Blog Post #5 – La Crême de Paris

Une Crêpe Sucrée

“Une crêpe sucrée avec une boule de vanille si vous plait!” This is the opener at my favorite Creperie in Paris. Adorned with white tile and pink neon, La Crême de Paris might not be a staple of the Parisian diet, but it absolutely is a favorite of mine! 

Why do I mention this creperie? This restaurant has been a reflection of the cultural growth I have sustained as a Parisian. I first visited this mythical restaurant at midnight on Fête de la Musique in 2022. I was still studying as a part of the Paris Program, and my friends and I were looking for a sweet treat after a long night of music and dancing. We walked into the warm lights of the beautiful creperie and were immediately stunned. The food was delicious and the service was good, yet I was still nervous to have these French interactions. I could not speak French as well as I can now, and I was surrounded by this assumption that all Parisians must think I am dumb. With this came a need to prove I belong. I held on to the belief that Paris was a rude city. I felt I did not belong and that I had to adopt an abrasiveness to fit in. I left Paris that summer believing it had toughened me. I had to constantly be aware of pickpockets, who are everywhere. Nobody wants to speak to me in French because my French was not worthy. I left loving the city, but only in the times, I felt I belonged.

Fast forward one year exactly. I am in the exact same place, it is midnight on Fête de la Musique in 2023. “Une crêpe sucrée avec une boule de vanille si vous plait!” The whole scene is the same, but I am not. I took this internship worrying that I would be walking in circles. Why would I go to the same place to do the same things two years in a row? Writing this in my last few days has made me realize why. I needed to understand that French rudeness is not all that rude, it is direct. I needed to understand that if I put the effort into speaking French, it will leave a positive impression nonetheless. I had to grow to understand that not everybody is a pickpocket. I grew to know that I do belong. I am never going to be center stage in Paris, but I play a role here too. Maybe it was the change in the neighborhood I had this year or the improvement in my ability with the language, but I know for certain I had set a goal to control only what I can, which is me. It did not always work. There were days that I did not understand why I could not fit in more or why I could not understand better, but by controlling what I could, I felt I belonged. Tonight I had one of my last desserts in Paris at La Crême de Paris. There I was, at the same table as the first time I was there a year ago. How far I have come. Paris can not always be sweet like a crêpe, but by worrying just about my actions, I treated every moment like the crême de la crême!

Blog Post #5: Retrospective and Analyzing Cultural Dimensions

Just earlier this week, I arrived back in America after being in Japan for about 40 days. By utilizing every scrap of spare time and doing some independent travel after the end of my internship, I was able to see a fair portion (still not enough, so I will have to return someday) of the country and was able to meet so many great people from all over. With these experiences, both by traveling independently on my own and by interning in the office, I have been able to see so much of the Japanese culture, history, and landscape. With this post, I will be doing a retrospective reflection on some of the cultural elements of Japan.

Decades ago, Geert Hofstede conducted research and composed a theory about the dimensions of national culture, creating a spectrum to evaluate the generalizations of how people in a country tend to behave or think. Some of these include: Collectivism vs. Individualism, Power Distance, Masculinity vs. Femininity, Uncertainty Avoidance, Long-term vs Short-term orientation, and Indulgence vs. Restraint.

Power Distance

Looking back on my experiences, the cultural dimension of “power distance” has the most immediate difference between American culture and Japanese culture. Built within the Japanese language itself, one must acknowledge their own power dynamic with the listener in every instance of speaking. On the one hand, there is the casual speech, “tamego” which should only be used when speaking with those that someone is familiar with or those who can reasonably be deemed your subordinate or social lesser. It inherently implies that you see the listener as an equal and someone with whom you do not need to acknowledge a metaphorical distance. On the other hand, there is the polite speech, “keigo” which is used with strangers, superiors, or your seniors. There are many levels of being polite, with the language used in customer service being one of the higher levels. Therefore, just by relaying the most trivial of things with another person, you implicitly establish what you believe to be the power dynamic between yourself and whom you are speaking to.

For an example of this, my Japanese tutor abroad described to me that when speaking to a stranger at a bar, you will likely begin a conversation in polite language. However, as the evening goes on and you want to bridge the social gap and imply a sense familiarity between the two of you, you may switch to causal speech during the course of the conversation. I also had many conversations with strangers during my time abroad where the topic would come to language, and I often heard the observation that the lack of a clear-cut difference between casual and polite speech in English was fascinating to many Japanese. From the majority of people I spoke to, they actually prefer this as it allows them to be more open and frank without having to worry about social divides and accidentally offending someone.

Another very present element of the power distance is the usage of bowing in Japan. There are many different levels of bowing, from a slight head nod to a sustained 90 degree bow. The level of respect that is to be conferred with a bow is based upon that power dynamic between parties.

One example of this came occurred during my internship where we visited a stock trading. We spoke with the CEO as invited guests, and afterwards we met with one of his right-hand men. Because we were “esteemed guests” and welcomed by his superior, the subordinate was staggeringly polite to us. He rushed through the halls to get the doors for us, pressed the elevator button so we could leave, and held a nearly 90 degree bow until the elevator doors closed. Afterwards, I just felt bad that he had to go through so much effort for us.

