One thing I love about living in another country is that every day is full of adventure. Not only is it fascinating to travel to new and exotic places, but every bus ride, every afternoon stroll, and every interaction is also an opportunity to learn new and fascinating things about Spanish language and culture. For instance, simply by riding the bus to the university—and public transportation is an adventure in and of itself, as my friend Lisa will tell you—I’ve had the opportunity to get to know friends from countries as diverse as Japan, Italy, Turkey, and Germany. Hearing about life in all of these different countries from people who are my own age and who don’t look much different from the typical American college student (hehe, perhaps I naively thought, before arriving in Spain, that students from other countries would be easily distinguishable from American students) has been such an interesting and unique experience.
I’ve learned, for example, that the Japanese (at least in the city which several of my friends call home) typically eat rice three times a day. And breakfast? That would be one bowl of white rice, coming right up. On a more serious note, a Japanese friend and I had a thought-provoking discussion during class one day when she explained that, in contrast to Spain (where demonstrations are fairly common) in Japan, no one would want to go on strike or to hold a demonstration. Absolutely befuddled by this remark, I asked my friend why, if some injustice were being perpetuated or some corrupt system were causing hardship, people wouldn’t want to respond in vocal opposition. In an equally quizzical tone, she answered that the Japanese try to do what is best for the community as a whole—which doesn’t include holding demonstrations. Further perplexed by this remark (which, granted, was likely in a highly-simplified form due to the challenge of discussing the politics of her co
untry in a language not her own), I then asked how people could be content to simply sit back and to not defend their freedoms. She seemed to find this question as strange as the first, and shortly thereafter, we returned to studying more modest grammatical concepts.
Nevertheless, this exchange, and others like it, has made me aware of how uniquely American (in the USA-American sense of the word) my mindset and presuppositions are. That particular conversation, for one, both made me thankful for my heritage—after all, active citizenship is vital to the preservation of liberty—and prompted me to re-examine some of my presuppositions. If my friend’s statements were accurate, perhaps the Japanese generally have a better understanding of what it means to live in community, as opposed to the oft-rabid individualism we Americans tend to applaud and embrace? Since a few personal interactions are hardly statistically-sufficient grounds for making generalizations about entire cultures, I don’t claim know whether this is actually the case. But at any rate, I certainly am learning some interesting things about other cultures directly from the source. In the end, though, getting to know people from all over the world has impressed upon me one
reality in particular, which is this: although every culture is different, and has its own unique traits, we’re all remarkably similar as human beings. And I don’t say that as some watered-down reflection of the polytheistic, pantheistic, tolerance-revering mindset so prevalent in our world. Rather, I think that the image of God in humanity is far clearer and more universal than the more secondary cultural differences among us.