Unique cultures mold expectations


Ji-Ho Lee

Art by Dzung Nguyen

Jalal El-Jayyousi was born in Kuwait and raised in a Palestinian Muslim culture. An emphasis on future economic success as well as geographic and historic awareness is evident in his own culture, one that has definite impacts on teenagers and high school students.

“My culture places a high value on family, deemphasizes individualism, and offers a strong support system,” El-Jayyousi, currently an environmental engineer, said. “While this provides resources for success and a safety net for teenagers and adults alike, it also places pressure on the individual to live up to family and society expectations and may limit the individual’s ability to explore opportunities and ideas that may appear foreign or not in the best interest of the family as a whole.”

The importance of culture is one that is recognized and appreciated by Lilia Ben Ayed, who teaches English Language Learning (ELL) classes, primarily composed on foreign exchange students.

“I think culture is everything. It pertains to behavior, the way we act and the way we live,” Ben Ayed said. “I have seven students and they come from seven different countries and I see their different behaviors. The way they sit, the way they interact with each other, you can see these actions are based on the values and cultures that they have.”

Common values go deeper than only stereotypes

Freshman Eric Kwon, though being born and raised in the geographic United States, was influenced as a child and teenager by Korean culture, which he says is defined by a “passionate drive for success.” He also recognizes the impacts and benefits of the responsibilities that have been placed on him and other high school students by the Korean culture.

“I think the drive of success brought me to a higher point than my friends and peers in my life,” Kwon said. “For most people, high school is the starting point of thinking of their future. But, you are responsible for your actions and your future, and that is what my culture implements into daily life. To succeed, you always have to find a way to be creative, wise and stand out to others in various ways. Having these concepts with me early on [from my culture] is what I think separates myself and my peers.”

Kwon particularly cites his difficult classes and his advanced time management skills and studying abilities as signals of his culture’s impact. These responsibilities that promote academic success feed into the common stereotype placed on Asian-Americans. Kwon acknowledges their existence, but individuals within cultures are unique from each other.

“I believe that this [stereotype] generalizes the many people that live in our community and world today. Every parent and student has their own goals for their future, and some just have higher expectations than others,” Kwon said. “I also think the stereotypes of my culture can affect a person in both a positive and negative way. If you are above the status quo, I believe that these stereotypes can help you seem better and smarter than others. But on the other hand, if you are not as successful in academics, then it can influence your impressions on others in a negative way, implying that you are not as intelligent as others.”

Placing certain cultures into a certain mold is not unfamiliar to the United States. A survey from Servelum cited that 86% of Americans believe stereotypes exist. These stereotypes, however, may be in some ways necessary.

“As a minority, you are likely to be at a disadvantage. As a result, working harder and excelling in school become more critical for your success, and may be your passport for social acceptance,” El-Jayyousi. “Having said that, I believe it is very important to offer teenagers ample opportunities for social engagement and extracurricular activities. Career and life success does not depend only on excellence in academics. Well-rounded individuals tend to be better equipped to handle life and career challenges.”

Heritage brings family life to the fore ground

Other cultures, meanwhile, place less emphasis on academic endeavors. Sophomore Valeria Velasquez finds that her Nicaraguan family places little responsibility on school work — an aspect of her culture that she disagrees with —.focusing on aspects outside of the classroom.

“Most of my culture centers around home life. My parents put an emphasis on family and the importance of me sticking to my Nicaraguan roots,” Velasquez said. “Overall, I feel like Hispanic culture has a big emphasis on politeness to parents and tight submission to parents commands and a lot of dedication towards housework and chores.”

El-Jayyousi also believes that family is an important aspect of his culture and a responsibility that is emphasized to students; it is also an aspect that is absent in American culture.

“[T]he family is central to social life in my culture. Maintaining strong family ties and fulfilling social obligations towards relatives can be a source of joy and support as well as a source of stress at times,” El-Jayyousi said. “This is an aspect that I find missing in American culture. In addition, I feel that peer pressure is more pronounced among American teenagers, placing a great strain on the mental health of non-conforming teenagers.”

The PewResearchCenter contested that the lack of familial focus in American culture was a result of fewer two-parent families; however, that absence may be made up for by the emphasis on extracurricular activities, a generally insignificant aspect of El-Jayyousi’s culture.

“What [my culture] lacked … were opportunities for meaningful extracurricular activities and hands on learning opportunities — a hallmark of American culture in my opinion and a key factor in America’s success,” El-Jayyousi said. “Extracurricular activities tend also to provide opportunities for social interaction in a structured and healthy environment.”

While Velasquez believes her culture neither supports nor disapproves of extracurriculars, an impactful strictness may be placed on the social life of teens, as Counseling Latinos and La Familia, a parenting guide for Hispanic parents, cited “control, high level of supervision, and strict standards” as the three primary characteristics of parenthood.

“I know plenty of girls my age who aren’t allowed to even go to movies with their friends or have to tell their parents the smallest of details about who they’re hanging out with. American culture, due to its striking emphasis on individuality, seems to put importance on the social experimentation of young people,” Velasquez said. “American parents, from my distinct perspective, seem to give their children more freedom. While I don’t judge, there have been plenty of times where people tell me about things they did over the weekend and I find myself thinking that my parents would never ever let me do what they did. Sometimes this hits me with jealousy, as I am stuck in a culture that tends to give its children lots of social freedom, with hispanic parents who think otherwise.”

Understanding, appreciation brings acceptance of different customs

Some students may look at the different responsibilities placed by cultures and become judgmental or critical. Ben Ayed encourages students to learn about the different impacts that are placed on students.

“A lot of people do not know about cultures, and are not open, or do not even have the chance to understand different cultures,” Ben Ayed said. “Sometimes you see things on television or in the media and people can assume things … I encourage everyone to open up to the body of the students [at RBHS]. Come meet our students. Open up more, learn about countries, read, ask questions and participate in school cultural events.”

While these global cultures may be unfamiliar to some students and citizens, emphasizing different aspects and placing unique responsibilities on teenagers and high schoolers, El-Jayyousi believes that criticism or judgment directed towards these cultures is incorrect.

“I do not believe it is right to judge a culture, as a whole, of being right or wrong,” El-Jayyousi said. “Every culture is a product of its own unique environment and collective memory. Accordingly, what is right for one culture may not necessarily be right for another.”

What has impacted your responsibilities? Leave a comment below.