Three Charts and a Gift
Do you agree with this statement: "Our people are not perfect but our culture is superior to others." Or this one: "Success in life is determined by forces outside our control?" Which is more important to you: (a) for people to have the freedom to pursue their life's goals without government interference, or (b) to have the government guarantee that nobody in the society is in need?
The Pew Global Attitudes Project has just released its latest results comparing US Americans' and Western Europeans' responses to these questions (and others) that reflect core social and political values, and certainly influence how we vote and interact with the rest of the world. It's pretty fascinating for those of us whose work involves bridging the space between cultures:
Agreeing with: "Our people are not perfect but our culture is superior to others."
(Two interesting side notes here: In 2002, the last time Pew asked this question, 60% of US Americans agreed with the statement; it's now down to 46%. The 2002 data set included responses from all over the globe and, in that context, the US was far from the highest-scoring country – 90% of South Koreans and Malaysians, 80% of Indians and 68% of Japanese agreed that their culture was superior to others. I will be eager to see the updated data from Asia when Pew releases it.)
Agreeing with: "Success in life is determined by forces outside our control?"
(This is a replication of Pew's 2002 findings – and those in many other studies, including ours at The Interchange Institute – that US Americans feel they are in control of their own future.) Any ideas out there about why Germany scores so high on this question?
"Which is more important to you: (a) for people to have the freedom to pursue their life's goals without government interference, or (b) to have the government guarantee that nobody in the society is in need?"
(Almost 60% US Americans prefer freedom from government interference. This is not exclusively a Tea Party phenomenon - last month, Pew reported that just 20% of US Americans "agree" with the Tea Party movement. I think this chart is consistent with the one above showing that US Americans feel in control of their lives – if the future is in your hands, you don't want others to interfere with your ability to act. Interesting values background to our political debate today!)
Make what you will of these findings – some of you will be surprised, some happy, some distressed. A core value of all our work at The Interchange Institute (and, specifically, in our Crossing Cultures with Competence training of trainers workshop) is to base our understanding and our programs on reliable, professional research. Our job – mine and yours -- is to explain the scene, and divergent points of view, in an objective and balanced manner, and to be open to discussing how values affect expatriates' practical daily lives. Won't you join us at one of our upcoming sessions?
This message marks the 10th anniversary of our E-notes from Anne. We'd love to give you an anniversary gift for being such a loyal E-note reader. We'll send you 10 sets of our Welcome File laminated cards for free ($80 value), with a purchase of two cases of our newly- updated Hello! USA books (28 books/case). Each free card set includes five laminated cards, designed to keep in your wallet, glove compartment, or on your refrigerator – they're packed with information about restaurant vocabulary, cooking measurements and terms, what to do if you have a car accident or a police officer stops you, clothing sizes, metric conversions and tips. Easy to slip into a holiday card or under the ribbon of a gift, and make your international families grateful to you! Order extras, if you like ($8/set or $7.50 for 50 or more) – they make a great complement to Hello! USA! Order 56 (or more) copies of Hello! USA on our website and write "E-notes Anniversary" in the Comments box, to get your gift. Offer good now through the end of 2011.
Reality Check in the Race to the Top
The OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) has just released some new numbers that worry me. They challenge some of the things I like to believe about the US educational system – consider this:
- The US used to send more people to university/college* than almost any country in the world. Of the 38 OECD countries, only two (Russia and Israel) have a higher proportion than the US of 55-64-year-olds with higher education (Israel 45%; Russia: 44.5%; US: 40.8%). But things have changed. Other countries have steadily increased their higher education rates over the past 30 years, but the US has not. You might say that's because we were already at the top, but we are now number 16 on the list (measured as the proportion of 25-34-year-olds with higher education). South Korea, most dramatically, for example, has gone from 13.25% to 63.10% with higher education. We say a college education can be in every child's future, but we're no longer world leaders in this.
