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A Customer's Story: My Cultural Journey

We love hearing personal stories about how the other culture, language, country changes us or makes us realize something about ourselves we have never thought about.

Here is a very personal post about a new "hybrid" value system that one of our customers had to construct for herself after her move to the US from Russia:

I moved to the United States of America in my early 20-s and have gone through a complicated and sometimes painful process of adjusting to the new culture, of forging a new identity. I was faced with the identity dilemma, with the question of “who am I?”

"(Culture) is a pattern of perceptions, values, attitudes, and behaviors that is accepted and expected by an identity group." M. Singer

I felt a very strong Russian identity and attachment to Russian culture on one hand and a strong desire to assimilate into mainstream American life, to get a feeling that I belong, on the other. At some point, I realized that I no longer had an identity or an image to fall back on, that identity was not solid, as I used to think.

The process of acquiring a “new me”, forced me to face new parts of myself that I’ve never seen before. Of course, there is a wealth of knowledge that comes from living through this, which I firmly believe people who haven’t done are oblivious to.

At the beginning of my ‘reconstructive’ journey, I felt a personal disorientation of myself, of my culture and my role in society. Culture is one of the most difficult concepts, and there are many different ways of defining it.

Defining my own cultural identity seemed quite difficult. There are two parameters which I believe to be very important in order to define your culture:

  • The country you live in, because your culture depends on what is happening around you.
  • The language through which thoughts, ideas and feelings are represented.

Another definition of culture is that “cultures are expressions of values”.

Defining your culture by your nationality seems a very official and not really useful definition. However, our values definitely define us.

I was raised in a traditional Russian family with Orthodox values and beliefs:

  • love for children,
  • respect for the old,
  • sense of humor,
  • importance of friendship,
  • generosity,
  • love of literature and arts,
  • self-sacrifice are among the values I cherish most of all.

Then I started to select from American culture and values what seemed the best to me:

  • friendliness,
  • independence,
  • respect for the law,
  • freedom,
  • entertainment
  • and happiness!

I applied my own background to construct a new kind of identity that was not bound by my own nationality, but was rather a mixture of the values. This personal breakthrough changed my whole perspective on life. I've developed the ‘hybrid’ identity that helped me gain self-confidence and enabled me to participate in society on my own terms.

With the shift in my value system, it became important for me to balance my original Russian values of togetherness and cooperation with American values of individualism and competition. I had to develop good listening skills to help myself adapt to diverse cultures and gain cultural intelligence. I wanted to match my innate strength, resiliency and endurance with the value of hard work and action. This process of combining values, of a personal change although hard, is very rewarding; not only it makes me more flexible and culturally sophisticated, it broadens my perspectives and understanding of the world.

I’m proud of who I am today, of the understanding of my own ‘self’,but I still believe that I’m not complete nor finished in my development. I often remind myself to remain objective and open-minded and to embrace diversity. Going through the cultural transition helped me develop a greater confidence and ability to navigate new situations and adapt my values and beliefs. It also led me to a renewed appreciation of my own culture.

-Author Irina Andreeva Adapted by Anna Watt

Category: Russian Holidays |
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