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Cultural differences: Ripples that affect us on various levels-

Updated on January 26, 2011

Cultural Differences: Ripples that affect us on Various Levels

English 203

Final Draft of Essay One

American University of Beirut

Friday, January 21, 2010



-The effect of cultural differences on a person’s life

-The ripples and consequences resulting from cultural differences

-Thesis: Cultural differences affect a person on various levels (self-esteem and motivations to excel and study)

Body Paragraphs

1- Effect of cultural differences on a person’s self-esteem and confidence

2- Support using Judith Cofer’s text The Myth of the Latin Woman: I Just Met a Girl Named Maria

3- Personal observation how people I know relate to dealing with cultural obstacles

4- Effects of cultural variance on educational performance


-Cultural differences are like ripples in stagnant water

- Ripples may have negative effects like a devastating wave

- may add beauty and diversity to human life like a gentle tide.

- A person has to stand up to these challenges

- gain the best out of them and leave out all the rest,

We are born into a world where we are occasionally required to present a metaphoric patent of nobility for having pure pedigree before we are alleged to receive a normal reaction from the society. The society reserves the right to prejudice as long as it does not say it straight, but the judgment is there and we, those who can’t present mentioned pedigree feel the judgment. We meet, interact with people and are forced to cut our way through this jungle of civilization using our teeth searching for a home to claim as our own unaware of the cultural differences that separate us from people. Some of us are lucky enough to find that place they can claim as their own. Many others, not as lucky have to endure these merciless autocrats who silently oppose our fundamental desire to belong. Instead, they alienate us from the rest of the world, and make us feel shameful for having a mixed identity, forcing us to be “cultural schizophrenics” who talk about loss of identity and the growing feeling of abandonment and loneliness.

In many cases, victims of cultural clash end up just living their lives on the sidelines. In this article, I discuss the consequences cultural differences inflict on a person’s self-esteem, personality, as well as motives. Can these consequences have a positive and desirable effect on one person living “on the edge of the cultural gap” trying to fit in?

“The multicultural environment has a powerful influence on building up or tearing down self- esteem” Battle (1991). When you travel abroad to a country in a different region the cultural differences are quite noticeable and the cultural rules seem clear cut. Interacting with citizens of different ethnicities, customs, and cultural traits, leaves no doubt to the fact that a person’s self-esteem is mainly affected by such factors. If these encounters are memorable and carry along within them a positive reaction they boost up a person’s self-confidence and urge him to interact more with people. Whereas, a reaction that contains rejection and mockery hurts self-esteem especially at sensitive ages and may cause personality defects. For example, Judith Ortiz, a Latina girl living in the United States of America has faced what she calls “cultural schizophrenia” (Cofer1993) . Cofer had to struggle with the differences between the Latin and American culture. And on many cases she felt alone, just like an Alcatraz undesirable. Hence, a young child she has lived on what Maalouf calls the “cross roads” due to the cultural differences that set her apart from other Americans.

Another fine example on how cultural differences affect one’s life is presented in one of my closest friends living in the gulf. As a person with dual identity, he had to deal with a range of conflicting cultural traits. Yet, living in the Arab world means that he too acquires some traits from the Arab culture. In other words, what may seem acceptable in the far-Eastern culture may appear to be a taboo in the Muslim Kuwaiti Culture like physical contact with women and drinking in public. On second thought, this makes Maalouf’s explaining of his identity sound really simple!

It is not easy to explain to people in general a person’s dual identity or belonging. Although Maalouf exhibits dual identity, he is often asked by people about his fundamental belonging. Maalouf asserts that “identity can’t be compartmentalized” (Maalouf 1991) and patiently explains that he belongs to both cultures at the same time. And thus, in Maalouf’s belief there is no major belonging. Yet, in my friend’s case, people weren’t that accepting regarding hybrids. Thus, patience alone was not sufficient when he tried to express his heterogeneous nature to others. And as he tried to interact with people in the Kuwaiti culture, he was rebuffed due to his hard to pin-point identity which makes Maalouf’s case seem quite trivial.

A lot of Arabs find it hard to tackle the cultural differences when traveling abroad. For example, prominent writer Orhan Pamuk reveals the same issue in his text “My First Passport”. Pamuk states that no matter how long they lived on a foreign land, that land would remain alien to them (Pamuk 2006). And as Pamuk turned to himself, he stated that “this foreign land was an endless garden full of happy children. My brother and I watched that garden with longing, from a distance” (Pamuk 2006). The author depicts that no matter how long they stayed on that foreign land they would never fit in because they simply didn’t belong.

