Cultural Acquisition is Never Complete {The Grove: Curiosity}

When I graduated from high school, my mom wrote me a letter reminiscing about my years growing up. “Your inquisitiveness about killed me,” she wrote…or something like that. She was actually a lot sweeter about it, but I do know I  did ask a lot of questions as a child, and I’m sure she was regularly exhausted from my incessant curiosity.

I believe that this inquisitiveness served me well in the beginning days as an expat. Asking questions before entering new social situations (i.e. parties, religious ceremonies, work settings) helped me know what to expect about a new experience and how to appropriately respond.

But over the course of time, my understanding of the culture and my environment grew. And sadly, I think I stopped asking important questions. I made many more assumptions and thought much too highly of my cultural acquisition.

I’m confessing this because, as I think about the word curiosity this week, I am finding myself needing to recommit to asking questions about my host culture. I’m seeing that it really is important to be a constant learner – never settling for having “arrived” because after all, we will always be foreigners.

If you’ve just moved overseas, or if you—like me—need to recommit to being curious about your host cultures, I’ve started a list of questions you can ask to help jump-start your learning about where you live.

  1. What role do relationships play in your surrounding community?
  2. How has the history of the past 50 years of your host nation influenced the culture?
  3. Which holds more weight in your host culture: the written law or the social law?
  4. What role do women play in the society?
  5. What are the opportunities your neighbors see for your community?

Can you guys help me out? Let’s extend this list into the comments! What questions have helped you understand your host culture more deeply? What would you add to this list to help us spark our curiosity of our neighbors and friends?

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This is The Grove and we want to hear from you! You can link up your blog post, or share your practices, ponderings, wisdom, questions, ideas, and creative expressions with us in the comments below.

Here’s our Instagram collection from this week using #VelvetAshesCuriosity. You can add yours!

9 Comments

  1. Katherine September 15, 2017

    Yesterday afternoon a spontaneous gathering of church members happened in our front yard. Snails were being grilled, a few people had been invited, but it kind of snowballed into more than a few. In my earlier years here I probably would have taken that as an opportunity to sit on the mat with everyone and watch and listen, such a good opportunity to learn. I don’t know that I can easily come up with good questions , but looking back I think I learn just from watching, and I guess that’s when I discover what questions I have. But at this stage of life I used it as some precious kid-free time! My preschoolers were happy to hang out with Daddy and church members outside. Hopefully I can still keep a curious attitude though, so these questions are useful and it will be interesting to see what other questions people post.

    1. Lauren Pinkston September 18, 2017

      As soon as you said you were grilling snails, I thought you must be in Cambodia. 🙂

      We all need that kid-free time, too, so don’t feel bad about taking a minute to breathe. I’m sure you learn so much about the Khmer culture from your husband! Way to keep it up. You rock!

  2. Annalisa September 15, 2017

    I’m not sure how exactly to word the question, but you’ll find that there is one. When I was growing up in the US, we had a public library. Anyone could go and check out a book free of charge, take it home, read it, and bring it back. In the summer, during school vacations, the library hosted a reading competition in which you could earn prizes for reading a certain number of books (and usually writing reports about them to prove you read them). When I got used to living in my host culture, I asked my boyfriend (now husband) who really enjoys to read but never finds the time for it, “Why aren’t there a lot of libraries here?” His response was, quite frankly, pretty depressing to a bibliophile such as myself. He basically told me that when he was a child, he got up at 4 am to take the corn to the mill to get it ground so his mother could make tortillas. At 6 he bathed, ate, and walked to school. When school got out at noon, he went home, changed from his school clothes to his work clothes and went to work in the fields until it was too dark to see. Then he went home and ate dinner. After dinner, he did his homework by the light of the dying cook fire. “When did I have time to read anything for fun?” (During vacations, he worked both morning and afternoon. I don’t know what he did by the light of the dying cook fire.)

    So, perhaps the question is “How do the demands of a culture affect the services which are offered?”

    A decade ago, Guatemala had the lowest literacy rate in the Western Hemisphere. i think it’s now second lowest. Libraries would be a great way to raise that literacy rate, but only if people are excited about them and interested in them. However, as my husband showed me, it’s not necessarily a practical solution.

    1. Lauren Pinkston September 18, 2017

      Really great perspective, Annalisa. And again, what a rich understanding you have and will continue to have of Guatemala because of your marriage! I love this question and this commentary.

  3. Michele September 15, 2017

    Who are the most important people in your country/community/life?
    What makes you happy /sad/scared /laugh? (Those seem really personal, but if you ask a number of people, you can often find trends that show differences between the culture and your own).
    How has this country changed in the last…years? Do you think the changes are good or bad? (I love to hear the stories of older people, especially)!

  4. Megann September 16, 2017

    I’m not so good at coming up with my own questions…I’m always looking for resources that have good questions to ask people, hehe! I guess usually I end up coming up with questions in the spur of the moment when I’m having a conversation with someone, though, maybe from something that came up in the conversation or something like that. I guess one question that’s not necessarily so original, but definitely has let me see how my friends think about things, is “What would you do if you won (fill in the blank with an amount of money)?” It’s been interesting to see differences in what people from my home culture and host culture say about this and kind of get a little picture of some different values each culture has.

    1. Lauren Pinkston September 18, 2017

      I love that, Megann. I think that question will quickly give you a clue about the heart of a person. And let you know if they are a person of peace!

  5. Current China Curiosities  – REL2 in China September 17, 2017

    […]  You might think that after three years, I have a pretty good understanding of China.  But this week at Velvet Ashes, the theme is curiosity.  So I started to think about all the things I’m still […]

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