Two Cultures and One New Country

Moving across the Atlantic Ocean to teach English in a foreign country, I’ve been called a little crazy. But, as I like to tell others and to myself, life is just a bit more exciting and interesting when you’re a little daring or unconventional! I packed my belongings and left the United States in the middle of September, to move to and work in Spain as an Auxiliar de Conversacion (Language and Cultural Assistant) for one year.

Within the program, my main goal and priority is to speak with the students at my assigned school(s) in English, as much as possible. It is also a requirement that auxiliaries teach students about their American culture, life experiences, home life, classes, family, etc. What I didn’t realize would be so difficult for me, is that I was not raised in one culture, but in two. Being born to native Vietnamese parents, I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to be raised as a Vietnamese American. This lifestyle that I’ve grown up with has always been something I did not think twice about. Being raised in Virginia, where there are many different ethnicities in my hometown, my schools would consistently have “Culture Week” where we learned about different cultures in America.

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Explaining about America is easy; it is what I’ve learned in school for the past 16 years! I’ve learned all about “American” history, as recounted by the majority of white men, American customs, American food, etc. It is one of the cultures that I am proud to have been raised in. Aside from American culture, I’ve also been raised with Vietnamese culture. I’ve learned about Vietnamese history (there’s more than the Vietnam War!), Vietnamese customs, Vietnamese food, etc. When I need comfort food, I crave American staples as well as Vietnamese staples. Moving to Spain has made me much more aware of my heritage and background – in two different cultures.

The program calls for explaining your culture (American culture or British culture) so that the students have a better understanding of native speakers and their own backgrounds and what their lifestyles are like. From what I’ve seen so far, it is very important for the people of Spain to teach their children English so that they are able to have better jobs for their future. – ahem – the system is always at work!! What is difficult for me is how I want to share the other part of my heritage with the students and with the school. I am an American, yes, but I am also a Vietnamese American. I celebrate American holidays and Vietnamese holidays. My family eats “American” food as well as Vietnamese food. Who I am as a person, my customs, my values, are habits and learned tendencies from both of the cultures I’ve been raised in. I am planning on sharing my American culture with the school, as well as, my Vietnamese culture through out the year.

Let’s not forget about the extremely new culture that I am living in at this moment! The culture of Spain is vibrant and lively, welcoming, and relaxed. The past few weeks that I’ve been here, I am slowly beginning to adopt Spain’s customs, holidays, and food into my own lifestyle. More than just those three things, I’m immersing myself into the culture of the country – the way people dress, their language, and THEIR lifestyle. With my two cultures, American and Vietnamese, always playing a part in my habits, choices, and personality, I am now being influenced by the culture of Spain. This makes for interesting learning experiences, some awkward social situations, and many conversations with my roommates about the lifestyle of Americans and Spaniards.

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I don’t ever want to sound snobbish – but the reason why I love travel so much is not only for the wonderful places you get to see and the beautiful views, but the different people, perspectives, and personalities! I’m meeting others who are always adding to the reason why I love travel. I’m making connections and fostering relationships with different personalities or with people who share some of the same views as I do. It’s exhilarating, it’s exciting, and it is a big breath of fresh air (: Having two cultures to call my own allows me to share my own insights about life, food, etc – and learning about and living another culture makes my experience more unique to who I am and who I choose to be.

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4 thoughts on “Two Cultures and One New Country”

  1. I did a similar program in France and had a similar dilemma (I’m a Colombian immigrant to the US) but then I decided that exposing children to migrant cultures and communities within the US was an important part of American culture other teachers couldn’t give them. They actually responded really well to it and were interested to learn about both cultures so I’d say bring on your Vietnamese culture!

  2. Great to be part of your experience abroad through this post! As a whole-heart traveler, I’m always happy when others share their very unique experienes though.. 🙂

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