Interculturalism and expectations

Reflecting at the crossways between cultures

December 30, 2020 | Opinion | Volume 25 Issue 1
Mollee Moua | Special to Canadian Mennonite
Mollee Moua

Expectations. We all have them. We have expectations of others, and expectations placed upon us. Meeting expectations can be especially conflicting when navigating between different cultures.

I was born in Canada, where I have lived my whole life. I was also born to Hmong parents, so, consequently, I have been Hmong my whole life. Additionally, I grew up in a Mennonite church, attended a Mennonite high school and university, and now work for a Mennonite organization. Therefore, I also consider myself Mennonite. Wow, talk about embodying a mishmash of different cultures!

One definition that I found from the Spring Institute defines “intercultural” as “communities in which there is a deep understanding and respect for all cultures. Intercultural communication focuses on the mutual exchange of ideas and cultural norms, and the development of deep relationships.”

How do interculturalism and expectations intersect? One intersection lies at the crossways between our inherited culture and the western Canadian culture in which we live. For example, in the Asian culture there is preference for submission or obedience, a strong sense of group harmony and being reserved. Whereas the western Canadian culture encourages self-expression, equality, and telling the truth even in difficult situations.

What do we do when the different cultures we are a part of expect us to act differently? How do we respect both cultures?

Just like when we approach an intersection with caution while driving, we should also approach different cultural expectations with care. When we rush in too quickly, we can cause accidents—miscommunication leading to unnecessary conflict. For example, in a church council or board meeting, if a concern has not yet been raised, my Asian cultural preference would be to remain quiet and not voice my concern, whereas my western Canadian cultural side would encourage me to speak even if it might cause some debate. Before speaking or choosing what to do, I first need to consider a few things:

  • What is at stake? I need to decide if this is something that is worthwhile for me to address or if is this something that I can let go. I need to be wise in choosing my battles. Sometimes choosing to be silent, to keep the peace, can be beneficial, so I do not appear as a disruptive and disobedient person. This way, when I do voice a concern or issue, I am taken more seriously.
  • Who is present? Word choice is an important consideration when dealing with people from both the first and second generation. The way I would address and speak to those in the first generation is quite different from those I speak to in the second generation. My explanation might need to differ for those in the first generation because the ways they process and understand things are also quite different.

Being intercultural means respecting all cultures of all peoples of all ages. Developing deep understanding, respect and relationships with other cultures begins with accepting and figuring out our own cultural battles within ourselves. 

Mollee Moua provides support to the mission office of Mennonite Church Eastern Canada. She and her family live in Kitchener, Ont.

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Mollee Moua

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