Essay on How Does Culture Affect Our Lives
My mother’s parents migrated to Australia from Chile in 1989, both of Chilean descent they were the first to migrate to a foreign country that spoke a completely different language than what they were accustomed to. In 1992 my parents followed coming to Australia with my two older brothers aged three and five at the time. They had minimal knowledge of the country they were migrating to and no English whatsoever. For them, life was hard, and making the decision to migrate to a foreign country was definitely one that changed my family forever.
A couple of years later in 1997, I was born in Sydney Australia. I was the first Australian-born child in my immediate family. Growing up I had a combination of South American and Australian cultural upbringings and influences. According to my mother, Spanish was my first spoken language as my parents spoke minimal amounts of English and often communicated with me in Spanish. However, English was still largely spoken within my extended family as many of them migrated to Australia at a young age and they were able to learn and practice their English in school. For this reason, I have no recollection of learning either language. I believe that my exposure to the English and Spanish language and culture was equal as within my immediate family I often spoke and responded to them in Spanish however, with my extended family and in school, I would only speak English. I do feel very fortunate to be able to speak two languages as it allows me to communicate with two different cultures but can also act as a bridge that connects two communities.
The first time I went to Chile was when I was only three years old. My family and I try to visit Chile at least once every four years. I absolutely love visiting Chile as I am able to completely immerse myself in the country, culture, and people. For a while, in my life, I was very confused in terms of determining which culture I belonged to. When I would be in Australia and someone would ask me “where are you from” my initial response would be that I am South American/Chilean when I would respond by saying that I was Australian people would often be confused due to my physical appearance, on the contrary when I was in Chile my response would be completely reverse and I would often tell people I was Australian as they could pick up on my accent when I spoke Spanish. This was confusing to me at times as I felt as though I needed to conform to one group at a time depending on who I was with. At this stage of my life, I would refer to myself as being bicultural, that is identifying my attitudes, customs, and beliefs as a result of a combination of two cultures, more often than not individuals that identify themselves as being bicultural will act according to which cultural identity is appropriate at the time. As discussed by Byram (2006), being bicultural is not the same as acting interculturally, acting interculturally is the ability to act as a mediator between cultures, where the individual is able to see and explain the relationship between each culture, therefore rather than changing attitudes to fit one certain group or society a mediator otherwise known as an intercultural being is able to mediate between the two groups and cultures and does not fix their attitude to suit only one type of group.
Growing up in Western Sydney where a large population of people from all over the world has migrated, I was fortunate enough to attend a school that had a large multicultural community. As a result, my primary school offered various community language programs to all students including, Vietnamese, Assyrian, Arabic, Spanish, and Khmer, this was extremely beneficial to all students both native, English as an Additional language or dialect, and non-native speakers. Providing students with the opportunity to engage with other languages and cultures. This permits students to gain the competence to develop communication skills, learn about languages as systems and explore the relationship between language and culture. Students engage with the linguistic and cultural diversity of societies and reflect on their understanding of social interactions. I do believe that having the opportunity to further improve and practice my language and learning skills through Spanish class has played a major role in the reason I want to become a language teacher today. As I was viewed as a native speaker due to my fluency and knowledge, my teacher would often call me upon the class to act as her assistant, some examples of the things she would ask me to do was share my own experiences and help others in the class. I would love to be able to share my own experiences and culture with my peers and friends as I felt as though both my worlds (Australian and Chilean culture) were colliding and creating an environment where both cultures worked together to understand one another.
As the years went by, I continued practicing my language skills throughout high school and university. The biggest realization of my passion for culture came to me during my university studies. When I was younger, I recall my parents and grandparents sharing stories of their lives growing up in Chile. I would always love hearing and learning about the Chilean culture as my family are extremely passionate about it and has never shied away from it. A perfect example of this is how every year on September 18th without fail our family celebrates Chilean Independence Day. As a child, this day was all about food, family, and dancing. However as previously mentioned at the time these were ‘stories’ for me and it was difficult to put myself in their shoes. However, it wasn’t until I began my studies of Spanish and Latin American culture at university that I truly began to learn about the meanings behind the celebrations, the history, my culture, and our beliefs and values. This was so interesting for me as it helped me realize how history has shaped our culture to the way it is now, how our language has changed and developed over time and the impact this has had on the people. As I got older and the more times, I traveled to Chile the more I began to put the stories told by my parents and grandparents into perspective.
In the wake of this realization, my love and passion for culture have grown immensely and I am not just simply referring to my own culture but to the different cultures around the world. As I get older, I have had the opportunity to travel to many different places around the world, this has allowed me to expand my knowledge of the different and distinct countries, culture, and people. I find myself sharing my own experiences with those from different cultures and paths of life but also putting myself in their perspective and immersing myself in their culture. As previously mentioned prior to this realization I often found myself trying to fit in with one identity whether that be Chilean or Australian this would result in me perceiving myself through a single identity rather than multiple identities. However, I have soon come to realize that rather than identifying myself to a single ascribed identity I view myself as a mediator of two distinct identities, a mediator that acknowledges and respects both cultures but is aware that the is more to be known and understood from each culture.
It is a great way of gaining insight into another person’s culture, exchanging cultural similarities and differences, and developing your relationships as an intercultural being. I believe that through my love for culture and my experiences I will be able to share my passion and knowledge with my students so that they are able to use these skills to immerse themselves in their own culture and others around them. As discussed by Bryan language teaching should aim at developing learners as intercultural speakers or mediators this is referring to the ability to engage and exchange with other individuals from other cultures and not simply
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