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Collectivism and Individualism – I was born into an immigrant Chinese family, and raised by traditionalist grandparents. From a young age, I had already adopted their ways of thinking, which I will simply summarize as “collectivist” thinking (the well-being of the group is more important than that of the individual). Such an idea also implied very close relations with friends and family; people do not just come and go. But upon entering into academia, I have found this mindset to be a great source of disappointment. Individualism rules this country and selfish-motivation is taught at the institutional level. I have met many people who only interact with me for selfish needs. They copy my math homework; they ask me for help in math. They had assumed that as an Asian, I was good at math. Regardless of their intentions, one thing was certain: when the semester was over, they almost never talk to me again. Some do not even say “hello” on the occasional times we cross paths.
Do you ever wonder how your friends are doing? What they are up to? When I ask such questions to people, a majority of them tell me they do not. In fact, they have a justification for it – they were too busy working or too busy doing something else. It was not until I had met some immigrant friends in college that I realized this was not “normal.” It was mainly western thinking.
History and Culture – I remember in history class, the teacher told me that Mao was evil and that communism is evil. In fact, there was a time period of fear for communism in this country known as the Red Scare. Red is the color of good luck and fortune in Chinese culture. I did not see why it was scary. With regards to Mao, my grandfather speaks fondly of him and how he had saved the country from the corrupt nationalists. What I have learned is that the lesser or minority opinion in the classroom is not valued. Most opinions that do not support America tend to cause my semester to end in a poor grade. I refused to conform, so I settled for the lower grade.
Common Interests – I have found that the driving force for breaking cultural barriers and mindsets is the common interests that people share. For example, there is no discrimination of culture in art and photography. I rely heavily on common interests to bridge culture gaps. To this day, I am not sure if this is a good idea.
Remark: In the academic world, I was driven to pursue statistics and mathematics. At least in these fields, I will not be judged based on my opinion.
Smiling all the time is “American.” A friend once pointed out that I do not often smile towards others. This is true. I do not smile towards strangers. In China, if you smile for someone, it means that the person is your friend, your family, or your boss. If you smile for everyone, then it means that you are inferior to everyone. Apparently, it does not work the same in this country. I never thought much about it. I just knew that my grandpa never smiled towards strangers, so I did not either. This made job-interviewing very difficult to get used to.