Living and studying overseas is life changing. The problem is that the experience cannot be understood by description but must be experienced.
We are all born into an environment that is basically a bubble. We have our community, our school, and most often the same politics and religion of our neighbors. Humans are still very tribal so the differences are usually inconsequential until you go to a major cities. But in the major cities people have a tenancy to keep the same ideas and beliefs into which they were born. They can associate well enough with each other but very little learning about the ideas and experiences of others unlike us actually takes place. It is like the diversity is a large pool with different types of water sectioned off. Most will only stay within the pool they were born. Others will dip a toe into a different type of water only to conclude they like their own pool better. It is very few who will dive right into a different pool and remain there to really experience the differences.
I started this blog well over a decade ago because I had the willingness and opportunity to experience many different cultures, or to use my metaphor above, different types of waters. I loved it and in doing so had a better understanding of the culture from which I came. This blog was born of a need to describe what I was experienced as it was so vastly different and exciting from what I had known. I had no choice but to write these experiences down.
I have not lived overseas in over a decade and so I fear the value of this blog has lessened quite a bit. I’m back to the bubble where most of my information comes from domestic sources, not from the international experiences I had previously. I really do not have any great insights, new knowledge or anything really “international” to share except maybe when I go on the yearly trip to Japan.
However, today I did have an international experience and it was a breath of fresh air. I make a note to attend a bi-weekly Japanese conversation class in virtual reality. These sessions held in what looks like a Japanese classroom are attended by people from all over the world. These are people who do have interest in other cultures and are trying to learn a different language. The topic is primarily Japanese language and linguistics overall but often we’ll talk a bit about politics and it is wonderful.
Today I spoke with people from England, German, Saudi Arabia, America and Japan. Even with such a small sample of people you get a sense in the difference in cultures by how much and how enthusiastically they participate.
The guy from England was always talking, never afraid to jump into the conversation and had a lot of questions. The guy from Germany and girl from Saudi Arabia were more reserved and instead of breaking into a conversation would wait until they were spoken to then respond. Here is how the conversations went and my thoughts on them.
The guy was very curious and had a lot of questions about the Japanese language. It did not stick to basic grammar but we also got into linguistics as well. He wondered how the Japanese language dealt with creating new words, especially when it came to technology. Japanese is an old language so what did they do with these new technological words that are created so frequently these days. This was something I could answer.
On the overall, Japanese will just adopt the foreign word and put it into the “alphabet” used for foreign words which is katakana. Computer is just “compu-ta,” server is just “sa-va.” But sometimes they can take old words “kanji” and by combining them make a word that makes sense. For example the word “technology” is made my combining the kanji “gi” which means “vocation, craft, arts, skill etc” with “Juutsu,” meaning technique, resources, magic, skill, art” etc.
Why my insight was is that we do not really make new words out of the blue either. We take old words as well and fit them to new concepts. So “computer” is made by combining com, which means “together” or “with” and “putare” meaning both to think and to prune. Both are from Latin and we get the word “computer.” Or let’s take “server.” This is a simple word coming from service. In the past it would be someone serves someone in some fashion. A person could serve someone else soup, or simply just be of service for anything. Well, a “server” as it relates to technology serves up webpages, serves up whatever it has that the a person is requesting.
The girl from Saudi Arabia was very quiet but quite willing to speak if spoken to. I would imagine this is because Saudi Arabia is a conservative culture where women traditionally fill a subservient role. “Sub,” lower than men, and “servient” coming from to serve. Just because they don’t barge into conversations do not mean they do not have things to say. I could tell there was a great desire to speak but the culture, like Japanese, puts an emphasis more on the listening, on the community, and less so on the self.
Now America has all different types of people and it is almost impossible to assign a broad classification. However, on the overall America values the individual and this individuality has become something political over the past decade. It is my “opinion trumps everything else” much less of a tendency to even hear out the other side while even considering a change of opinion is lost given the current political climate.