- Educators in the US and around the world have been working for years to close the achievement gap between students from various socio-economic groups. Relative to the 38 other countries in the OECD sample, we're #28 in success – we've still got a troublesome link between economic, social and cultural status on one hand and reading performance on the other. And it's especially strong for international newcomers. Here's the good news: some countries have started to break that link. The four locations with the highest reading scores (Korea, Canada, Finland and Shanghai, China) show the weakest link between socio-economic factors and performance. They've figured out how to reach and teach kids regardless of their background; let's hope we can learn from them.
- We often hear that students from all over the world want to study in the US, and that's still true…but we should watch our back. The US receives the most international students (18% of all foreign students worldwide), but this is down from 23% nine years ago. Competitors are the UK (10%), Australia (7%), Germany (7%), France (7%), Canada (5%), Japan (4%), the Russia Federation (4%) and Spain (2%). An increasing number of non-English-speaking countries are offering at least some of their courses in English. A number of countries are seriously marketing to the international student, offering domestic-student tuition rates, eased immigration/visa policies, post-graduation job opportunities and competitive academic reputations. The US place at the front of the line is not invulnerable.
These are the kinds of concerns I think international parents have on their minds when they move to the US today. Are American schools up to the task of providing the education they want for their children? These concerns, in fact, are what led Georgia Bennett and me to write Understanding American Schools: The Answers to Newcomers' Most Frequently Asked Questions.
I should be clear – these statistics are not actually what Understanding American Schools is about, although we do include some international comparisons to set the stage for entering the US classroom. After an introductory chapter setting the stage for educational values in the US, we offer quite practical, specific, concrete advice, information, tips and answers for international parents of pre-school, elementary and high school-age children. But these parents – our readers, your clients - bring these big-picture concerns with them as they contemplate putting their children into our schools. It's really really different out there - these OECD findings are why we think your families have education on their minds and will find our book helpful.
We're having a Fourth Edition Launch Special (up to 35% off), from now till December 15 – the perfect time to offer practical support to your international families, now that they're mid-way into the fall term. Stock up for next year! Give the book as a year-end holiday greeting! Details on the Understanding American Schools page.
P.S. Here's one more OECD finding: Higher education may be expensive [especially in the US], but it's still a good investment – um, especially if you're a man… Over a lifetime, men with higher educations in Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Korea, Portugal, Slovenia and the UK are likely to earn the equivalent of $400,000 more than those who do not. In the US, that lifetime benefit for men is more like $600,000. For women…not so much: the increased earning over a lifetime is more like $150,000.
* A technical detail. The OECD measures "tertiary" education (as in "third-level, after secondary education") rather than "college enrollment" because the systems of education are so different around the world. This term encompasses traditional academic studies (like mathematics and history) and professional-level studies (like engineering, nursing, or architecture). For simplicity, I just used the term "higher education" in this piece.
Operators, Yellow Pages and Paying by Check
Remember when we called an airline on the telephone to check its flight status? Asked the Reference Librarian for help in finding a statistic? Looked for used furniture in a newspaper's classified ads? Just thinking about this I'm feeling all misty and nostalgic…
I've been doing a "deep update" of Hello! USA. You may know the book; since it was first published in 1996, it has helped 15,000 newcomers to the US settle in to their new home and community. We've been publishing and distributing the book for its author, Judy Priven, since last year. Of course every phone number and URL and fact in the book has been updated regularly, including as recently as last year.
But this summer we decided to do a more thorough revision and I've been struck by how amazingly quickly the practical aspects of our lives have changed, even in the course of 15 years. Consider this:
- The Operator: Here's a test. Which (if any) of these are still true? (a) If you dial a wrong long-distance number by mistake, call the operator who will cancel the charge. (b) If you're getting a noisy or weak phone connection, the operator will re-dial the number at no extra charge. (c) If you lose money in a pay phone (pay phones! – remember those??), the operator will re-dial your call at no extra charge. (d) If you need to contact someone in a life-threatening emergency and the line is busy (remember busy signals?), the operator will interrupt the call for you. (Answer below. Hint – two are still true, two are not.)
