have such celebrations.
For example, the Thanksgiving Festivities were very similar to Chung’s Seol-nal since they involved family, friends and food being eaten in communion. As an educator, I therefore embarked on showcasing these similarities to Chung’s classmates who showed a greater appreciation for Chung’s practices since they saw the parallels with their own practice. This appreciation of the celebrations resulted in greater respect and appreciation for Chung’s culture.
People often engage in stereotyping others mostly as a result of their ignorance. By enlightening such people of the practice and culture of others, they learn how to appreciate them and therefore dispense with their stereotypical views leading to better relations being forged.
From my experiences with people of differing cultures, I have learnt that it is only by taking a closer look and actually interacting with the other person that stereotypical and racist perceptions can disappear. This is the case with Chung since the more the people surrounding him understood his practices and culture, the more they were willing to interact with him positively and avoid racist tendencies towards him.