Staying Rooted: The Learning Experience of Remembering Home

In the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, one student reflects on how studying in America has changed her perspectives on cultural norms in her home country.

Culture shock is not a novel or unexplored topic in the experience of international students. Yet as much as we’ve discussed how to integrate American ideologies, norms, and customs into new, emerging understandings of culture, what’s often forgotten is the resulting struggle of trying to remember and respect the traditions and values of home. Especially at a university like Brown, where fundamental American ideologies like free speech, equality, and self-determination are discussed, defended, and fought for each day, it’s easy to forget why in my own culture, some of those values may be viewed differently. But I’ve learned, as I’ve recently been flipping through images of Typhoon Haiyan, that adopting the ideas of a new culture should never mean the loss of those of your own.

My past three months in college have been a life-changing experience, just as I had expected. When I decided to go to Brown, I knew that the culture and ideologies of the school would lead me to become more driven, vocal, and opinionated on all that I found important. After all, Brown is known for encouraging its students to take hold of their path in life, determine their own future, and carve their own niche in society. So I’ve found myself criticizing my own country more, commenting on its growth, ideologies, policies, social organization, and its overall state. With my home country being the Philippines, it’s safe to say that I had a lot to say. And as I grew more knowledgeable, I only found even more criticisms to make. Never in my past did I ever have so much to say and, more important, so much to say with unwavering passion and force.

Yet, in light of recent events, with particular emphasis on Typhoon Haiyan, I’ve begun to wonder how much of that change is growth and how much of it is the mere replacement of values, beliefs, and perspectives that I should never have lost in the first place. Looking through photographs of the destruction and finding men in charge of rescue and relief activities with women often absent to help, I immediately criticized the unequal opportunity, or perhaps unequal motivation, between the two genders. I did not appreciate the gender norms that, longstanding, have been the motivation behind the tight-knit families of the Philippines, the foundation for the cohesion and strength of the most basic unit of familial life. I look at images of rescue units blessing new rubber boats and instantly view it as a waste of time, not even considering the fact that Catholic faith has been the very essence of hope for many, many generations, or that such a simple action could, for some, be the most spiritually (and it’s crucial to note that I do not mean “religiously”) important.

Remembering and respecting your own culture is more than the joining of the cultural club affiliated with your part of the globe. It’s more than the sharing of your perspective with others or the celebration of diversity and the understanding of contradicting perspectives. It’s the acceptance that, no matter how many faults there are behind common social behaviors, norms, political policies, social organization, values, beliefs, and traditions, there is at least one reason why someone would fight for that idea or concept and why it has persisted today. It’s the appreciation for the wrong and the pride in the right. It’s the love for who you are, who you’re becoming, and who you and your country have been before.

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