People are naturally grouped into larger communities which define their cultural features. Ethnography studies the peculiarities that form the social and psychological patterns of behavior in relation to ones ethnicity. Its methods allow creating frameworks that might be applied in describing different nations. As a result, scholars are able to generalize the problems in interracial and intercultural communication as well some common misunderstandings that might occur in multinational environment. This paper is a practical investigation which involves interviewing a person of a different ethnical identity with further analysis of the obtained data. Furthermore, it applies a social learning theory with the aim of tracing the aspects peculiar for the ethnical representation of the respondent. Additionally, it compares and contrasts the perception of ethnical identity by the interviewer and the interviewee.
Summary of the Interview
The interviewee who agreed to participate in the survey is my neighbor, an Asian woman of age 23 called Ai. She is an international student, who originally came from China. She identifies herself as Chinese; she also defines herself as an Asian woman. Ai has preserved the memories of her motherland as she moved to the US eight years ago. Ai clearly differentiates her ethnicity from Korean or Japanese. She can trace some cultural differences which distinguish these ethnicities one from another. Physical appearance and behavioral patterns are some of the vivid features that highlight the difference between the representatives of these cultures. Ai claims that Japanese people are more self-controlled than Chinese, whereas Koreans are more emotional. Similarly, she indicates that cultural presuppositions of these nations are different, which may be demonstrated by their traditional stories for children. She claims that Chinese stories accentuate on collective work and friendship while in Japanese narratives, the focus on self is present.
Ais family consists of her mother, father, and grandmother. The Chinese policy of allowing only one child for a family resulted in the fact that she has no brothers or sisters. The members of her family live in a rural area, and they are accustomed to the land and the farming business. This is the reason why the family has stronger national traditions than their counterparts from big cities. Every member of Ais family is a Chinese with a long family history. They are proud to be Chinese and identify themselves as the citizens of China and the patriots of their country. The members of Ais family represent a dynasty of farmers, which is a respectful occupation in rural areas.
Ais current community is multiracial and consists of the representatives of different ethnicities, such as Hispanic, Japanese, Caucasian, and African American. These are men and women of different ages; however, most of them are students who combine studies and work. They are mostly young and active, and easy to communicate with. On the other hand, in China, Ais community consisted of Chinese people, men and women of different ages, who were mostly workers and farmers. Thus, she got used to rural areas, which were typical of her neighborhood in China. As for geographic characteristics, Ai represents the Anhui Province, the Jixi County in particular. Rural areas there have big hills and rich forests as well as large fields for crops. The houses are mostly single and two stored with small gardens in the neighborhood. The representatives of the Chinese culture also bear some similar features in physical appearance; for example, men prefer shaving and do not have beards or moustaches, and females either have long hair but prefer keeping it under the hat or have short haircuts. Children in rural areas wear casual clothes made by their mothers. They usually play collective games on the streets or are busy with domestic or farmer work. The former Chinese community of Ai had bad access to technologies, only rich people had computers, and the Internet was accessible only in the cities.
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Some of the most important values of Ais culture are the dignity and the honor of the family. That is why she is always evaluating the possibility of losing the respect of the others. This issue is of a critical importance for her. Such behavior is typical for her Chinese counterparts and is respected by her Chinese neighbors. These values were taught to Ai by her parents as they provided an example of polite and respectful communication. The interviewee recognizes that this feature makes her different from the representatives of other cultures. Likewise, she identifies herself as more hard-working in comparison with her current neighbors of other ethnicities. Thus, Ai suggests that the peculiarities of her ethnicity are the amplified perception of family honor and being hard-working. She also states that some of the other factors that influence her cultural identity include social class and politics. Her parents are the members of the Communist party, which favors collective work and assistance to each other, which she regards as a feature of the Chinese nation. Ai is happy to be born in the family of farmers, which are close to land and the traditional Chinese culture.
Currently, Ai tries to stay in touch with her cultural community. She visits a literature club, where members share their interest in the Chinese literature and history. Additionally, she is planning to participate in performances which reenact different events from the history of China. Ai suggests that her attendance of the literature club supports her connection with her identity as she would not feel a Chinese without knowing the language of her parents. She is convinced that identifying oneself as a Chinese is impossible without being aware of the language and the history of the country.
Ai fails to recall any incidents involving prejudice based on ethnicity or racial discrimination. However, she has mentioned some incidents from the first years in high school when her classmates mocked her by imitating Chinese language. However, she assumes that such behavior was based on gender issues rather than ethnicity as the offenders were mostly males.
Ai considers that her thoughts about herself are not focused on her ethnical identity. She follows a life style that is typical for her current community, and her friends value her personal traits without any reference to her origin. That is why she has never really been focused on the issue of her ethnical identity. Thus, her recent and current day to day experiences have not been influenced much by her ethnical perception of self. However, in some situations, Ai has a stronger feeling of her identity, for example, when providing assistance to people who are learning Chinese. Since she is a native speaker, she feels a large benefit in giving knowledge to people in this domain. However, she has noticed that her ethnical identity has gradually undergone some changes due to American realities. The locals rarely surprise her with their cultural peculiarities as she is already aware of them. Now, Ais feelings about her ethnical identity are different from those she had when being an adolescent, when she clearly identified herself as a Chinese who had arrived to another country. That is why she is convinced that cultural assimilation gradually makes her an American despite her attempts to preserve her ethnic roots. Lastly, Ais past has become less influential regarding the construction of her current reality. The reason for this is that she got used to cultural multicultural environment and takes it for granted. Therefore, she accepts the gradual change of her ethnicity, which is shifting towards the American. She believes that this change is caused by the influence of her current community and the absence of Chinese culture in her daily life. Additionally, Ai believes that her past identity has made her unique disregarding the fact that she is becoming an American.