- Paying by Check: Checks are still more common in the US than in many countries (so we offer instruction in how to write one). But…I don't even carry my checkbook around with me any more – do you? We weren't sure how much detail to include. So I did a scientific survey (I asked at my Post Office, at Old Navy, and at my neighborhood Thai restaurant) and…yes, you can still pay by check. OK, still alive - we've keep that section.
- Self-Service Gas Stations: Remember guessing how much gas your tank would hold, going inside to pay the cashier, then going back for a refund if you guessed too much? Those little credit card readers at the pump have become standard issue and we've moved this scenario to the end of our section.
- The Yellow Pages: Readers had been referred throughout the book to The Yellow Pages. I used to love the Yellow Pages. But really…I never use it anymore; do you? We're still describing this resource in the book, but we're emphasizing the web as a first-line resource for finding products and services. And we've dropped the regular admonition to "search on line for…" We think any reader who knows how to do that doesn't need to be reminded to do so.
You get the idea. It's been a walk down memory lane. But for those of you who want to skip that jaunt, you can order Hello! USA, in all its 2011 up-to-date glory, today.
P.S. Operator Answer: (b) and (d) are still true. In situations (a) and (c) the Operator will help you re-claim your lost money by directing you to other resources, but can't eliminate or refund your charge on the spot. And don't worry – we still describe how to use a pay phone, with coins or a phone card, as this differs from country to country.
P.P.S. I'm planning my 2012 schedule for my training-of-trainers workshop, Crossing Cultures with Competence (details below). The dates are set and I'm choosing locations. Do you wish I'd come to your area? Let me know – especially if we can get a core group of registrants, I'm happy to try new locations.
P.P.S. Do you have other examples of by-gone practices? Or do you disagree that some of my examples are by-gone? Please "like" The Interchange Institute's page on Facebook and join in the discussion of this and other intercultural topics. See you on line!
"That guy's wearing pajamas," my friend whispered to me last week. We were strolling, mid-day, through a small village in Vietnam, near Hanoi, and an elderly man had just ridden by on his bicycle wearing … well, the same outfit my father used to sleep in – a light cotton top and bottom with thin blue and yellow stripes, an open collar with blue piping around it, and a patch pocket. You've seen it in the Vermont Country Store catalogue…
This led to a spirited discussion in our group of the following hypotheses:
The Ethnocentric Hypothesis: He was, in fact, riding his bike in his pajamas. That is, he was out in the middle of the day wearing clothes he also slept in at night, and therefore something was amiss.
- The Modified Ethnocentric Hypothesis: He didn't know they were [inherently] pajamas [designed for sleeping at night]; maybe there'd been a shipment of clothing from the West that ended up in his world and they seemed comfortable to him and so, not knowing that they were [truly] for sleeping at night, he shouldn't be criticized for wearing them during the day.
- The Cultural Awareness Hypothesis: Pajamas originated in South Asia (as daywear) and were adopted (as nightwear) by the British in the 19th century. [Leap from India to Vietnam unspecified…] It's pretty common to see people in Vietnam wearing what look like pajamas to us, but that are inherently daywear to them. Black cotton pullover outfits were worn by the South Vietnamese and associated - in the West – with the Viet Cong during the War. Today, what you see are usually colorful, silk button-up outfits usually worn by women; maybe this guy just had a plainer set than we'd seen in the city. We're the ones mussing up our perfectly good daywear by sleeping in it…
It reminded me of one of the optical illusions I include in my training materials in my Crossing Cultures with Competence workshop:
Quick – how many cubes do you see? Most people see eight (looking down on them, each with a black top and gray sides). Let's call that the Ethnocentric interpretation, as it's our "home" base.
When pressed to see it differently, some people report seeing 7 "half cubes," each with a white floor and two gray sides along the back corner, but the top and front sides are missing. I'll call that the Modified Ethnocentric interpretation – they're still looking down from the top as they did at first, and forcing reality to fit their pre-existing perspective.
