The culture we are brought up in affects many aspects of our lives, including our view of the world, moral and ethical norms, ways of communication, and the social expectations of us. When we meet people from other cultures, we find a lot of differences between them and us; sometimes, these differences are so striking that they cause a culture shock, a term for the confusion and surprise resulting from seeing particular cultural aspects of other people’s lives. When I was at a summer camp several years ago, I became good friends with a girl from Kazakhstan, who invited me to visit her the following Easter. Due to the fact that she studied in the U. S., she was so well-accustomed to our culture that I barely noticed any differences between her cultural norms and mine. However, when I came to visit her country and meet her family, I experienced a culture shock because of the dramatic differences in the cultural norms, especially with regards to the value of the family.
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The main thing that surprised me was the number of people who gathered for a family dinner on the second night of our stay. In the U. S., a family dinner normally involves just the parents and their children. However, in Kazakhstan, there were a least 20 people who gathered at the table, including my friend’s parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, as well as other relatives. I knew that Kazakh society was very traditional, but still, I did not expect to see so many family members together at once. Only two or three people spoke English, so my friend had to translate the central conversation to me.
My friend explained to me that family is one of the core values in the Kazakh culture, which is why it is a norm to maintain a close connection with as many relatives as possible. I was surprised and even a little sad to hear that: in the U. S., children rarely remain close to their parents when they get older. As opposed to family and tradition, the American core values include freedom and independence, which is why there are special retirement homes for the elderly people to live in while their children are busy with studies, careers, and other things. Adults do not visit their parents very often, and there is usually some alienation that becomes more and more apparent as they get older. However, this was completely absent in my friend’s family: even though later during the dinner, the entire family split into small groups, each talking about a different thing or exchanging news, there was a sense of strong connection between all of the family members, which was something I have never seen in my culture.
Overall, being part of another culture for a few days allowed me to see that the cultural norms and values vary all over the world. Indeed, it was exciting to see so many people come together as a family; I could see that they were very happy to be with each other and that made me wish the American culture valued family relationships as much as the Kazakh culture did. My culture shock from visiting my friend’s family was thus entirely positive, making the overall experience of communicating with people from a different culture quite exciting.