Encountering cultural differences is expected by anyone who visits a foreign country. Despite knowing a lot about Asia from the news or television shows, still, Asian countries can surprise you.
Navigating cultural differences can be tough and often requires a balancing act to try not to offend or be offended. As you are planning to visit and study in Asia, it is important to pack some general knowledge about differences in Western and Asian cultures.
Eastern and Western Philosophies
Social psychologist Richard Nisbett, author of The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently…and Why has succinctly described the differences in the way westerners and easterners think. These differences, he said, were brought about by differences in environment, educational systems, and philosophies that emerged from ancient Greece and China. Nisbett observed that westerners think of the world as linear, mechanic, and stable, while people from the east uphold the complexity, ever-changing, and organic nature of things.
In Asia, you will find that people have a collectivist way of thinking, while Western cultures celebrate one’s individuality. Both have merits in various situations and it is important to treat things with an open mind.
Authority and Respect in Asia
Asians, in general, often put a high regard on people of authority. That includes teachers. That is why openly contradicting or interrupting your teachers can be looked down upon. If you are disagreeing on something, you may, of course, approach the teacher, but in private.
Saving (Losing) Face
Preserving one’s pride and self-esteem is important in Asian cultures. It is not socially acceptable to say something or ask questions that will make someone lose face.
Cultural shocks come with exploration. However, making peace and sense with such differences expands your comfort zone and perspective.