Then they suddenly "get it" and see seven white-bottomed, gray-sided cubes, looking up from below. This interpretation flips figure and ground, and turns the viewer's world upside down. That's the thrilling moment of cultural awareness – the precious insight that our way of viewing the world is just one way and that perfectly viable, internally-consistent alternatives exist. It's hard to sustain both perspectives at first – the black-topped cubes keep re-asserting themselves. But with familiarity, one becomes "bi-cube-al" and can switch back and forth with ease.
To be honest, I'm still learning – I don't know what that man on the bicycle was wearing or why*. By chance, we ended up in his home a few minutes later, in one of those visits they arrange for tourists. He'd been picking his granddaughter up from school and arrived home in time to join us for a cup of tea. What I can say for sure is that his clothing quickly ceased being the interesting thing about him. Instead I'll remember his gentle smile and the warmth with which he reached across history and welcomed a group of Americans into his home.
What About This Don't You Understand?
In the July 2007 issue of Newcomer's Almanac (the monthly newsletter for newcomers to the US that I've written since 1994), my front-page article was about campaign spending during the 2008 Presidential election. The topic was dominating the American press – the estimate at the time was that each of the final candidates would spend a half billion dollars. (They got the total right but the division wrong: in the end, McCain spent $333 million, Obama $730 million.)
With no incumbent running and fierce contenders in both parties, the election – still 16 months away – was front-page news, from the New York Times to Newcomer's Almanac. In fact, I had started writing about the election in the previous February's issue – partly to explain why the election cycle was so long!
Now look at this poll from the Pew Research Center, about news stories followed by US Americans - from last week:
The election is at the bottom of the barrel, along with the debate over the deficit. And this poll was taken (June 1, 2011) before the all-absorbing 24-7 story about the politician who loves pictures of himself in his underwear (and thinks you might too).
What makes a compelling news story? And which stories do newcomers need help understanding? That's the challenge I accept each month as I prepare my newsletter. One of my goals is to give apolitical, non-partisan background to current events – the kind of information Americans just "know" but rarely make explicit in a format that is accessible to newcomers, like:
- Why are presidential candidates flocking to Iowa?
- How are laws passed?
- How do Americans weigh the relative importance of controlling gun ownership and protecting the right to own a gun?What exactly is the Tea Party? (Maybe I'd better do "Why do Americans love stories about politicians and underwear??")
It's my job – and maybe your job, too, if you're in the business of helping others make intercultural transitions – to explain cultural phenomena in a balanced way that helps newcomers understand the debates that engage Americans. It's easy to argue your own position persuasively. It's another matter altogether to help others understand both sides of an issue.
I get to write other fun articles, too like:
- Background to American holidays
- Explanations of common values in the US and how they affect friendships
- Recipes for traditional foods (think hamburgers in July and turkey in November)
- The rules of baseball and football
- Advice for parents of pre-school and school-age children
- Practical tips (like deciphering cleaning products, making airline reservations, buying an appropriate graduation gift, and knowing what time to go to a 9am meeting)
- Short biographies of famous Americans (like the founder of McDonalds, the inventor of blue jeans, Eleanor Roosevelt and Frank Lloyd Wright)
But the most compelling themes for me are the ones that help my readers make sense of the current events that surround them. I'd love to hear the questions from newcomers that you've struggled to answer – please share them on our Facebook page (At your Facebook home page, search for then "like" The Interchange Institute and you'll get there) and share in this and other intercultural discussions.
I'm predicting that the Presidential Election will start to gain attention in the next month or two, and I'm planning a series on it, continuing through November 2012 – primaries and caucuses, financing, choosing a vice president, conventions. If you'd like some help explaining this to your newcomers, please check out the Newcomer's Almanac. It comes with an English Practice Worksheet (and so doubles as a language- as well as cultural-support tool) and is available in hard or electronic copy.
But How Did We Get That Way?
I know you know what "individualism" and "collectivism" are. And if you work in any kind of multicultural environment, you've surely encountered the difference between a "let every star shine" approach and a "think first about your group" mind set. If you're interested in this kind of thing, you've probably read some definitions, and maybe seen data from around the world showing how countries differ on this value. Maybe you've even thought through the historic or geographic factors that make one country individualistic and another collectivist.