Another example that combines both of these facets of power distance in Japan happened as I was walking through the streets of Tokyo with a friend. We went to a few shops and cafes together, and after an encounter with a store promoter on the street corner where I tried to politely say “no thank you” to the promoter’s advertisement, my friend told me that I was being overly polite. As the customer in all of these situations, I was apparently afforded some level of being able to speak plainly. Because I am very cautious of the overseas perception of Americans being loud, obnoxious, and culturally insensitive, I tried to be as polite as possible as often as possible. According to my friend, what I was doing was not wrong, but how polite I was being with doing small bows shop clerks after purchasing, using polite speech with promoters, and asking questions to the waitstaff using indirect language was a bit over-the-top, as I was the one that was supposed to be the higher in the social dynamic in those situations.

Uncertainty Avoidance

Seeing as this post has already gotten fairly long, I will make this one quick. Compared to Americans, the Japanese are much more risk adverse. I saw examples of this primarily within Japanese business. In my internship, I learned about how Japanese companies will often send food or merchandise to shareholders as a gift for owning their stock and as a deterrent to ever selling their stock, even if the companies’ financials start to decline. The companies do this gesture so that they can mitigate the uncertainty that comes with an inherently volatile stock market.

Another example I found after speaking with an American business man with decades of experience in the Japanese economy. At his advice, I looked into the publicly accessible financial statements of major Japanese companies and compared them to American companies. The dividends and payouts to shareholders were lower for Japanese companies, but what was most striking was that Japanese companies had a ridiculously high cash buffer in their financial sheets. In simple terms, this means that Japanese companies are sacrificing making major, possibly risky investments, or giving away greater dividends to possibly attract new investors, and they instead are choosing the status quo and shoring up a safety net to protect against future downturn. According to the man I spoke with, this is almost certainly a result of the Japanese financial crash in the late 20th century. Companies now favor absolute certainty and financial protection so that the company could survive for years of losing money rather than try to take a gamble to grow and become more profitable, something that would assuredly happen in an American company.

These are just two of the 6 mentioned cultural dimensions and the differences that I noted between American and Japanese culture, but I find them to be some of the most easily recognizable differences. I think these two dimensions are also very helpful to understand for understanding Japanese culture as a whole. For example, being able to understand the power distance will allow you to avoid coming off as insensitive and be able to observe relational subtext beyond just the words being said. Understanding uncertainty avoidance can also explain some of the more enigmatic things that someone may come across in Japan. For example, there do exist restaurants and shops in Japan that do not allow foreigners as customers. I actually had this experience in Okinawa when I walked into a bar and was immediately told that they did not serve non-Japanese. I used my most polite Japanese possible and said “No worries, I will go” but still was followed until I left the premises by one of the staff. Before even arriving in Japan, someone once explained the existence of these places to me, and they described their existence as a result of many Japanese being fearful of not knowing much about foreigners. This fear of not being able to communicate, accidently making a faux pas, or the possibility of the foreigner unwittingly being rude makes it so that these shop owners prevent this from ever being a possibility. They want to avoid the uncertainty of these potentially uncomfortable situations before they occur. That’s why I believe that these are important facets of understanding many things within Japanese culture, so that you can read the cultural subtext in these scenarios.

“DIVE” Reflection: Describe, Interpret, Verify, Evaluate

While hanging out with friends at a café in the evening, the kitchen was already closed, but I had not yet eaten dinner. So, around 9:30 PM, I briefly left the group to grab a meal from one of the small food stalls/shops within the nearby subway station. From the recommendation of a friend, I headed towards an Israeli street-food vendor. What commenced is comical in hindsight, but in the moment, somewhat frustrating and confusing.


  • At this time, I’m extremely hungry and becoming even slightly dizzy, since I had eaten a small lunch and I miscalculated the kitchen closing time of the café.
  • The surrounding station is loud per usual, but in this case, it is especially hard to hear the employee behind the counter who is moving around and speaking very quickly.
  • The employee and his colleague were speaking another language amongst themselves, and the man has a very thick accent when speaking in German.
  • With the noise, the movement, and the accent, other customers also appear to have a difficult time understanding and are repeatedly asking for clarification.

    During the whole process of ordering and waiting for my order, the employee took orders, prepared, and served several later customers first, leaving me waiting (eventually alone) for an extra 10 or so minutes. Though working hurriedly, he would periodically stop and directly turn to face me, asking where I was from and what I was doing in Vienna—he had correctly sensed that I was a foreigner, probably from the clarifying questions that I asked, although others were asking similar clarifications to correctly understand the man. Therefore, it puzzled me how he gleaned I was a foreigner, as my behavior did not differ from other customers simply ordering, asking questions, and waiting. Not knowing the employee, I was reluctant to just outrightly declare that I’m from the US, so I hesitated for a moment, and instead replied, “England.” Though polite, I was trying to avoid conversation. A minute later, he once again completely stopped, leaned forward over the counter, and informally asked me, “Bist du Rumänin?” (“Are you Romanian?”) This especially confused me, because to my knowledge, I didn’t look at all similar to Romanians I have met or my expectations of a typical Romanian appearance. Several more minutes later, when I was finally paying, I misunderstood something he said, and then he appeared frustrated and started to speak to me in Russian, demanding, “OK, do you understand!?” By this point, I was just very confused and hungry, so each question increasingly caught me off guard. I hurriedly paid and left—but admittedly, the food was delicious!

