An Awakening to Different Cultures

Growing up as an American teenager, it is sometimes easy to forget that everything does not start and stop in the United States. Different cultures in different parts of the world go about life in different ways, and after recently experiencing new places, I have realized that the American way is not always the only way.

My family and I recently took a trip to Barbados, and it became immediately evident that the Bajan culture was both ebullient and free of stress. This struck me as odd, because coming from America I had not seen so many people as relaxed and kind as the Bajans, and I began to wonder why this might be. I wondered how our cultures could be so different while having so many similarities. Language, government, educational system, and religion mirror one another. Of course, there are also many differences. Not only is the weather much warmer, the country much smaller, and the roads much narrower, but Barbados also is inhabited by people that look at life much differently. From the moment we arrived, we observed a culture that clearly emphasized a focus on enjoying life and getting the most out of every moment. Bajans are never rushed, they live with what they can create themselves and they accomplish everything with a joy that is infectious. But I must admit, that as an American it was sometimes frustrating that some simple requests could take a long time to be accomplished. After spending some time there, however, I became accustomed to it.
In contrast, Americans seem to always be in a hurry. “Success” and “achievement” in the United States are marked often by income and social status, and there is a negative stigma attached to people who are not always hurrying or pushing themselves to the maximum. Even I, a teenager from Kansas City, constantly feel pressure from my parents and coaches to always be working and getting better. After seeing a different culture up close, I realized that not all people live with these pressures.
Upon thinking about why people live with such contrasting conditions, I realized that their cultures allow for contrasting paces of life. Even with my travels to Italy, where my family traveled extensively last summer, it was apparent to me that a slower pace of life amounted to a less stressful one. At the dinner table in Italy, we were encouraged to stay for long hours and enjoy each other’s company whereas in America we often eat dinner quickly with no meaningful discussion. This is done so that we can move on to the next thing on our schedule as quickly as possible. It seemed to me that the sharing of time and food throughout Italy created a positive atmosphere, similar to the family time that was spent at the dinner table in America many years ago.
Although cultures affect levels of pace, they can also affect levels of productivity and achievement. Americans may constantly be under pressure, however we have become fastidious and achieved great levels of success through a constant willingness to work and achieve, even if it is at the expense of a faster pace of life. With the tenacious American pace of life, we have been able to defeat evil empires, go to the moon, innovate, make advances in medicine, and create our own form of democracy. This illustrates the good and bad of how culture can impact lifestyle.
I have been lucky to the have the opportunity to travel around the world, and with this, I have been able to witness the differences in cultures and how it affects the people in those areas. This perspective is valuable to me as a previously myopic American teenager. Now I am awakened to the benefits of a slower pace of life.





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