But have you wondered how people in one culture learn to be individualists and others collectivists? (Or to prefer this communication style or that? Or to be concerned with saving face or not? Or to hold other core cultural values that are prevalent somewhere in the world?) No one thinks people are born with these values, so how are they learned?? What do mothers and fathers and teachers and neighbors actually say or do that teaches children the "good" way to be?
I think I've found a window into this question, and a way for you to peer into it, too. We've just published a collection of 60 "everyday stories" written by newcomers to the US that make those theoretical and research concepts of cultural difference spring to life, in dazzling color and poignancy. It's called In Their Own Voice: Intercultural Meaning in Everyday Stories (see discount price and order details below).
The authors of these stories are all from cultures generally seen as collectivist; imagine how cultural values get highlighted when they describe:
- How all children in their country study from one of a handful of government-approved textbooks and their surprise at US teachers' freedom to design curriculum, field trips and readings according to their own creativity;
- How they urge their children to go to school even when feeling a bit sick, out of respect for their teacher and duty to the rest of their class;
- Their surprise at all the hoopla (and gifts) surrounding a little child's birthday; what about some gratitude for the mother here?
- How children in their country clean their classrooms at the end of every day and their surprise at US school janitors taking on this task;
- How they reply to compliments from another collectivist parent ("Oh, no, we were just lucky") vs. compliments from their US American, individualistic friend ("Thanks!").
Each story is accompanied by a set of Questions for Reflection, and a framing of the important intercultural issues illustrated by the story (written by my colleague Marissa Lombardi and me). They are valuable tools for:
Anyone working in an intercultural environment who wants a deeper understanding of how cultural differences develop,
- Trainers and teachers who are looking for ways to make intercultural concepts three-dimensional, rich and real,
- People who have crossed cultures themselves and want a way to put words to the challenges they faced.
There's some background to this International Writers' Club project on our website, a full list of story titles to give you a sense of the range and depth of the collection, and a few sample stories, too.
Order now and take advantage of our Publication Launch Sale (launch discount price: 1-9 copies $14.95, 10+ $12.95). Just type "ENOTE" in the Comments box when you order. The discount will be taken at the time of processing and you'll get an invoice marked "Paid" with the discount price on it.
P.S. One reviewer wrote: "These stories are a wonderful tool that illustrate concepts that can be complex to describe. Not only are they succinct, they are poignant and real. That renders them all the more credible, charming, and genuine. Bravo for the rich contribution to our community!"
(Stéphanie Guimarães Bibb, Intercultural Trainer and President, Convergence Globale)
Caught Short at the Border
Last Saturday night, I stood with about 1200 other travelers in the immigration line at Logan (Boston) airport. Storms on the US east coast had diverted to Boston many international flights that had been headed to Philadelphia and New York City. The staff that was prepared for about five flights that night was processing three times that number. As we patiently wove our way through the line ropes, I marveled at the United Nations gathered in that space – the woman with the fabulous headdress and long white dress and polar fleece jacket wheeling a bright red suitcase, three guys with dreadlocks and guitars, and that 7-year-old boy in a black suit and tie (where was he from and where was he headed??).
When, two hours after landing, my turn came to approach the border control officer, I handed her my passport and we had the following conversation:
Our Border's Representative: What was the purpose of your trip?
Me: To attend the European Relocation Association conference in Spain.
OBR: [Blank stare. Long silence. Skeptical look.] What do they do??
Me: They help people move from one country to another.
OBR: [I'm not making this up.] What? Why would people need help doing that?
Quick – what would you say if there were 600 people in line behind you and you'd been traveling for 22 hours and you didn't want to get locked up by TSA and someone who should know better questioned your life's work? This woman probably talks to more people passing from one country to another than 99.9% of the world's population. That's what she does all day long. Yet she clearly had never considered what their lives were like after they turned the corner, collected their luggage, and left the airport.