  • The employee is taking some kind of special interest or curiosity about me—why is he starting and finishing all the orders of later customers after I’ve already ordered, leaving me waiting longer than others and then eventually, waiting alone at the stand?
  • Is the special interest just innocent curiosity, romantic interest, simple dislike, or something more calculated or even sinister? It seems like this situation/interaction is purposeful on his part.
  • He really is persistent to find out where I’m from, and although I am politely avoiding a conversation, he keeps pressing the matter—meaning that he either doesn’t notice my discomfort or doesn’t care.
  • While I don’t feel unsafe, I’m not completely comfortable with the situation.

    Verification: Several days later, I was a staff member at a two-day worship-music conference, organized by the Viennese diocese and several churches. I met a fellow staff member from Linz, Austria, about an hour away by train. We were chatting, and I told him this story from several days earlier. However, when I mentioned the man’s question about being Romanian, the fellow employee agreed that I could pass for Romanian—to my increased confusion! He explained that, especially in Transylvania, there are more ‘Nordic-looking’ Romanians due to migration in the past centuries and that Romanians are phenotypically more diverse than I otherwise anticipated. Turns out, this employee himself was Romanian, but otherwise matched the stereotypical ‘German’ or ‘Austrian’ look.

  • With this new knowledge, the questions themselves seemed less random, but still confusing, especially as to why the man was so insistent and intense.
  • But in hindsight, the situation seems more amusing than alarming, although it was uncomfortable in the moment.
  • Makes for an interesting story at least!

Reconciling New Perspectives: the Tug-of-War between Familiar and Unfamiliar

More so than American vs. Austrian culture, I have observed and experienced a tug-of-war between the familiar and the unfamiliar.

Having now been in Vienna for a month, I find myself both welcoming and rejecting the sense of familiarity and routine that I have developed. The picturesque streets, grand sights, and cosmopolitan atmosphere—especially in the gorgeous district where I live (pictured below)—have become less dazzling and more predictable, although nonetheless beautiful. In more familiar areas of Vienna, I can navigate with ease and calculate short-cuts and scenic routes, walking with purpose. Simultaneously, in less familiar areas of Vienna, I feel once again new to the city, trying to conceal my lack of local knowledge and uncertainty.

This simultaneous welcome and resistance to familiarity also applies to culture.

With my cultural identity being a mishmash of German and American cultures, my persona coincides with some expectations of Americans and contradicts other expectations. For me, some of the familiar is unfamiliar, while the unfamiliar has become familiar.

For instance, when interacting with many of my coworkers or friends, cultural and linguistic barriers do not hinder communication. These interactions are less like a ‘cultural exchange’ and more so just simple, everyday conservations due to the level of integration and language that I have been able to achieve after many years of effort (and with great help from ND’s and CSLC’s language offerings!). Many people I meet automatically assume I’m Austrian (or German) and demonstrate visible surprise or outright disbelief when I clarify that I’m American.

One humorous example occurred at a summer barbecue for university students. Coincidentally, I met an American studying at an Austrian university, and when her Austrian boyfriend joined our conversation, she suddenly prompted him to guess my nationality/ethnicity. Her stance was more or less calculated, as she later revealed that she meant to use me as an example to contradict her boyfriend’s assumptions about Americans. Before giving up and directly asking me, the boyfriend incorrectly guessed 6 different countries: Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Poland, France, and Romania. This brief—and slightly odd—encounter solidified the extent to which my language and cultural identity (or at least persona) has developed to elicit so much surprise from acquaintances when they learn I’m American.

Another humorous example occurred at a local café, where a friend of mine (also coincidentally met at the summer barbecue) was celebrating his admission into a music conservatory—with a group of about 10 friends, including me. While we were all chatting along in German, one of the other women in the group mentioned something very specific about the Northeastern United States. Surmising that she may have studied abroad in the US, I expressed my surprise and curiosity that she knew such a specific fact. She then asked about my familiarity with the US, and I revealed that I’m American. Switching out of her perfect German and specifically Viennese accent, she exclaimed, “NO WAY! I’m American, too!” We both honestly mistook each other for an Austrian; however, after our laughter subsided at this surprise, we proceeded to speak in German, for it simply felt more natural in the context. These moments, though fleeting and ‘everyday,’ constitute milestones in the process of learning, refining, and mastering a language, while also becoming integrated into another culture.

