Hands down, the best thing about living in Thailand is the opportunity to engage people of many different cultures. We get to engage Thai culture, but because there is a fairly large expat community here, we’ve also had the opportunity to talk with and learn from people from many different countries on numerous continents.
For instance, I am learning a lot about Swedish culture from our Swedish friends who just live down the road. My ancestry is largely Swedish, but learning about Swedish culture from family who is several generations removed from Sweden is very different from learning from those who have actually grown up there. It has been so fascinating and I at times worry that my consistent question-asking will be off-putting to our kind friends. Thankfully, they’re super gracious about it, so for now, I’ll keep asking my questions. And then there are our British friends – I am coming to appreciate the use of different words, such as “lovely” and “brilliant.” (On a side note, I think everyone should have some British friends; I could listen to that accent all day!) I am learning more about national health care, which countries make up the UK, and that the same English words often mean different things to them than they do to me. And although there are currently language barriers that prevent me from learning all the things about Thai culture that I would like to, I am learning a lot simply by observing, talking to others who have lived here longer, and talking with the Thai who speak a bit more English.
As you can imagine, there are many differences between the American culture I was raised in and the cultures of those we are meeting and now live amidst. Some of these differences are significant, some are slight. However, beyond the differences, there is much that is the same. Hopes, dreams, likes, dislikes; we all have them. Even more importantly, each person has incredible value, dignity, and something to offer those around them. In some ways, we aren’t so different after all.
My husband recently started a new project called, “A Shared Humanity,” which explores just that; the things that show we are, at the core, not so different as we might think. He has been spending a considerable amount of time each week meeting and engaging with people from around the world in order to learn more about their own life and story. He also creates a portrait of each person and then shares a piece of their story on the site. Shun-Luoi leaves it up to you to engage with each story and see how you may or may not identify with each person, but even if the circumstances of that person’s life are drastically different from yours, chances are that you might just find some commonalities between you and them. This is your chance to engage people of cultures you might not have the opportunity to engage. Take it! I encourage you to click on each image, to really look into the eyes of the people in each imagine, and to consider the things they’ve shared.
In addition, strongly consider getting out of your own cultural comfort zone and seek out people from other cultures in order to learn from them and possibly even share of yourself with them. If you keep at it long enough, I think you’ll be surprised at the ways in which you’re more similar than you expected. I promise you these experiences will be rich, even if different than you might expect. There will be probably be cultural faux paus committed, one of you or the other might have to muddle through a concept that doesn’t translate easily into the other’s culture, and there might even be language barriers. I realize I’m in an unique position in which to do this, but I think the majority of us can find someone of a different culture (and think of “culture” a bit more broadly than even just nationality, ethnicity, and race) who lives around us. It might take a bit of work, but do it anyway.
I’m not trying to minimize our differences, because I admit that they can be significant, and even challenging at times. But you might also come to discover, that in some ways, we’re not so different after all …