I fought the urge to comment on the importance of perspective-taking ability or on cultural differences in immigration customs, and instead mumbled a few examples I thought she might understand – drivers' licenses, home finding, school registration – and shuffled off.
Here's what I wish I'd said:
The moment one enters a new country, one is faced with a barrage of small and large challenges – practical, social, legal, psychological and cultural. Those who learn to master the acts of daily living and adjust to the new social norms, who come to see the world from a new perspective, who negotiate new family roles and responsibilities, who manage to preserve their core identity in the face of inevitable misunderstanding, who, in short, bridge the considerable communication and values gap between where they're from and where they're going – those are our new neighbors who contribute richness and insight to our lives, and who keep our windows open to innovation and new perspective. They're doing a lot by themselves. What I do is lend them a hand.
Oh well, the guy behind me in line is probably glad I zipped my lip.
"Why Moving to a New Country Can Be Hard" It's one of the modules in my training-of-trainers workshop, Crossing Cultures with Competence. I've got a few workshops coming up - come join the discussion with others who bring their considerable intercultural experience and wisdom to the table. Details below.
Comments from some recent sessions of the workshop:
"This workshop was one of the most content-rich programs I've ever attended. The amount of relevant and varied information will provide my company with a very professional and knowledgeable base for moving forward into cultural transitional programming for foreign nationals in our region. Worth every penny...and then some!"
Angela McNerney, President, Tech Valley Connect, Inc., Boston April 2011
"I was very favorably impressed by the organization's high level of professionalism before the training, which led up to a very enriching and fruitful two-day workshop… Anne had the perfect pulse on our group and knew exactly what chords to strike and when. She led us very professionally through the programme, making us feel all the time that she was very concerned and focused on the challenges of our personal and professional path."
Claudia Landini, Founder, www.expatclic.com, Geneva, April 2011
Just One Word: Conferences (the new Plastics)
Do you remember this scene from the classic film, The Graduate:
Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Plastics.
Benjamin: Just how do you mean that, sir?
That was family-friend Mr. McGuire's career advice to the newly-graduated Dustin Hoffman. He was summing up his professional wisdom and experience in a single word that he believed would open doors and horizons for this young man.
I don't want to take the metaphor too far – the line "Plastics" was funny because it was so utterly unappealing to this idealistic, confused and um, distracted young man.
But I share Mr. McGuire's earnest sense of purpose as I look at the results of my most recent survey results, in which I turned the table and asked graduates for their advice: 85 graduates of my Crossing Cultures with Competence training of trainers workshop told me what kind of intercultural work they've been doing recently and then described how they've kept up their skill base, what they think has made the most difference in their career development, how they've marketed their services, and what advice they would give colleagues in their field.
The most consistent advice – across all these questions – was to get involved in intercultural organizations. This was true across the board, but when I looked specifically at the respondents who were most satisfied with the money they've earned doing intercultural work, "getting involved in intercultural organizations" was the single-most effective marketing technique they reported.
Their comments spell out all the reasons this is so important; here they speak for themselves:
"Speak at conferences, be seen as THE expert."
"Attend conferences and seminars related to our field of work. Make sure you are networking and sell yourself!"
"Get your energy out in a consistent way; make yourself visible to your client."
"Join intercultural organizations, attend meetings, join groups with the same interests on Linked-In or other professional networking sites. Look at people's profiles who have careers that interest you, or pique curiosity, and contact them. As a result of doing that, I have gained a wealth of information..."
There's the obvious networking benefit – potential colleagues get a face for and favorable impression of you. And the obvious learning benefit – you're learning new ideas, methods, facts and ways of explaining what you already know. And the competition benefit – you're learning what your competition is doing so you can stand on their shoulders and improve your services.
But when I reflect on the organizations that have been important in my career, there's one more benefit that is even more important yet usually unspoken. Families in Global Transition, for example, is a diverse community of people with interests and values I share, my intellectual and professional home, even though the members live all over the globe. (Its annual meeting will be March 17-19, 2011, in Washington, DC. www.figt.org.) As one attendee said, "It's a family reunion of people you never met." Especially when we meet in person, but even when we work virtually, I am grounded, my mission is focused, and I'm bolstered by the common energy we share.