However, many American cultural tendencies or preferences remain with me. For example, usually around 14:00 at ZJP2, employees will congregate around the Zentrum’s exquisite espresso machine—but beforehand, I will dig out some ice trays from the freezer. It is more unusual here for drinks to be iced, even if it’s warm outside. An “Eiskaffee” (which many foreigners misunderstand to be an iced coffee) is actually coffee mixed with ice cream, a popular and delicious summer treat. Thus, my colleagues make their Eiskaffee or Verlängerter Kaffee (like an americano), while I make my iced latte. Due to this regular occurrence, some coworkers will often joke along the lines of, “Ah, there’s the American!” when they see my delight about an iced coffee.

Thus, not only does the constant flux of unfamiliar and familiar characterize my time in Vienna, but my subsequent reactions either reinforce or contradict people’s perceptions of Americans.

Meanwhile, many Austrians have expressed their wishes to visit well-known American states, such as California, Florida, Texas, or New York. To an American, the allure of these states is a bit more nuanced, with less romanticism and instead perhaps even jadedness. Or, the perceptions of American states from abroad solely rely upon clichés, generalizations, and stereotypes. For example, upon revealing that I am from Florida, the discussion usually trends toward Disney World, Ron DeSantis, alligators, Miami, hurricanes, beaches, and—of course—the notorious “Florida Man.” On one hand the clamor and enthusiasm about Florida is entertaining and endearing; on the other hand, misconceptions or half-truths can be frustrating.

Overall, it seems that we generally yearn for the unfamiliar, although we find identity in and hold onto our familiar roots. We romanticize the unfamiliar, and then it transforms into reality as familiarity increases. And ironically enough, sometimes when immersed in completely unfamiliar territory, we cling to the familiar like a lifeline. And conversely, when we live bound to the familiar, we wish to reject the familiar and venture into the unfamiliar. In my opinion, this tug-of-war seems to lead one into a unique range of familiarity vs. unfamiliarity, and this range depends on how the person approaches, regards, and values familiarity versus unfamiliarity.

Side note: Another very interesting aspect of my time in Vienna is the (young) Catholic community. I’m planning to detail this more in a subsequent blog, so stay tuned!

Cultural Incidents: “Mahlzeit”

Flight delays, lost luggage, 36+ hours awake, and becoming sick—needless to say, my travel to Vienna was not the most glamorous transatlantic journey! However, my excitement and gratitude helped me endure these physically exhausting challenges with a positive mental state.

Upon arriving, I attended a staff meeting at the Zentrum Johannes Paul II (ZJP2); for many of the paid staff and volunteers, this meeting marked the first occasion in several months where all came together for a catch-up and a briefing of organizational matters. Already from my first impression of ZJP2 and its staff, I felt a sense of peace and purpose. The center has a young and exciting atmosphere, with many of the staff in their late twenties, who are tremendously welcoming, fun, and enthusiastic. Already, I know that this summer will develop me not only professionally and linguistically (with my German), but also spiritually. I have this intuition and deep knowledge that „big things“ will occur during my summer here—and already as I write this, numerous unexpected blessings, professional connections, and friendships have arisen.

Despite my turbulent arrival and falling ill, each day brought more familiarity and orientation to Vienna. In a way, the initial few days of exhaustion, sickness, and challenge shortened my “adjustment period” and presented a personal challenge to intentionally set the tone of how I would react to difficulty during these next two months.

However, on the cultural front, the most unexpected „Auseinandersetzung“ (something to reckon with) was my cultural knowledge of Germany and applying this knowledge to Austria, specifically in Vienna. Most of my prior experience and knowledge has stemmed from my time in Germany, both as a military kid growing up in Stuttgart and during my SLA last summer in Radolfzell.

For instance, I wrongly assumed that most, if not all, of the stores would be the same as in Germany—Kaufland, Lidl, DM, Aldi, Rewe, etc. This false expectation led me wandering around Vienna while sick to find a variety of necessities—like cold medicine—all offered at different stores at different times. Now looking back, it’s somewhat amusing, but in the moment, it was rather defeating and exhausting. But all the more was the triumph to simply find Ibuprofen, groceries, and clothes hangers!

Similarly disproving my expectations—several words or slang differ between Germans and Austrians, and the use of the “German” words immediately will mark you as a foreigner, often with a bit of disdain from locals. For instance, here just a few of the Austrian words I quickly picked up and substituted:

Bag: “die Tüte” → “ein Sackerl”
Bread: “Brötchen → Semmel”
Stairs/Staircase: “Treppe” → “Stiege”
Streetcar: “Straßenbahn” → “Bim”
Tomato: “die Tomate” → “der Paradeiser”

….And so on!

To illustrate the often overlooked and often comical differences between Austrians and Germans, I’ll offer a short story from my first day at the staff meeting. Some food (bread) was passed around, during which I told a fellow coworker “Guten Appetit,” the custom German phrase to wish someone a good meal. Up to this point, my coworker and I were happily chatting, but then the coworker’s expression immediately turned serious and he made a point of correcting me with “Mahlzeit,” the alternative Austrian phrase. Just as quickly, we returned to our joking and lighthearted conversation.

