How My Life Is Affected by Cultural Differences Essay Example
“You’re Asian, so you must know kung-fu” a white child at my middle school said to me while smirking to his friend. Ironically enough, I did have a martial arts background. However, the phrase still occasionally echoes in my head; of course, it only humors me now, but back then I was very confused on why this boy asked me. I was a very naive boy that had not yet been exposed to reality. The reality is that it is very difficult being different. There were countless times when I felt pressured, even in elementary school. At lunch, all the kids would either bring their own or buy lunch. But the only difference was that their lunch was of the American culture. My mom constantly packed either fried rice or noodles in a thermos. I remember sitting with my friends and eating in secret, trying to hide what I was eating due to the sole reason that I was afraid that I would be judged. The times where I had been caught, the faces they gave me made my face flushed with embarrassment.
How other people experience this
I am not the only one to experience this. Parker from The Karate Kid (2010) had to experience something like this manner, except his was to a much higher degree of pain. In his case it was the opposite of mine, he was an American surrounded with Chinese culture. Parker like me was surrounded by an alien environment. The funny thing is that Parker took a path very similar to mine. Both of us took some type of martial arts. He took up kung-fu and I took up kick-boxing. In both cases our confidence increased drastically. The difference was that my martial arts is more modern than Parker’s old martial arts, so that is what creates the slight difference in our personalities. Kung-fu has a history of more than thousands of years, while kick-boxing is only about a century old. Back then, people were really focused on the arts, and it was like a journey of the self when learning kung-fu. I learned kick-boxing just for self-defense and confidence. In “The Social-Psychological Outcomes of Martial Arts Practise Among Youth”, Jikkemien Vertonghen and Marc Theeboom write, “His findings revealed that practitioners of traditional martial arts emphasize more humility and report more overall levels of hope compared to those involved in modern martial arts ”(530). Parker’s confidence level far surpasses mine, as he even had the courage to attend a kung-fu tournament knowing that he had a late start in kung-fu. The reason he participated in the tournament was to show that even an American boy can survive in this alien country. He adopted kung-fu to have something in common to the people around him. It was to fit into the society better, as it is not pleasant being completely different from a society. No one wants to stick out like a sore thumb, especially if it is in a completely new area with strangers.
What I feel
Sometimes I felt that I didn’t belong into the society, just as Kevin Wong said in “Transformation of Culture: Three Chinese Views of America”, “American’s when walking in group, are orderly like geese, but the Chinese are scattered like ducks (Wong 217)”. The difference in cultures was so overwhelming that it was terrifying to show my own culture. However, in the movie, Parker was not afraid to show the American culture. In the movie, the Cheng and his group of friends seemed really disorganized. For example, When Mr. Han saved Parker from the bullies, it only took one of the bullies to be beat up to put worry in the eyes of the rest. Parker throughout the movie didn’t really have a group he consistently hung out with, rather it was just one American named Harry who would occasionally encourage and help Parker when faced with adversities. Once I started middle school, I became a lot more comfortable being in my own skin. I am less afraid to show my culture to everyone. One of the reasons that I may have become more comfortable, would be that I took up martial arts upon the request of my father. I was hesitant for the first few lessons, but as I continued going to my Korean kickboxing classes, I started feeling more confident. I was also playing soccer at the same time, but it produced less confidence than when I did kickboxing and soccer at the same time. “Results indicated that the personal growth and self-acceptance scores of taekwondo- in were significantly higher than those of the hockey players and the non-sport group” (Vertonghen & Theeboom 531). So when an athlete just did hockey, he/she did not have as much confidence as an athlete practicing martial arts. The fear of being judged is something that is very common in teenagers and young adults. Teenagers are more self-conscious of themselves, of what other think, so the sense of acceptance is something that trends widely in these age groups. Joanna Cannon, a doctor working in the psychiatry field stated in “Psychology Today”, “As a society, we struggle to deal with the unusual and the unknown. We choose the ordinary over the extraordinary. In the quest for familiarity and reassurance, we reject those who highlight our differences” (1). Everyone in our society have once thought, “Why is he/she wearing that?” or “Why are they doing that?” at some point in time because their actions or clothes are not of the norm. The reason we have these thoughts is because of our comfort zone, so many people are afraid to step out of it. Parker had no say in moving to a different country, so he had no choice in stepping out of his comfort zone. However, Parker took the chance to display his American culture, by participating in the kung-fu tournament. It was out of the ordinary for a black child to partake in a kung-fu tournament in China. Parker chose to step out of his comfort zone even more, by participating in the tournament. It was also a declaration that even if everything is unknown, you can still be a part of society if there is just one single connection. Many of us are afraid to be different, we would rather be followers than leaders when it comes to society.
There are social norms in society whether you want it or not. In The Karate Kid (2010) Dre Parker is a black child living in China. When most people see him, they would not expect Parker to be trained in martial arts, especially not kung-fu. However, when we look at an Asian, we would not be surprised if he/she knows some sort of martial arts. Culture is a big factor in why we think this way. Just as portrayed in the movie, the American culture that Parker hung onto was very different than the Chinese culture shown around him. For example, dread locks are popular in American culture but is unprecedented in Chinese culture. This relates to martial arts, because in American culture it would be somewhat of a surprise to see a white man trained in kung-fu and likewise it would be surprising to see an Asian trained in wrestling or boxing. It may sound like a hoax, but it is the truth, there is not one moment when our brain stops labeling people. For example, when some see homeless people they may think, “Why doesn’t he get a job?”. However, that homeless person may have already applied to many jobs but have gotten rejected due his/her appearance. Of course, I’m only speaking hypothetically, hopefully not many people think like this.
