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When Cultures Clash

In: English and Literature

Submitted By boston4
Words 1709
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In, Bend it Like Beckham, the main character Jess, lives in a Panjabi immigrant community and is not alone in the challenges she faces as she tries to balance her cultural heritage with the western influence that she encounters in the surrounding English community. Jess must deal with the wants and restrictions of her family while trying to be a part of the western culture she is exposed to at the soccer league. I lived the past two years in Hong Kong and I watched my fellow students struggle with the same dilemma. My classmates and friends tried to blend their culture and parental expectations with their own goals and desire to adopt many elements of western society. Nowhere was this more evident than in my acedemic improvement. Chris, a close friend of mine in Hong Kong, went through a similar experience as he tried to pursue a career in acting and yet live up to the expectations of his father who wanted his son to follow him into the family business. He had to juggle the norms of his traditional Chinese parents with his own wants.

I moved to Hong Kong two years ago with my family where I attend the Canadian International School. It was quite an experience. We moved into an area where many of the tycoons of China live. All the children who live there attend private school and many are enrolled in the international schools because their parents want them to become more worldly and to be ready for the global society that Asia is fast becoming. For many of the students, they are the first generation to grow up with money and western exposure at a young age. I quickly realized that many kids are westernized, or “Americanized” as some phrase it, but the problem is their parents and elders are not. Although they want their children to become modern and westernized so that they can compete globally, they still want the fealty and submissiveness that comes with the traditional parent/child relationship in Asia. The result is a huge culture clash between the generations similar to what Jess experienced in her Indian Community. In Jess’ culture she fancied an English guy which was taboo in her culture. In Western culture miscegenation is more common and accepted. The Chinese are very family oriented and my friends were always going out for big family dinners, on a weekly basis. Since Friday nights are usually dedicated to family, their family commitments clash with the typical western Friday night, which is to socialize with friends. I saw the guilt my friends experienced when they chose to go out with friends and ignore their parents desire to see them on weekends

Apart from being family oriented, the children’s schedules are much more regimented than that of a typical American student. Although I went to an international school, the name is a bit misleading because 90% of the student body is Chinese or Hong Kongnese as they call themselves. I was truly able to see their daily routines. I recognized and observed their work habits and the tremendous amount of pressure their parents put on them on to excel in school. There was a glimpse of this in Bend it like Beckham when Jess was accepted to study medicine in university. In the film we could see the tension around Jess’ academic future. Jess was the only one not excited about her acceptance into medical school. She wanted to play professional woman's soccer in America. The problem that I saw in Hong Kong was the stress these kids were under. Many of my Asian friends had grey hair already. I admire their dedication, but some students looked like they were about to explode. These students grew up with school and tutors their whole life. It is not unusual for the wealthy Hong Kong to enroll their children in pre-pre-school in order to compete for spots in the most competitive international schools. While this may be common in some parts of American society, it was not my experience. I am used to the intensity found in football down in the South or in Texas, . In America, especially in some schools, sports is a huge part of school culture and life that sometimes comes before academics. You never see this in Hong Kong. Sport is considered a diversion if you have some extra time- but it never takes priority over academics. It was common for Hong Kong students to skip practice or even games because of school work.

My classmates are extremely dedicated and proud of what they achieve in school. Many of these students have no time for anything but school. Extracurricular activities are a much smaller part of their life than for students in the US. Because of the pressure to perform at an A+ level, there was a lot of competitiveness among the students. It was every student for themselves in the classroom. My classmates do not share notes often, let alone study together. The school attempted an after school study group once, but with little success. The teachers found that the students would come into the class and end up studying by themselves. The competitiveness in the class room was my culture shock. Having come out of a public high school in the suburbs of Washington DC, I was not use to the hard edge competition for class ranking that was the norm in Hong Kong. No one in Hong Kong wanted to be a B student, let alone a C student. The students went to tutor as often as needed to insure high grades. Students pull consecutive all nighters to finish their homework and projects. I sometimes refer to the classroom as a war zone; every student trying to beat his or her enemy for victory- the highest grade on the test. Students would try and be more western but would often have to hide it from their parents. . Many parents were conservative and more traditional, but the children would like to dress and act more western. So the kids would bring extra clothes to change when they left the house. The idea was to have the parents think they were only being westernized a little bit. A good friend of mine at school in Hong Kong was very down-to-earth and westernized. The problem was, his parents were not. He was from a traditional Chinese family. He wanted to pursue an acting career. He had spent his life acting, doing school plays and local productions. I must say he was quite good: a well rounded performer. My father and I met him one afternoon at a local grocery store. The three of us started to talk about college and summer plans. My father was fascinated to hear that my friend was applying to acting school and had to audition for his acceptance. My father was very impressed because he knew acting was hard and would take a lot of work. Moments later we met his parents. My father naturally congratulated his parents on their son’s ambition to try acting. We instantly knew his father was not happy with his son’s choice to pursue a career in acting. Neither of his parents said anything positive about the subject. Instead, his father emphasized that he wanted his son to go into business and be a tycoon like himself. Finally, my dad changed the subject and the two started talking about the economy, a more neutral topic

I felt badly because I knew this was happening all over Hong Kong.Luckily his parents allowed him, to pursue his dream, but with much resentment. Jess’s situation was very similar to Chris’. Both wanted one thing while their families wanted them to stay traditional and pursue a “real” career as defined by their parents. Jess wanted to pursue her passion for soccer while Chris wanted to act. Chris told me how he would constantly have to take business classes even though he didn't want to. His father at first kept insisting that he would become a business man like him. He was always busy running around, going to rehearsal, school, and juggling the extra business classes demanded by his father. Like Jess’s parents, his parents did not approve of his son’s career goal and the embarrassment put on the family. Despite what his parents thought, they did allow him to pursue his western dream of being an actor. They saw that he really wanted it. Just like Jess, my friend never gave up and now he is attending acting school in Canada.. Living in Hong Kong for two years gave me a better understanding of why Asian students excel in school and take their academic career so seriously; it is driven mainly by their parent’s goals and aspirations for their children. Some of their parents and most of their grandparents come from humble backgrounds and it was education that brought them wealth. As a newcomer to Hong Kong and attending an international school with a student body that was mostly Chinese, I always felt a bit like an outsider. I did not mind, because I felt was mixing the best of two different cultures. I was as Americanized as you can get and all my classmates knew that. Although they wanted to be Americanized, they were not ready or able to fully adopt the American way. I admired their diligence in the pursuit of academic excellence but, I was not ready to abandon my lifestyle to get the perfect score. I did however, take school more seriously that when I lived in the US and my grades showed it. My focus changed a bit primarily because everyone took school more seriously so I adopted some of the local culture. Like Geertz I was able to witness and better understand a culture that was very foreign and could not fully comprehend. I adopted some of the aspects of Hong Kong life and culture that I believed made me a better person. Other parts I ignored. Like my Chinese friends that wanted to be more western, they picked some aspects and ignored others and in a way we both adopted what we wanted from each others’ culture.

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