This small encounter encapsulates a bit of the friendly or not-so-friendly (depends on the Austrian you ask) tension between Austrians and Germans: although the standard language is the same, the cultures nevertheless significantly differ, which presents an adventure for me to learn and navigate. Nevertheless, after about a week or two of picking up these phrases and becoming more familiar with Vienna, I’ve been able to pass by as a local: the rewarding experience of simply blending in. With each day, I have felt increasingly “at home” in Vienna and at ZJP2, especially due to the Zentrum’s warm welcome to me.

These little everyday triumphs—navigating the city, interactions with locals, tackling unforeseen challenges—can be glossed over as familiarity and routine develop. However, it is still rewarding for me to note these “little triumphs” when they arise and reflect upon my growth in the past couple weeks, not taking my adjustment for granted.

Blog Post #3

A charming brunch spot in the up-and-coming neighborhood of Santos, Mila has been my home for the last six weeks. I don my black Mila shirt and a pair of Birkenstocks every morning at 9 and leave around 5 each night. The other employees: baristas, servers, and kitchen-staff, have become a sort of family to me. When I need to rant or want a hug, I go to them. This budding closeness has also spawned a plethora of short conversations about Americans in our downtime at the cafe. Though the 17 employees at Mila all speak varying degrees of English, I am notably the only American. 

What my coworkers at Mila see of me while I’m working fits their stereotypes of the typical teenage American girl. I talk a million miles a minute, love Taylor Swift, can’t wait to get out at 5 every night to hang out with my friends, live— in their view— a quintessential Midwestern life, and attend a university that looks like it’s out of a storybook. Whenever I say “oh my God” or “are you serious?”, they laugh, saying I sound exactly like the girls in the American movies they watch. At the same time, they’ve told me that I’m not nearly as “stuck-up” or “annoying” or “spoiled” as they imagine Americans. 

All their perspectives are valid, because they can only judge based on what they see. The only Lilian they see is the one who comes into Mila every day at 9am, works hard for 8 hours, cracks jokes, speaks pretty good Portuguese, and leaves at 5pm. Stereotypes are a view through a single lens. For the most part, stereotypes do have some truth, but they’re a view through a single lens. They don’t allow for the nuances and complexities that make each person, place, or culture special. My co-workers at Mila don’t see how many hours I dedicate to studying, that I biked across the country, that my last internship was one with a federal judge, or that I’m a huge foodie who bakes when I’m stressed. They don’t see my relationships with my parents, brother, or friends. 

In American movies or TV shows, where most stereotypes come from, teenage girls are often portrayed as bubbly and shallow. They have no depth. This is what the people I’ve talked to expect me to be. And in the environment I’m in at Mila, I haven’t dispelled those many of stereotypes, because it’s hard to show off my intellect or my abilities when I’m just trying to focus on taking orders in a language that isn’t my first. At the same time, I do think I’ve dispelled one stereotype. My co-workers at Mila said that they expect American teenage girls to be lazy and entitled, but I’m a hard worker and proud of it. I do my share of the work, just like them. If orange juice needs to be made, I’m on it. If someone needs to take over the floor, I’m there. Dishes need to be done? I’ll get it done. That is one stereotype that I can disprove working in a service job, and I’ve tried to make sure I have. 

Blog Post #4 – Jambon-Beurre

Jambon Beurre

Today has been a great day. I slept in late, and I walked to a boulangerie that was recently recommended to me. To describe the situation, I arrive and in flawless (almost) French I order a ham sandwich and a Coke. I ask, lacking confidence, if this was included on the discount menu for 7,50 euros? They look at me blankly, a moment of loss in translation, but then suddenly it clicks and I pay my 7,50 for my lunch. As I walk out I think to myself, did I get ripped off? How on earth could a 5 euro sandwich and a Coke be 7,50? I did ask to be on the discount menu, but could the combo menu have been more expensive? I am fuming! This sandwich is the sun to my morning, but suddenly clouds have appeared on the horizon. This is my negative cultural evaluation. I think that I must have been taken advantage of. The silly American paid a Euro extra! “Hoh Hoh (French Laugh), we got him good!” My two-minute walk to my apartment was filled with, not joyful hunger, but a full stomach of contempt! 

As I have been going through the D.I.V.E. (Describe, Interpret, Verify, Evaluate) method we practiced in this week’s module, I had done the first two steps but not the last two. I hopped on Google found the menu, and saw that Coca-Cola was 3,50. I saved 1 Euro. Looking over this incident, I think that as my comfort has grown in France, my atena of being the silly American has grown more and more. I am not just a run-of-the-mill tourist ready to fall for silly tricks of the trade. I believe this sandwich can be less of a meal and more of a peace offering between me and France. I need to trust that what I get in this country, will likely be tasty and good! The D.I.V.E method helped me think critically and get over my own mental hurdles, which allowed me to enjoy my sandwich. It was a culinary treat!

OK Vayamos

Hola! Antes de empezar, recomiendo que escuchen al nuevo álbum de Taylor Swift. Me encanta. I am starting my final week here in Costa Rica. I have very mixed emotions about leaving this beautiful country. I’m excited to see my family and friends, but I will definitely miss the people I have met along my journey here.

