The famous “American Dream,” along with many stories of success, have attracted talented people to the U.S. as the best place for scientists in the world. I believe many PhDs who are seeking further career development and successful lives are from different countries. I am also from a country outside of the U.S. with a different culture. Having lived in various places , I have been asked similar questions many times, all on the basic theme of “What do you think about my country?” Each time, I use a story to answer. It’s the story of “The Four Blind People Seeing The Elephant” from my elementary school English textbook. I like the story very much, although I can only remember its outline.
Once upon a time, there were 4 blind people living in a village who liked to meet in the afternoon to discuss various things. They had heard a lot of good and bad things regarding elephants from news and others conversations, but none of them had actually “seen” an elephant before. After several discussions, all of them agreed that they should not only listen to all the talk, but “see” the elephant for themselves, because actual experience is most important for judgment. One day, an elephant was passing through their village. After they heard the news, they ran towards the street where the elephant was passing.
The first blind person was taller and moved quickly. He caught the elephant’s nose, and said, “The elephant looked like a big snake.” The second blind person came next and caught the elephant’s leg and said, “What are you talking about? The elephant looked like a tree.” The third blind person touched the back of the elephant and said, “No, the elephant looked like a wall.” The 4th blind person, the oldest one in the group, finally arrived and caught the elephant’s tail. He said, “All of you are wrong. The elephant looked like a rope.” After that day, they could not stop arguing with one another because everybody believed what they had “seen” was the truth.
Every country, every culture, and every person is an elephant. I always tell myself not to judge things by one experience, one person’s behavior, etc. For example, I was from a culture in which everybody likes to be the same and has clear rules of right and wrong for everything. Coming to the U.S., I wanted to follow the U.S. culture, do what U.S. people do, eat what U.S. people eat, dress as U.S. people dress. I believed that is the way to deal with different cultures, but I found that is not always the case in the U.S.
The U.S. is a country with multiple cultures, which encourage individuals to show their differences and learn right and wrong through their experiences. The more people I meet here, the more different opinions influence me. Sometimes it causes many conflicting thoughts to fight in my head to make just one decision. It could make you crazy. Americans are telling me, “just be yourself,” but I really didn’t know how. It made me feel lost for the first several years in the U.S.
Americans are big elephants – comprehensive and full of differences. After living in the U.S. for over 10 years, I feel like I am one of them – comprehensive and complicated. So, I would tell my friends, please do not think you know Chinese, just because you know me and my Chinese name.
I think accepting differences is the best way to deal with different cultures. But, first, please take your time, know the differences, and know the elephant as a whole.