Other than affecting a person’s self-esteem, recent studies conducted by research site and online recruitment agency show that cultural differences also affect a person’s motivation to study and ability to excel. The study showed that the performance in school of a portion of the subjects decreased as they transferred to another environment. The study showed students subjected to mockery were less motivated to study and excel in their studies due to encounters that affect them psychologically and emotionally. Although they were high achievers back in their countries, they were unable to tackle the cultural differences in an environment they are less comfortable with. Thus, as “Identity becomes defined by sect and ethnicity,” (Shadid 2006) a student’s performance in academic life is affected. Cultural differences if intense can cripple a person and render him defenseless in a new environment. For instance, young children moving to the United Kingdom find it hard to blend in especially in school where they on occasions get mocked by the native kids because of their origins. If such encounters affect them emotionally and psychologically as shown in many movies and documentaries this will reflect on their study abilities as well. The study concluded that motivations as well as learning abilities might be affected by cultural difference

We have shed some light on the negative influences of cultural differences on self-esteem, character, as well as motivation and abilities. Yet, these cultural differences may also play a major role as a motivation for a person to overcome the differences between colliding cultures. For instance, Ferozeh Dumas, an Iranian writer living in was aware of the prevailing cultural differences at a very young age. As a child, she had to endure the various distorted versions of her name. Being called Fart-head or Fritzy or even “dumbass” by American children affected Dumas on various levels. In order to rid herself of the mockery, she tried to get an American middle name (Dumas 2003). Although many foreigners living abroad are subjected to mockery from the local kids, like Dumas for instance, the latter was able to surpass the cultural differences that she has stumbled upon as she grew up. She learned to value her multiple identity and find motivation in her childhood to shape her into a better person. The fact that Dumas was alienated from average American children didn’t stop her from attaining her dreams and surpassing the people she met. Dumas, a prominent writer wrote about her experiences, sharing the universal message with readers, and hoping to open a communication avenue between worlds separated by deadly malaises.

For another solid proof, take a closer look at Judith Cofer, the Latin America. As we viewed Cofer’s encounter with cultural diversity as unfortunate, she was able by her determination to shift the odds to her benefit. In fact we haven’t seen Cofer crumble on the floor in distress. We have been presented with her inner power that pushed Cofer beyond her limits. Her diversities have turned to be a well of inspiration that got her to prove herself through her writing. Cofer’s huge success shows that she is not a girl who sits on the cross-border. In fact, she is the type of person whom Amin Maalouf refers to at the end of the text, “They inherit vocations to be links, bridges, and mediators between communities” (Maalouf 1999). Although Pamuk’s first experience in Europe was a failure as he turned inwards, his huge success as a writer depicts that he, like Cofer was able to shape his own fate by his hand. Pamuk and Cofer grasped every single opportunity to learn, excel, and acquire a voice of their own. That voice was loud enough to be heard throughout their writings.

Based on the experiences of these well awarded authors, as well as their incredible ability to transform diversity into motivation, one must understand that he has the upper hand in controlling his own life. In other words, whether a person decides to shut himself out of the world in an impenetrable shell or decides to cross the border or gap created by cultural differences, he must understand his choice. If he chooses the first option he would be preventing himself from living a full life and experiencing a fruitful experience that may have positive effects on his character. And if he decided to rise above the so-called stigma of being different that might be the best thing that ever happened to him. In other words, cultural distinctions don’t always have a negative influence on one’s life. And hence, a person has the choice to classify his situation as adversity or a motivation or incentive. The choice is up to him!

As a conclusion, cultural differences affect a person’s life on many levels and progress to shake more aspects of a person’s life like ripples in stagnant water. Though a person’s life is nothing like a stagnant pond with human experience and interaction, these ripples may have negative effects like a devastating wave or may add beauty and assortment to human life like a gentle tide. Since a person was not created to live in the shadow of the past, and dwell inside his own mind, he has to stand up to these challenges and learn to gain the best out of them and leave out all the rest, in order not to remain living in the shadows on the borders staring at the open gap between cultures.


Dumas, F. (2003). In Z. Sinno, R. Rantisii, G.Zeineddine, N. Honein, J. Najjar (Eds.). Shades of Gray. (2nd ed)( pp. 376-379)). Edinburgh Gate, Harlow; Pearson Education Limited.

Maalouf, A. (1998) Deadly Identities. In Z. Sinno, R. Rantisii, G.Zeineddine, N. Honein, J. Najjar (Eds.),Shades of Gray. (2nd ed)( pp. 298-300). Edinburgh Gate, Harlow; Pearson Education Limited.

Ortiz Cofer, J. (1993) The Myth of the Latin Woman: I just Met a Girl Named Maria.. In Z. Sinno, R. Rantisii, G.Zeineddine, N. Honein, J. Najjar (Eds.),Shades of Gray. (2nd ed)( pp. 106-111). Edinburgh Gate, Harlow; Pearson Education Limited.

Pamuk, O. (2007,) My First Passport: What does it mean to belong to a country. In Z. Sinno, R. Rantisii, G.Zeineddine, N. Honein, J. Najjar (Eds.),Shades of Gray. (2nd ed)( pp. 4-7). Edinburgh Gate, Harlow; Pearson Education Limited.

Shadid, A. (2006,) Lebanon, My Lebanon. In Z. Sinno, R. Rantisii, G.Zeineddine, N. Honein, J. Najjar (Eds.),Shades of Gray. (2nd ed)( pp. 8-13). Edinburgh Gate, Harlow; Pearson Education Limited.


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