It takes traveling and exposure to different people to truly and respectfully understand how culture shapes each one of us. Some ideas I had and shared with other Brazilians about Americans were proved wrong since I moved here, while others weren’t. I realize they are, now, reflections of what I have experienced of their culture and history, instead of shallow assumptions based on stereotypes.
Even though I come from a Western culture largely influenced by the United States, I can still constantly and clearly see the contrast between how Brazilians act and perceive things versus how Americans do.
First and foremost, the aspect I’m most fascinated about when it comes to culture is language and how it influences the way we act, think, and even how we are seen by others.
Before moving to the United States, for example, I had this idea (which a lot of people back in Brazil and probably other countries) have, that Americans are cold and really straightforward. I never really understood the roots of this concept until I had a deeper contact with the language. English is so much more objective and straightforward when compared to Portuguese that every time we translate something, words are missed, sentences are shortened, and passionate adjectives and nouns are considered useless and redundant. Brazilians like loaded and poetic sentences, we are fond of choosing rich words, fancy vocabulary. Americans like it to be clear, simple and concise.
We don’t even notice how it can impact our lives, but communication is an essential window to the world. The ability to express your thoughts pretty much sums what you are and what you think.
For instance, in Portuguese, we have a word for the feeling of missing someone or something, “saudade”, which is just like happiness or sadness. The fact that there is no word for it in English makes me think of how language can influence different approaches to life depending on what it is able to express and how it also impacts our impressions of other people.
Another thing that only made sense to me once I got here was the concept of fraternities and sororities. When I saw references of this type of social interaction, I really couldn’t relate to it. We don’t have anything similar in Brazil, mainly because our educational system is different.
In most colleges and universities there, you don’t get to choose what classes and professors you want, and you must declare your major before starting classes. If you are a Psychology major, you will follow the university’s schedule for that and you will study only with Psychology students. As a result, four years later, people graduate with their freshman year classmates.
So, making friends and having conversation topics and interests in common is easier. There is no need to look for it in clubs or organizations. In one way or another, everybody ends up knowing each other’s names.
It is funny to see concepts that people take as natural in one part of the world, while in other societies they are not even applied. It is crazy to realize that countries can be really close geographically and, at the same time, have completely different mindsets. Which is totally okay. That should be respected and admired.
All the great and diverse cultural riches we have in the world is what motivated me to become an international student in the first place. Thinking about the differences makes me realize there is no right answer to how people should live. There are different ways to do it, you can either choose to open your mind and learn how to look at the world from different perspectives or just keep looking at it the way you have always done.
Written by Claudia Molina, editted by Lauren JurczyszynHow America’s Culture Surprised Me