Full disclosure: I'm the Program Director for FIGT (and will be giving a keynote address this year). I hope you'll come, and if you do, please find me to say hello.
But the researcher in me says: Just one word: Conferences! Find your intercultural organization and get involved. You and the world will be glad you did.
If you'd like to know more about what the graduates of Crossing Cultures with Competence have to say about succeeding in the intercultural field, let me know and I'll send you an Executive Summary.
What I've Learned from Asian Moms
The essays quoted in this article can be found in their entirety at International Writers Club, and a collection of 60+ of the essays, with intercultural commentary, will be available in May.
A national discussion about parenting has burst on to the stage in the US with the publication of Amy Chua's book, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. In it, she argues for a relentless (my word) drive for academic and musical achievement by any means necessary (including forced four-hour piano practices, calling your children "garbage," and the like). My own experience with Asian parents is so different from this.
Since 2000, I've run a Writers' Club for over 100 Asian newcomers living in my community. Members write short essays about cultural differences they have observed – what surprises them and what they'd like Americans to understand. In the more than 200 essays I've collected, they communicate a perspective on parenting that consistently challenges and instructs me, focused far more on raising caring and respectful members of their society than on dogged achievement. (A collection of 60+ of these essays will be available soon – see details below.)
Virtually none of the essays has been about Americans' low levels of achievement or over-permissiveness, although they are surprised that teachers write "Great job!" at the top of a spelling test with errors on it, and that coaches shout "Good eye!" to the kid who just struck out. They mostly seem to like this US instructional technique and its positive effect on their children, although they worry that their children will have neither the expected set of skills nor the skin thickness to move easily back into their culture when they go home. Still, the idea that a child's esteem would need to be bolstered is a novel one to them.
Much more common in their essays is a deep concern about the development of their children's character and how they can convey their values to their children being raised in the US culture:
I always feel that my children have too much self-confidence. I cannot help telling them to be modest, which my husband and I were told by our parents…When my son shot a victory goal at the final soccer tournament, his teammates hugged him and praised him. At the ceremony, his coach and his teammates offered him a champion cup. But my son hesitated to have it and he gave it to the goalie. My son thought the goalie should have the champion cup. Many people didn't understand his behavior. I immediately understood how he took care of his friends.
The notion of "too much self-confidence" is almost unfathomable to us Americans, but if parents' goals are to instill a generous spirit, teamwork and modesty, then the notion of "too much self-confidence" begins to make sense.
In Japan, students prepare lunch by themselves, starting in first grade. The students in charge wear white aprons, white caps and masks. They carry very heavy containers from the school kitchen to the classroom. Then they serve food to their classmates. Before eating, the students say in unison words of appreciation for those who prepared the food. In all these ways, students are supposed to learn cooperation, responsibility and independence from adults...I was so surprised that students at my child's school in the US stay at the cafeteria unsupervised by their home room teachers. It also surprised me that they throw away food, even food that is wrapped and could easily be saved.
Frugality, gratitude, cooperation, civility. All that and lunch, too.
One mother resisted, at first, her daughters' request for a slumber party, but then capitulated:
I did it, I had a slumber party for my daughters last week. And I found out that there was really something in there! It offered me a chance to observe how they interact… The most important part was I could tell one of the girls wasn't so comfortable and the other just perfectly fit in my house. And this is the part that I am curious about most. Because I hope my daughters can feel comfortable and relaxed while they are staying with their friends. I hope my girls can feel at ease no matter under what kind of situation.
Flexibility, at ease in all situations, open to new ways.
Asian parenting styles can teach something more than applying discipline and expecting achievement. They can also show us the value of cooperation, modesty, and gratitude. In turn, these writers have opened their eyes and minds to what American parenting styles can teach them - that sometimes success is due to individual effort, self-confidence and flexibility.
Discipline and achievement, cooperation and modesty, self-confidence and flexibility – Asian and American. Let's talk.