My week has been pretty quiet so far. I have learnt so much in the clinic. Dra. Gabi is so wise and such a good teacher. Today she left for a family vacation at Disney, so I had to say my goodbyes to her and her family today– it was very bittersweet. Before she left, we went to a store that sells helado de la sorbetera. I have had a lot of ice cream in my life, but I think this ice cream is undoubtedly the best I have every had. I am forcing myself to get one more cup before I leave.

For this blog, I have been asked to talk about cultural dimensions. We learned about various dimensions that vary from different places. For this post I will be focusing on two.

The first is the attitude toward time. The scale for this dimension ranges from past focused to future focused. I would say that Costa Rica appreciates a more past focused attitude. In my experience, almost every conversation I have witnessed starts with questions or engagement in the past. The value for tradition is very deep. People will spend a majority of their time checking in on past things. How is your grandmother who got sick the other month? How is your sister who just had the baby? And when introducing oneself, the conversation revolves around ones past as well, explaining where your family came from; listing out your family tree; talking about your own past. Individuals here use the shared past to form bonds in the present.

From my experience in the US, people tend to be more future oriented. Questions like “What are you doing this summer for work?” or “what are you going to do after college?” reflect the desire to look toward the future that is very common in the US.

I am not exactly sure the last dimension that this difference falls under so I am going to say it is under the umbrella of Indulgence and restraint and collectivism vs. individualism. This difference relates to the directness of conversation. In Costa Rica, if someone is trying to criticize or make a comment on anything, they will speak around the point of directly addressing the problem or concern. People will say everything except a direct call out. In the US, I am more accustomed to a very direct sense of speech, especially in bigger cities. But I think that the US is starting to develop an appreciation for a mix between these tones. People value not being called out in a non- harsh way and positive reinforcement.

Hasta la proxima!

Post #5: Cultural Dimensions, Almuerzo, and… Tico Time?

Saludos (otra vez)! I am entering my final week here in Costa Rica, and I’m feeling an array of emotions! Although I am definitely excited to finally see my family and sister, I will definitely miss my Costa Rican family, the fresh fruit and bread with every meal, and the breathtaking nature. With all of these new and interesting adventures, I am most grateful for the new friendships I have made, as well as being able to learn about and experience various aspects of Costa Rican culture! Although my adjustment period was not too rough because of my Panamanian background, there were definitely cultural differences that surprised me quite a bit! 

Upon arriving, I was greeted with my entire host family casually hanging out in the living room of the house. After some introductions and small talk, we all ate lunch together. Around dinner time, my two older host siblings had returned from running errands and sat right back at the dinner to break bread. Through this simple encounter and many others, I noticed that, generally, Costa Ricans are more collectivists rather than individualists. For every meal I have had at my house, I am always accompanied by my host family. This was further confirmed to me this past week during my Conversational English Adult class when one of my students told me that it is their “responsibility to watch after and take care of each other’s children.” This is very different from the very individualistic society in the United States. On several occasions, my host family has told me that they find U.S. society to be quite isolating and stressful, as the difference of collectivism and individualism behavior is heightened by the high uncertainty avoidance and long-term orientation in the U.S. as opposed to the low uncertainty avoidance and short-term orientation in Costa Rica. For me, I think this difference in uncertainty avoidance is best exemplified through the level of importance placed on punctuality in both countries. In Costa Rica, Tico time (the idea that Costa Ricans are always late so their excuse for being tardy is that they’re Ticos) is almost always used in every circumstance, and it exudes a very “go with the flow” mentality, whereas in the U.S. punctuality is taken very seriously. To them, punctuality is not as important so long as the work gets done and everyone is well. Moreover, when talking to my host family and adult students, they primarily seem to be concerned about the present, allowing the future to come when it needs to be. 

Following my realization of such differences in cultural dimension, I have tried to become more of a collectivist. As an introvert, it has been a bit of a struggle being around my Tica family during most of my free time, only because I need time to recharge my social battery. However, I understand that my host family has gone completely out of their way to try and make me feel comfortable, so I can return the grand favor by simply sacrificing some personal time to learn more about them and Costa Rican culture. Regarding cultural dimension, prior to arriving I wish I had known more information about the language, as in how direct or indirect people generally are. In Costa Rica, people tend to speak very politely, are very cordial with strangers on the street, and DO NOT speak very directly. Growing up with a Panamanian mother, I am used to speaking very directly in Spanish–instead of “por favor, podrias pasar…” I usually say “dámelo,” which is considered to be a very aggressive phrase in Costa Rica. Therefore, knowing ahead of time the level of language directness in Costa Rica would have been very helpful, as there have definitely been times that I accidentally offended my host family, my students, or people in general by saying something too directly. Since this discovery of how directly or indirectly, I have been conscious of my diction and tone to ensure that I don’t come off as aggressive to the people I am communicating with. Furthermore, it has prompted me to think about how I (and Panamanians in general) come off to others when speaking, and upon considering this, I have come to the conclusion that perhaps there are some phrases I can say with a softer tone so as to not come off as sharp. 