The Americans today were represented by two types of people. One was from Florida, not afraid to jump into a conversation and really had some great questions and tried to learn. This is the America I wish we still were. The other, was a bit more representative of the new America that has risen under Trump. She barged into a conversation and although she knew very little Japanese or about anything international had plenty of opinions that although were completely incorrect was determined to make known.
The German was reserved but also very willing to speak if asked directly. It was with him I spoke about politics and it was as I feared. Under Trump America is a laughing stock. Instead of “Making America Great” Trump has made us the village idiot on the world stage. The German told me how Germans used to respect America under Obama. It was then we at least held up a just and righteous image when it came to things like healthcare, human rights and doing the right thing. That is now all gone under Trump. Unfortunately this damage does not stay with just Trump but instead has affected all Americans. Now the world will be questioning if the American they meet is part of the dumb, Trump supporting crowd or not.
I mentioned that I thought Angela Merkel had done a really nice job and what his thoughts were. He agreed. He said she has created policies which ensured all Germans could go to school, had some form of social welfare and that everyone could have a good life in Germany. This is what I had thought and it made me sad to think America has become the opposite. It was the Republicans who did not want to provide healthcare to all under Obama and now they have gotten worse. It is not only that they do not want to provide healthcare but they want to actively spread disease to other Americans with Coronavirus. The only thing that they need do is wear a mask out of respect for others but they cannot even muster that. Now we even have the Trump supporters taking off their masks on airplanes to make a political statement. This not only endangers the health of everyone else onboard the aircraft but seriously inconveniences everyone as the plane is now turning around or landing at the nearest airport. And what do they get for their political statement? They are getting put on the airline blacklist. How stupid could one be?
Unfortunately the answer is pretty darn stupid and this stupidity is running the country at the moment. So I had to tell my new virtual reality friends that America is a complete mess with the stupid crowd running things at the moment. But being polite the only nodded their heads and responded with a word or two of agreement.
But back to bubbles. The Trump crowd is in the fetid pool of Fox News and they spread their idiocy on social media. The most vocal are the C and D students from high school. The things they post are often flagged as non-factual/partly-false information as they are not intelligent enough to see the truth. They are fed propaganda from Fox and enthusiastically spread a bunch of nonsense. You cannot reason with them as they are incapable of reason.
Conversely it is the smarter bunch, the more successful, those that are interested in learning that lean towards the Liberal side of many issues. This is all very plain to see from my very large group of friends. Those that never left their hometowns, that got C’s and D’s in high school are conservative. Those that did well, went to college or are just open to new ideas and ways of thinking are Liberal.
And isn’t that just it? Conservatives are those that want things to remain as they are for good or bad. These same Conservatives would have been against seat belts, against giving women the right to vote, and would have wanted to keep slavery in place. They want to keep what has has always been. Change and innovation are things that go against their “beliefs” and their beliefs are rooted in the past.
A Liberal is also known as a “Progressive” and what do we see in that word? We see “progress” and it is exactly what it is. Progressives are the ones realizing pollution is a problem, that perhaps maybe we shouldn’t be going to war all the time, that it is right to acknowledge injustice in society. Progressives are not afraid to inspect their own beliefs for the sake of improving or “progressing.”
On the overall Liberals are the ones who have a desire to go to other countries and learn about them if not absorb as much as they can. Conservatives are the ones who stay home and although sometimes, *sometimes,* foreigners are welcome, they are only welcome on the precondition that the foreigner adopts their ways of thinking and behaving. Why do you think so many Conservatives shout for foreigners to converse in English! It is the Conservative who advocates to make English the official language of the USA.
Any smart person would know that learning new languages would be a strength and improve the country. Hell, everyone should be sitting in a foreign language class or at least be open to learning the thoughts and ideas of other cultures. This would be progress! But alas, it is anathema to the Conservative. God, Family and Country is their rallying cry which in their minds just means keep things as they are: Christian, White and the Individual (family). A bit of foreign study is OK so long as you don’t lose your traditionally held beliefs.