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Application of Theories and Concepts
The information that has been obtained during the interview must be analyzed from the strengths perspective in order to reveal a specific pattern of the development of ethnical identity. The analysis will be carried out within the framework of the social learning theory. The social learning theory suggests that learning occurs cognitively through imitation, and then is modified through the application of consequences (Huitt & Monetti, 2008). As it was mentioned above, Ai has been imitating the behavior of her parents as she followed the approach of supporting the dignity of the family in her deeds. Additionally, she had a tendency to consider herself a patriot because she missed her former community after she had come to the US. At the same time, the supporters of the social learning theory indicate that individuals are active participants in their own learning (Huitt & Monetti, 2008). This theoretical presumption finds its validation in the further behavior of Ai, which is characterized by the attachment to a local Chinese community in the US. Thus, she wanted to preserve her identity, and intuitively she found the way of supporting and developing her knowledge and skills in Chinese language and history. Ais further intentions to search for a possibility of participating in historical plays that reenact the events from the Chinese history indicate that she consciously supports the process of maintaining the Chinese identity. However, the current tendency in the development of her ethnical identity is that she has assimilated with the local cultural community. The factors that affect this process are called social variables. They reinforce a reciprocal relationship between the processes of cognition and the information obtained from the environment (Rosenthal & Zimmerman, 1978). This way, Ais environment has been full of the American realities, which were rejected by her at first. However, a gradual process of trial and error resulted in becoming aware of the vast majority of ethnical and cultural realities of her neighborhood. Therefore, Ais first mistakes forced her to learn the local cultural realities manually, which formed her cultural and ethnical competence in the US cultural environment.
Furthermore, one should indicate that the previously learned patterns of behavior restrained Ais social process of adaptation to the new cultural environment. She strongly perceived herself as a representative of different ethnicity, which resulted in her initial condition of being unadaptive (Savage, 2013). Thus, unconditioned phobia of a different society required procedures that could enhance the process of adaptation. It this sense, the Chinese literature club supported her psychological state, allowing her to preserve her ethnical identity during the process of adaptation. Gradually, her experience allowed her to differentiate the ethnical peculiarities of other community members. Likewise, her assistance to people,who were less skilled in Chinese allowed Ai to increase her self-esteem, which corrected her social behavior. Therefore, Ai manually corrected her process of social adaptation. On the one hand, she was preserving her Chinese identity by means of visiting the reading club. At the same time, her daily experiences forced her to grasp the aspects of local cultural and social realities. Consequently, her identity was formed by internal and external social pressures on cognition and socialization.
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When comparing my own experiences as well as the perception of ethnicity with the perception of the interviewee, I have identified several similarities. First of all, I am an international student and represent a cultural background different from that of the authentic US citizens. However, I do not feel such strong connection with my ethnical background as much as Ai does. Possibly, this is the manifestation of the fact that the Caucasian perceptions of the world and ethnos differ from the Asian ones. Moreover, I consider that other differences are minor and less important as the US is characterized by a rich and heterogeneous ethnical community. As for the possible misunderstandings with Ai, I infer that in case of team work, I would fail to understand the degree of Ais perception of hard work. For instance, she may not eat for a long time, or stay after the classes in order to learn new material. On the contrary, I respect my time and health and would not let such things happen with me. That is why I try to come from work earlier. I suppose this would be the only reason for a conflict in case such situation ever took place.
The interview enriched my knowledge of the phenomenon of ethnical identity as well as provided me with real-life examples of difficulties that might occur among the representatives of diverse ethnical communities. Additionally, it raised my understanding of the applicability of the theory of social learning as I have found the evidence for it from real life. Furthermore, the assignment has allowed me to account for the differences in cultural patterns of representatives of different ethnicities. At first, it was uncomfortable to ask the enlisted questions. However, the asked questions assisted me in deepening my personal knowledge of intercultural relationships. The revealed facts might be used by the employees of organizations which hire intercultural employees as well as help to avoid negative consequences of cultural and ethnical misunderstandings.
Having summarized the presented information, it is possible to conclude that the ethnical identity of a person has a significant influence on their social and cultural adaptation. The information obtained from the interview allowed revealing the fact that the representatives of different ethnical communities may have conflicts with the challenging ethnical environment. At the same time, the experiment demonstrated that the theoretical premises of the theory of social learning are correct. Along with them, the interviewee revealed the initiative and enforced ones adaptation to the new cultural realities. At the same time, this allowed her preserving her original perception of her ethnicity. However, in any case, the interviewee has adjusted to the surrounding community in the same way other ethnical groups do. The above findings might be useful for HR specialists who work in international organizations and multicultural environments. The realization of the revealed aspects would allow enhancing the process of social adaptation of international workers.
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