With that, there has been a plethora of cultural customs I have learned since being here and definitely new behaviors and ways of thinking I will apply when returning to the United States. Reflecting upon my six weeks here, I am content with all I have seen and experienced since being here. Most of all, I am beyond thankful for my host family and the amazing students I have gotten to know on a deep and personal level. I am grateful to God for providing me with such an opportunity to improve my Spanish, meet such amazing and inspiring people, and embrace a new culture. I cannot wait to see what the rest of my days look like here and if Costa Rica part 2 is in my near future! 

Sara Anne’s Seoul Blog Entry #3: You Should Know, I’m A Good Girl, Yeah~

“색안경을 끼고 보지 마요 / 난 좀 다른 여자인데 / 겉은 화려해됴 아직 두려운 걸…”

(“Please don’t look at me with your tinted sunglasses / See, I’m a bit of a different type of woman / Even though I may look gorgeous on the outside, I still feel afraid…”)

While we’re on the topic of stereotypes, I thought it’d be a good idea to direct you all to a song, especially since it’s on theme as a K-Pop song while I’m in Korea, and it ties in perfectly with my running metaphor of “cultural glasses”: “색안경 (STEREOTYPE, although the literal translation is “Sunglasses”)” by 스테이씨 (STAYC).

그리고 이건 노래는 제 연구실에서 하는 연구하고 관계가 있는 것 같아요 ㅋㅋㅋ. (This song also seems to be related to my research in the lab lol.)

So, now that you are somewhat introduced to my topic for the day… stereotyping! Coincidentally, as I hinted at in my caption for the music video, the research that I am studying happens to be on the topic of the psychological processes behind stereotypes, so this blog post’s theme seems to nicely suit my life at its current stage. I actually brought this coincidence up in conversation when I was walking to lunch with the lab director and the lab member that I was interviewing, and the lab director joked that he was a “clairvoyant” of some sort, since he was the one who had directed me towards the topic of stereotypes in the first place.

Anyways, firstly, I think I should introduce the lovely lab member who I had decided to interview. Her name is 지은 (“Jieun”), and she is a Korean PhD student with a particular interest in eye tracking and visual search in the VCC lab at Yonsei. In particular, she seems to be interested in facial recognition, which is really cool to me, since it has a connection to my current interest in social psychology. At first glance, she appears to be one of the more extroverted members in the lab, and she was one of the people who reached out to me first when I had just arrived. She really helps me feel more welcome by encouraging me to speak both in Korean, when I’m comfortable enough with it, and in English, when I’m struggling with my Korean skills. Throughout my time in the lab, she has always been so friendly and inclusive, and she continuously checks on me to make sure that I am doing alright.

As I talked more with Jieun, I realized that one of the reasons why she appeared to be so confident in her English skills was that she had been an exchange student in the United States for one year, and then, the following year, the friends that she had made in America came to Korea as exchange students themselves. So, essentially, she had two years of practice with the English language and interaction with American students. Before knowing this, I had actually been surprised by her answers to my questions on stereotypes, because the first heterostereotypes — that is, stereotyping from another group’s perspective — that she had mentioned were incredibly positive.

The first thing she mentioned was that Americans were “optimistic” and “always willing to cheer other people on.” Without any context, this was really odd for me to hear, since, honestly, the previous times I had interacted with international students, their collective view of American students appeared to be rather negative. However, in light of her friendly experiences and her close relationships with American citizens in the past, her positive view of the United States makes a lot of sense. I do know that any American who is simply acting as a good friend would fulfill that positive stereotype easily; in fact, while I do not really tend to be a very optimistic person, I know that I act super optimistic and constantly attempt to cheer my friends up whenever they are down. I can definitely see where Jieun is coming from when she stereotypes American students as optimistic, since those are the typical behaviors of a good friend, at least among American university students.

As we continued to talk, Jieun proceeded to note that Americans appeared to be “quick to move on after a breakup,” which was another surprising heterostereotype to me. Though I have personally known American students that fulfill that stereotype at Notre Dame, I have always had trouble believing in it, because, from my personal experience, moving on from heartbreak has always been incredibly difficult and painful. However, considering what I know about hookup culture in the United States as well as my firsthand experience with acquaintances who were able to move on from breakups relatively quickly, I can see how this stereotype may have come to be. I cannot really tell if this is a positive or negative stereotype, especially considering the differences between Korean and American dating culture, but I suppose it depends somewhat on the situation. Either way, this stereotype took me off-guard, partially because I did not think I could relate to it. Yet, maybe, in some contexts, I could appear to move on more quickly in comparison to the average Korean student. I would not be able to truly know this unless I asked around a bit more.

The final heterostereotype that Jieun stated was really interesting, since it looked like it contradicted one of her initial stereotypes: she said that the Americans who had come to Korea during her friends’ exchange period were “pessimistic.” My lab director even built upon this stereotype by going over some of his personal knowledge of summer school in an American university. As we continued to discuss this topic, we came to the conclusion that the “optimistic” versus “pessimistic” outlook varied greatly on an individual basis, especially keeping in mind the fact that each American university appears to have its own, unique culture. This “pessimistic” stereotype makes more sense to me than Jieun’s initial “optimistic” one, simply because I, along with many of my own American friends, tend to be on the more pessimistic side.

