My Cultural Identity
I was born in London, England after my parents moved to the UK from their home country Guyana in 1986. Both my parents were born in Guyana, however, my mother grew up mostly in England attending English schools whereas my father grew up in his home country.
I find it difficult to specify my ethnical origin as it’s a fair mix. My father mentioned how there are parts of his family from Pakistan on his side of the family. My mother mentioned how on her side of the family there’s a mix of Chinese. Nevertheless, the main ethnical background part of which is the same on both sides of the family is Indian. However, my parents class themselves culturally different from Indian.
I remember when I first applied for a job and I had to fill the part about my ethnic origin. My instincts were to tick the English box as I was born and raised in England, but in doing my father quickly stopped me and explained how ticking this box would set expectations of me being a “white” male. In confusion, I asked my father for advice on how to fill this section. He replied with, tick the “other” box and write Indo-Caribbean on the dotted line. To explain this, “the Indo-Caribbean are Caribbean nationals with East Indian ancestry” (Jaikaran, 2015).
My father is a Muslim, but he never forced me to follow this belief and my mother believes in Hinduism from her father along with Christianity from her mother. I believe I would describe my mother as transcultural, as she had “fuse[d] aspects of two or more cultures” (Suarez-Orozco, 2003) from her parents and from where she had grown up in England. I would argue she had even applied this to religions too by following parental/religious traditions, the traditions of her culture and where she was living.
Although I’ve always known I was physically different, I became more aware of my culture difference as I got older. Suarez-Orozco (2003), based on my dilemma in my youth, may describe my experience as Ethnic Flight, “the children of immigrants who shed their cultures structure…their identities strongly around the dominant, mainstream culture”. At first, I didn’t feel I had a connection to my Indo-Caribbean Guyanese culture my father described. The times I had visited the country, I was too young to even remember the experience. All I knew was the way my parents spoke to relatives in their native Caribbean slang version of English on the phone, listening to Soca/Reggae music or the food my parents made which my English friends had never heard of such as Pepperpot, Casavapone, Dahl and Roti, Salara etc.
Soca music of my childhood
Due to growing up mostly in England, attending an English Private School, then to Government schools, I had somewhat synthesised my parents’ culture and the dominant English culture I was growing up and living in. I would argue, I too like my mother had “creatively fused aspects of two or more cultures” (Suarez-Orozco, 2003). As I got older, I had managed to “develop an identity that incorporates traits of [my parents] cultures all while fusing additive elements” (Falicov, 2002). Therefore, like my mother, I too had become transcultural in creating an identity which involves the traits of my family and where I had grown up in England.
Jaikaran, E. (2015, December 1st). The Indo-Caribbean Experience: Now and Then. Retrieved from browngirlmagazine.com: http://www.browngirlmagazine.com/2015/12/the-indo-caribbean-experience-now-and-then/
Suárez-Orozco, C. (2003). Formulating Identity in a Globalized World. In C. Suárez-Orozco, Globalization: Culture & Education in the New Millennium (p. 25). California: University of California Press & Ross Institute.
Cross-cultural concepts Infographic
Reflection based on Garcia’s (2014) the “Outsider/Insider” article.
This section involves a side by side reflection on a situation or time in my life when I felt I was the outsider and on when I felt like one of the insiders joining the group.
Moving to Thailand to start teaching English in 2012 was a big step. Just like Jordan in Garcia’s (2014) article, “I was really afraid of doing something completely wrong and as a result being criticized or even ostracized by the group I was trying to fit in with”. In the area I am currently living in Thailand, it’s not often to see foreigners walking around. Most of them tend to be in cities such as Bangkok/Pattaya etc. Therefore I could relate to the Korean-American student in Garcia’s (2014) article about “differences in race or ethnicity sometimes make it impossible to blend in”. There have been times in my local area when I’ve walked into a shop and the Thai citizens would stare as I walked around. The Greek-American student in Garcia’s (2014) article summed up my feelings, like her I “stuck out like a sore thumb” due to my dress and behaviour.
English is also my first and only language. I didn’t know how to speak or read in Thai, which further made me an outsider in the beginning. The most recent memory in my life of when I felt like an outsider was when I was asked by my students where I’m from. Even though I had introduced and explained how I’m from England at the start of the year, they still don’t believe it. I don’t blame them as their exposure and expectations of what an English person looks like are Mr Bean, David Beckham or James Bond.
Unfortunately for them, I look like neither. Based on the children’s experiences of the limited diverse cultures at my school, “it became very clear to me that now, I was the tourist, the outsider, the odd-man out” (Garcia, 2014). They had other expectations as they believe I was from the Philippines or India based on my features etc.
As an international/global teacher, I believe “I had to adapt to not only a new country, but also to a completely different academic system” (Garcia, 2014). I felt, when I started my current teaching position in 2013, I started off as an outsider but then became an insider.
“Being accepted into the group of employees as an equal enabled [me] to learn about how their social class position was different from [mine] and led to a different attitude toward their jobs” (Garcia, 2014). Like with any job, it becomes “easier as I was able to settle into a routine that allowed me to excel at my position” (Garcia, 2014). I remember when we had a staff meeting about explaining the job roles of teachers from KG to grade 7. I recall a Filipino teacher raising her hand to question what her expectations were as a teacher in Nursery. My partner was beside me in this meeting, she too was a KG-2 teacher there at the time. The Filipino teacher asked more or less assertively, yet sarcastically to confront and bring awareness to her issue, “so we are not teachers really, we are babysitters right?”
By this time I had already been teaching in Thailand as an ELL teacher for middle school and my partner had experienced 2 years in Kindergarten in Thai Government schools. If anyone was an insider in terms of Thai culture, it was definitely her. In immediate reaction to this, she muttered under her breath quietly “you’re in Nursery, what do you expect?”
Based on this experience and my partner’s reaction, I had already pre-judged some of the Filipino staff at my school. As it appeared they believed themselves to be “‘above’ assisting a kid and that’s why they avoided helping me” (Garcia, 2014) teaching Basketball at school club. At least, this is how I felt and believed at the time. However, “as an insider, I was able to see that their problems were far superior to my own” (Garcia, 2014). Many of the Filipino employees are vastly underpaid in comparison to the Native foreign staff’s salary and yet they are asked to perform more tasks along with other responsibilities. In many instances, they are not paid extra for the overtime they put in either. At our school in general, most Native foreign teachers tend to perform the minimum required. As a result, a negative label is placed upon us and the expectations of the Native foreign staff became low.
As a result of my hard work ethic, dedication to volunteered extra-curricular activities such as the basketball/football clubs, music band, spelling bee team, Science shows, English Camps etc. I feel I had earned the respect from the Thai and Filipino staff in comparison to other Native foreign teachers. I had transitioned to becoming an insider and thus, “my perception about the employees changed drastically” (Garcia, 2014). Although I was an outsider at first, it helped me understand and be aware of the “social class differences and their impact[s]” (Garcia, 2014) in my school.
In the future, I can now assist in inducting new Native foreign staff to encourage a more “positive attitude along with strong work ethic” for our staff within our school.
Garcia, A. C. (2014). The “Outsider/Insider” Assignment: A Pedagogical Innovation for Teaching Cross-Cultural Understanding. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in
Higher Education, Volume 26, Number 3, 453-462.