I can’t seem to get my head around it but, I’ve now been in Wales for just about 4 weeks. I have been here for a month! That’s crazy, it doesn’t even feel like that long and the days are already flying by. Anyways, I have now had my sit down talk with a local of Wales. I had a lovely talk with a friend I’ve made seen coming to Wales, her name is Martha. We spoke about and shared stories about the differences in culture and values. I chose to interview Martha because she’s helped me thus far in becoming accustomed to life here in Wales and has been very helpful in answering any of the questions I’ve had and helping me with local lingo.
I think that it’s very important to take the time to really discuss and understand personal and cultural viewpoints as well as mindsets of the people from whatever country you may be studying in. It not only expresses your willingness to listen and learn about the people and communities around you, but also shows that you’re open accepting new things. For example, change isn’t really as welcome as it is back home. A lot of the places (cities and villages) in Wales, have been standing for a long time and people really like to keep to their traditions. I’m not saying that they are stuck in their ways because for the most part they aren’t, they are more of traditionalists, but for the sake of preserving their country’s rich history.
This also goes hand in hand with their view of the elderly versus the younger generation. The Welsh value their elderly and hold the utmost respect for them in contrast to their youth. From what I gathered, from what Martha and I spoke about, it has a lot to do with preserving history and keeping of tradition. A lot of these folks were born, raised, and now live in their parents homes, especially in the villages ( some are small towns). In saying as much the Welsh are very friendly towards newcomers, but are more accepted by those who live in the cities rather than the villages. The villages from what Martha spoke to me about seem to be a little less friendly toward newcomers just because of that sense of change and wanting to keep to tradition as much as possible. This also is due to the fact that a lot more elderly folk live in the villages. Martha actually lives in one of these towns called Narberth, about an hour and half from Cardiff. On a personal level she’s very open to change, but as she explained this isn’t so for everybody living in Wales. She also described that closeness of the community, kind of like one of those “everybody knows everybody” towns. In the U.S. we have these types of communities, but not in as much of abundance as in Wales, especially because it’s a big farming country, a lot of green compared to back home. So they have more towns/villages out in the countryside, not too mention the castles and their history.
Another example of different cultural value sets than the U.S., is the way the Welsh deal with confrontation. It’s kind of funny actually because I kind of already noticed it, but didn’t want to say anything. So apparently the Welsh along with the British don’t like confrontation to the point where they’ll avoid it as much as possible. Martha told me that if there is a problem between two persons they’ll just talk around the issue and avoid bringing it up. It’s almost like the “it will eventually resolve itself” type of thinking. They’re usually very happy people and I guess I can kind of see why, but to many Americans, I can see them questioning why people would assume the avoidance position. Being both American, which faces issues head first, and Portuguese, which takes on a similar approach as the Welsh and British, I can understand both. I feel depending on the situation, it’s best to decide on which method is the best. However, Martha explained to me that in terms of the Welsh and British it’s more acceptable to keep things to yourself than to share with others, especially if it involves a topic which could cause an issue between people. Also, it has a lot to do with the respect,which is owed to each person. Laughing matter aside Martha, even said that sometimes this avoidance can go for 2 months even. That might seem rude or even disrespectful in the U.S. is fairly common in terms of dealing with conflict in the Welsh and British culture.
I think back home at Quinnipiac, one of the things on campus that I really don’t participate in is the student government. It’s not that I don’t like that scene on campus, I just don’t particularly share this pressing need to be constantly at odds with the politics of the school. Admittedly, I will only participate in it if I agree with the issue that is raised, but usually I stay out of the student government scene. I wouldn’t be averse to sitting down with a representative of the student government group at all. If I can learn more about how they want to and accomplish the goals they set, then that’s great. I’m always open to expanding my knowledge about things I may not be well versed in or that I hadn’t quite taken an interest in but want to understand. I think that the student government kind of gets a bad rep, not from what it does or doesn’t do, but rather from the way they push too hard in selling their points. I can’t speak for the quinnipiac student body, but for me I feel like they are always worried about selling their ideas to the rest of the student body to the point where its overwhelm or bothersome. I feel if the student body knew more about their plans and had it explained to them thoroughly, or even if we knew more about how the student government wanted to accomplish these “ideas” and maybe in what ways the rest of the student body could do to help. I think if the student body including myself understood the process of how the student government worked, we could see a lot more things happening on campus.
Ultimately, I think that whether it be back on campus or being immersed in a different culture in a different country it comes down to the individual. As Hess said, “an individual lives by a conscience that is shaped by the imprint of genetic makeup, the idiosyncrasies of personality, the reinforcement of personal experiences, and consequences of personal choice” (Hess, p.53). In order to understand a different culture and its values you must be willing to learn and listen and the other person must also be willing to teach and listen as well. It’s a two way street.
Had Martha not been willing to speak with me or help me in getting accustomed to the differences, no matter how small, this whole process would have been useless. Both parties have to be willing and I think that is what I really took from this experience. Martha was really helpful and cheerful about the whole thing and that made asking these questions and having a conversation a lot smoother and more natural. That said I feel that I have settled into my new status as a person I have crossed over the liminal stage in which I was kind of hanging out in for the last couple of weeks. After my walk and now my talk I feel like I have finally fully transitioned to this new status where I have a more definitive idea of who I am slowly becoming. It’s also made me aware of the “baggage” I’ve let go, which certainly makes me happy. Even seeing the smallest changes in the way I act, think, or conduct myself is momentous to me because I means that I’m already making progress towards my goal no matter how small. I really happy that I have had this experience and that I got to speak with Martha. I’ve learned more about her and the culture around me, as well as myself!