Indiana University Overseas Study

Last night, Virgina and I were talking about the meaning of culture. She asked me how I defined my cultural identity, which I found to be challenging. It was very easy for her to define her cultural identity, because she is from Spain and knows a lot about her country’s distinct cuisines, ways of life, and history. She told me to “just explain my country’s past” as I tried to tell her I know I am white and from America, but I need to find more about who I am.

Our discussion caused me to stay up all night reflecting on my cultural identity. America is known as the melting pot because there are so many people with different cultures living together; there is no real American culture. I find myself extremely perplexed as I dwell over the question of what American identity means. America differs from other countries with its focus on the individual’s wants and needs rather than the community as a whole. Religion is widely accepted in all its various forms, allowing individual expression to remain free from persecution. For such a young country, established only in the 18th century, Americans chose not to identify themselves by their ethnic or spiritual values but instead by their desire for personal freedom.

When I think about America, the first words that come to mind are pride and freedom. American’s are not afraid to stand up for what they believe in. This headstrong way of thinking has given many minorities the courage to successfully reach for the American dream, establishing themselves within the culture. I find it difficult to trace my historical roots through my family tree, but I know why my family believed America was the place for us. The idea of reaching the American Dream has led many people to seek refuge in America, craving a better life with religious freedom and economic opportunity. It is an inspirational tool encouraging people to strive for something better; we are all afforded equal opportunity.

Culture is the lens we use to view what is around us, helping us to make sense of the world. What I know, as an American, is constantly changing.  My culture is always being influenced by the other cultures I surround myself with. I feel fortunate to live in “the melting pot,” because it has allowed me to gain exposure to what culture means to others as I try to define it for myself.  I may still be unable to tell you exactly what culture means to me, but by surrounding myself with the rich cultures of others, I am able to better understand myself and what I find important.

On a smaller scale, my local culture varies greatly from my country’s culture. I come from a well-to-do suburb of the North Chicago land area, surrounded by predominantly Jewish people. The suburbs are an extremely safe place to live, have beautiful houses, and prestigious school systems, but many of the people I grew up with take it all for granted.  I have always appreciated the opportunities I have been given, and see myself as more grounded by being around those who are unable to appreciate what they have.

American culture is like a stew. It is composed of many different ingredients (cultures), spices (beliefs), and often a secret ingredient (pride and freedom) to give it the unique flavor that people crave. It is the land of opportunity, and it tastes good.


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