Looking at the stereotypes provided and applying my own autostereotypes — or stereotyping from my within group perspective — it seems that the only autostereotype that aligns with Jieun’s heterostereotypes is that some Americans are “pessimistic,” and this is solely because I can base it off of my personal viewpoints. Additionally, whenever I view American news or log onto social media, I only ever see pessimistic attitudes and complaints from American citizens on the pressing issues. In the cases where I do see some optimism, it almost appears to be either sarcastic or insincere. So, when Jieun said that she believed that Americans were “optimistic,” I was incredibly taken aback, as it did not seem to be in agreement with my personal experiences as an American student.

I was similarly shocked at the heterostereotype that Americans had a “willingness to cheer people on,” and I think this, again, was based on personal experiences I have had. I grew up in a competitive educational environment, and so, I was well-aware of how cutthroat competition in America could be. This was also why I seem to have taken up a contrasting autostereotype of Americans as “competitive” or even “selfish” in some cases. Regardless, I can definitely see how this stereotype can form in the eyes of a Korean student, since the Korean education system is unbelievably intense in its own right. Some of the competition that I had to deal with would likely hold different weight for a Korean student. This is not to say that one of us works harder than the other; rather, the amount and type of pressure in the educational field is very different from one country to another. Therefore, it is likely that Jieun may have simply seen a different side of American students that I did not experience due to our different backgrounds.

Furthermore, I was also somewhat surprised that Jieun thought Americans were able to “move on easily after a breakup,” but this confusion also makes sense in light of the “selfish” autostereotype that I had previously mentioned. Additionally, as I had alluded to before, dating culture in Korea and America is very different. What one country considers to be “dating” varies drastically from what the other believes to be “dating.” For this reason, what constitutes a “breakup” could also differ dramatically. Not to mention, the ability to move on from relationships simply varies from person-to-person and relationship-to-relationship. So, depending on the personalities and relationships of the students that Jieun had gotten to know, this view could easily change. In fact, I think I used to hold a similar heterostereotype of my own with regards to Koreans and their relationships before I had come here, which is an intriguing parallel to consider.

Without attempting to minimize the differences between our two, wonderfully different cultures, I think that the underlying virtues and values of friendship and relationship that all humans share shine clearly through in Jieun’s heterostereotypes of Americans. While some behaviors that seem entirely natural to me may stand out to her, because she is looking at it from another perspective, I can see the same behaviors in her that she had used to describe American students. This is even more evident whenever she has shown any level of care and concern for me. In particular, this past week was really difficult for me due to some personal conflicts with some close relationships from back in the United States, and, through all of it, Jieun was constantly cheering me on and helping me think more optimistically about the situation. She even offered possible solutions and advice. Though she may not have realized it herself, she was filling her own heterostereotype of an American student, and, in doing so, she was comforting me. I could not have been more grateful, because, even though we do not know each other well, and we come from different backgrounds, she was treating me like a friend. I think that this scenario shows that some positive heterostereotypes may actually implicate the existence of shared, universal values such as friendship and genuine care for others among all human beings.

Reflecting on possible Korean heterostereotypes of Americans (specifically, American students, since that is the group Jieun had the most experience with) has been very interesting, especially since Jieun seems to view my group in a generally more positive light than I do. I suppose that the formation of positive heterostereotypes is a natural response when someone has had good experiences with a country, and Jieun would probably think similarly of my American heterostereotypes of Koreans that I had held prior to my arrival in Seoul. Because I had such a wonderful time in South Korea the last time I was here, I think I overly generalized those positive feelings and romanticized the country a bit too much in some senses. While I was talking with another intern at this lab, something that he said stuck with me, and I think it is very applicable to this discussion of stereotypes: “Overgeneralization across entire groups can be very dangerous.” He was likely referring to the vast amount of foreigners flooding Korea due solely to the Korean Wave, without any other background knowledge of the culture, but I think that this is still generally an important statement to keep in mind whenever someone interacts with another country.

Humans are beautifully complicated creatures, and, in attempting to categorize someone based solely on one or two characteristics, we may deprive ourselves of the full experience of the person before us while simultaneously dehumanizing them. For this reason, I believe it is incredibly important to be aware of the many stereotypes we utilize in everyday life and to always do our best to view everything in as objective and holistic of a light as humanly possible. So, I would like to add a few clauses to my “cultural glasses” metaphor by gently warning against any “stereotypical tinting” that may affect the color and clarity of our overall vision of others. After all, in any relationship, it is truly about getting to know the real, complete person, right?


Sara Anne

P.S. For a bit of a more fun example of stereotyping, when you look at the road in the image above, what is your first impression of the area? How would the weather, the amount of cars, or the types of building in the shot affect it? Can you think of various ways in which looking at this one scene through different “tinted lenses” could affect your initial impressions on the location or Seoul as a whole, and how do you think I, as a foreign language exchange intern, feel about this particular road?