Cultural Crossroads

By Dan Lonigro | Posted on 05.04.2011 | 0 comments

One of my participants today brought up the subject of working with individuals from cultures different from our own. One client he supports appeared to be withdrawn and not very willing to participate in the facility’s programs. One can see how this might cause a bit of consternation and/or frustration among staff. It wasn’t until he met his client’s parents that he understood. His client’s behaviors reflected those of her parents, giving credence to the phrase “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”


His story reminded me of my own children. I met my wife in Saigon and knew from the day I met her that I would be staying. Our firstborn was “made in Vietnam,” and, while in Mommy’s belly, consumed quite a bit of authentic Vietnamese food. Everything he experienced while we were waiting for him to be born was Vietnamese. The sounds, the language, the tastes, and the rhythms of life were pure Mekong Delta. He was born on May 12 in a hospital known to the locals as the “baby factory.” His first three months of life, before we moved to America, were utterly and completely influenced by Vietnamese culture.


My daughter, on the other hand, was born 15 months after we moved to America. She has been red, white, and blue since day one. While my son is the child of Vietnamese culture, my daughter is the child of American culture. I see this difference in my kids every day. I see that my son can be very reserved, quiet, and sometimes simply unresponsive. My daughter is just the opposite. While my son is the librarian, my daughter is the cheerleader. While my son’s behavior reflects my wife’s, my daughter’s behavior reflects my own. As different as they are, I have never seen a brother and sister so close.


My wife and I don’t play favorites, and rules apply no matter who’s breaking them. Yet, we have had to accommodate for the differences in our children. We know that when our son is asked a question, he may take a long time before he responds. On the other hand, my daughter will anticipate the question and respond before we even ask.


Who are you working with and where are they from? What is their culture and what have they done? Our expectations are sometimes unrealistic given the makeup of the person in our care. On a personal note, I struggled with my son being so quiet at times, especially when I needed answers. Taking a moment to realize that his behavior was perhaps influenced in ways that were cultural helped me develop more patience. Is the behavior you find so perplexing in your care receivers and students a result of a Precipitating Factor, or simply the result of the cultural fiber of that person? Can you accommodate for these cultural differences without jeopardizing your role as a caregiver? After all, when crossing over the cultural divide, we should make an attempt to meet people halfway.


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