I really enjoyed having the opportunity to speak to a diverse panel of exchange students and hear their opinions on and reactions to the US. Each guest was interesting and inviting in her own way, and I really appreciated all the thought and personal reflection they put into their answers so that we could learn more about them and the country they’re from.
While there were many engaging ideas, one thing I found really interesting among the topics brought up was the discussion we had on personal space. First off, I never even thought about the idea of personal space and that people can have different levels of comfort with different amounts of personal space until it was put into words. However, once it was articulated by Emma, it made complete sense to me, and reminded me of a similar cultural experience my mom and I had. On a flight to Rome, a man sitting between us on the airplane had the opportunity to move to an aisle seat, thus giving all of us more room. He politely declined, which baffled myself and my mom. In hindsight, this makes perfect sense with what Emma was talking about, and this is something my mom and I experienced all across Europe during our time there. The other thing I thought was fascinating and challenging to my perceptions was the idea that a person can change their cultural norms and mannerisms, and then change back (ie come to America without a need for much personal space, become accustomed to it, and then go to China and experience “reverse culture shock”). I had always thought some of those things were ingrained in a person by their culture since birth, and it didn’t occur to me that a shift in a cultural behavior or expectation could take place. I think the reason this conversation stuck out to me was that even though I hadn’t thought of it prior to hearing it, the example of personal space made the most sense to me in illustrating cultural differences and the assimilation that can happen to those differences.
After reflecting more deeply on cultural diversity, I hope to be both more introspective and understanding of different views, beliefs, and mannerisms people have, no matter where I encounter them. As such, I hope I can be more aware of it I’m making another person uncomfortable, and be let another person know if they’re making me uncomfortable because of an underlying cultural difference. I also hope to learn as much as I can about these differences, not only because that builds empathy, but also to have an open mind to what I can adopt into my own “culture”, whether that is intentional or just by living there.