Cheng, Parker’s antagonist for the movie harassed Parker throughout the entirety of the movie, only at the end after Parker beat him at the kung-fu competition is when he finally gave Parker a little bit of respect. In “Understanding the Psychology of Bullying” by Susan M. Swearer and Shelley Hymel, it says, “Bullying and victimization are more likely in classrooms characterized by peer norms that support bullying” (346). So, when Cheng started bullying Parker everyone around him started joining him. Cheng initiated the bullying, everyone else just followed. From the same article it states, “Bystanders, however, often respond in ways that encourage rather than discourage bullying” (Swearer & Hymel 346). In this case they joined in the bullying. This is where peer pressure played a big role in this movie, everyone started bullying Parker to fit in. There were times that you saw that they were hesitant on harassing Parker. For example, the person who injured Parker’s knee in the semi-finals of the king-fu tournament was hesitant when he was told to injure it. However, at the end he still injured Parker’s knee despite his earlier hesitation. He did it to ensure the win for Cheng, although this backfires on him, as a new fire lit inside of Parker that led to the defeat of Cheng.
Although it is not mentioned much in society, peer pressure is one of the biggest factors affecting lives of teenagers and young adults. At this age, many people start trying to discover who they are and obtain their own identity. But in order to do that, they want to be accepted by their peers first, as Liping Sun in “Parental Psychological Control and Peer Victimization…” states, “To obtain peers’ acceptance and gain a sense of belonging, adolescents are pressured to behave in accordance with the norms of the peer group” (3279). This sense of belonging is present in anyone, it’s just at this age is when it is more prominent. Therefore, when Cheng started the bullying, everyone else started joining in to “fit in”. We all want a feeling of belonging somewhere, it is a characteristic of being a human. Over the thousands of years humans have existed, the only reason we have survived is by being social. Aristotle recites,
“Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god.” (Aristotle 1253 A)
If you aren’t social, you are not considered human is the idea that is given from this statement. This is where peer pressure comes into play. There are many people that feel a need to be accepted by others in order to be a part of society. That is why so many succumb to peer pressure, because they fear that they will be rejected from the group.
Chinese and American cultures
We as humans are social creatures by nature, but the only problem is that fitting in can be extremely difficult. For example, for me it was the cultural differences between Chinese and American that made it difficult to fit in. The differences were far too great at the beginning, as a result I had less friends in elementary school, especially since there was a language barrier between everyone around me. It took me six years of ESL (English as Second Language) to somewhat understand English, even now I am by no means great at it. In The Karate Kid (2010), Parker also experienced something similar, however it was slightly better, as many countries nowadays are teaching English to their students. Although there was no language barrier, he was still a target for Cheng due to his differences. This didn’t stop Parker, rather it was for the better because it encouraged him to keep practicing kung-fu. There are many movies that have the protagonist start off with getting bullied, but have the protagonist triumphing over the bully at the end. For example, there is Cobra Kai or Never Back Down. In all the movies that follow the storyline, where the protagonist gets bullied, trains to become better, and gets revenge on the bully, there is a similar trend. They all accept themselves for who they are through whatever martial arts they take. Sadly, not many people learn to accept themselves, as stated “We spend our lives attempting to disguise it, but if you scratch the surface of most sheep, you may well find yourself a goat” (Cannon 1). The amount of people that hide their true feelings or personalities just to be a part of a group is too great. Those that choose to be different like Parker are the ones who are the leaders. It takes nothing to be a part of a group, but it takes everything to be different. Parker broke through his generic American stereotype and challenged himself to understand the culture better as well as fit into the culture. Kung-fu has been around for thousands of years, so its roots in the Chinese are very deep, so it was a great connection to the culture around him.
Parker learned to accept himself for who he is, just as I learned to accept myself for who I am. Although it may take some more time for me to accept myself as much as Parker, I will eventually get there. Is there really a reason to be a part of a group and not be your true self? In a “Reference for Professionals: Developing Adolescents” by the American Psychological Association, it says “They may suffer from social discrimination, particularly from their peers, which can contribute to feelings of depression or low self-esteem.” Peers affect a teenager’s life very heavily, so if one is criticized by a peer, they will hold it to heart. Peers that criticize you means that you are surrounded by the wrong people. However, if you act your true self, there will be people that will gather for just your true self and nothing else. They are the ones that you can call real friends. Like Parker, He learned to accept himself for who he is through kung-fu. It became his passion and source of confidence, transforming him from a secure little boy to a boy oozing with confidence. By achieving this he got himself a girlfriend and a true friend that stuck with him throughout the movie. In “The Path to Unconditional Self-Acceptance” Leon Seltzer a clinical psychologist stated, “And it's precisely because self-acceptance involves far more than self-esteem that I see it as crucial to our happiness and state of well-being” (1). Although being a part of society is important, being yourself is equally as important.
It has taken me many years to get used to the American culture. All my life before starting school I had been living in Chinatowns, the China town in Brooklyn and the one in Cleveland. With no experience of the American culture, it was overwhelming once it was first shown to me. I had next to no friends in elementary mainly due to the language barrier and was deathly afraid to display my culture in front of people. Through martial arts like Parker, I gained confidence and was not as afraid to display my culture. The fear of displaying my culture however was still prevalent just not as intense as when I was in elementary school. Many people to conform to the social norm, I am also in that boat for most of the time. However, I am slowly starting to understand that you must act true to yourself in order to live in life. To be the best version of yourself you must trust your heart and be fearless of others opinion. If you do that, a crowd will gradually gather around you for your true self, and you will find a place that you fit into perfectly.