Home Commentary and Analysis Learning about Cultural Differences Enhances Foreign Travel
Learning about Cultural Differences Enhances Foreign Travel

Learning about Cultural Differences Enhances Foreign Travel

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By James Lint
Faculty Member, School of Business, American Military University
Senior Editor for
 In Cyber Defense and Contributor, In Homeland Security

Anyone who goes abroad gets the chance to learn the value of international travel. But people who do not travel do not understand how other people and other cultures view the world.

For instance, Americans always say that Europe is to the east. To Asians, the U.S. and Europe are to the west. That’s why the U.S. and Europe are called “the West,” Asians say.

There is a reason why people in many parts of the world smile when Americans talk about their history. The U.S. has 410 years of history, starting with the 1607 founding of the Jamestown colony, the first permanent British settlement in the United States.

By contrast, Europe has more than 2,000 years of history. Asian and Middle Eastern civilizations date back more than 5,000 years.

Individualism More Prized in US Than Other Countries

We in the U.S. are a country of individuals; we’ve spawned the “me” generation. We often create solutions with an individual focus. We don’t consider individualism to be a bad trait.

In Asia, cultural decisions are made for the “collective greater good rather than individual gain,” according to the Graybit Travel magazine. The “me” focus of the U.S. is considered crass or rude.

In China, it is often the senior member of the group or family who is the decision maker. In the U.S., decisions are often made collaboratively and discussed in a group. Junior members of the group provide input too, which can look odd in Asia.

Arab culture does not share the American concept of “personal space” in public situations, in private meetings or in conversations, according to Arab Cultural Awareness factsheets. Leaning in to one another is customary among Arabs.

Also, when Arabs conduct business, it is customary for them to first shake the hand of all males present, taking care not to grip too firmly. In the U.S., a hearty handshake for all – including women – is deemed a sign of friendliness.

Self-Promotion Is Key to Success for Americans

In the U.S., we must be prepared to impress a potential employer. Self-promotion is key to success. Americans often brag about their personal successes.

“In China, individuals are expected to treat each other well and to show humility when discussing [personal] successes. Sometimes, to avoid humiliating someone, Asians would rather not discuss successes at all,” notes the Goldstar Recruitment blog.

Americans are free to share opinions, whether or not the listener likes to hear them. We seek a free exchange of ideas and opinions. That is a different approach than the approach found in much of Asia, where not hurting the feelings of others is crucial and one’s opinion is not as important as the greater good of the society.

In Asia, age is often as important as rank is to the military. Age is a basis for hierarchy and shows where one stands in society.

Age Is Prized in Some Asian Cultures

Shortly after the initial exchange of names in many places in Asia, the next exchange will be about age. This practice determines which party in the conversation will receive specific age-based honorifics.

U.S. culture promotes egalitarianism. The English language does not have these honorifics with the exception of a younger person addressing an older person as sir or ma’am. Europeans are more likely to address one another as “sir,” “mister” or “miss.” Americans are less formal, often opting for a first-name basis upon introduction.

Embrace the Differences of Cultures When Traveling

While these cultural differences might seem strange initially, they are what make foreign travel exciting and interesting. Exploring cultural differences changes travelers’ perspectives. For example, Americans visiting Spain for the first time are often surprised by how late Spaniards have dinner, often not before 10 p.m. Americans usually set aside the hours between six p.m. and eight p.m. to dine.

In Arabic culture, it is proper to use only the right hand when eating, drinking or passing food, especially when taking food from communal dishes. The left hand must never be used because it is considered unclean.

Also, unlike Western societies, not eating everything on one’s plate is considered a compliment in Arab society. It is a sign of wealth when an Arab can afford to leave food behind.

Becoming familiar with how other cultures behave and see the world before going abroad makes for a better travel experience. In addition, APUS’s global-oriented programs can also have an impact your career, education and adventures.

About the Author

James R. Lint recently retired as the (GG-15) civilian director for intelligence and security, G2, U.S. Army Communications Electronics Command. He is an adjunct professor at AMU. James has been involved in cyberespionage events from just after the turn of the century in Korea supporting 1st Signal Brigade to the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis as the first government cyber intelligence analyst. He has 38 years of experience in military intelligence with the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Army, government contracting and civil service.

Additionally, James started the Lint Center for National Security Studies, a nonprofit charity that recently awarded its 45th scholarship for national security students and professionals. James was also elected as the 2015 national vice president for the Military Intelligence Corps Association. He has also served in the Department of Energy’s S&S Security Office after his active military career in the Marine Corps for seven years and 14 years in the Army. His military assignments include South Korea, Germany and Cuba, in addition to numerous CONUS locations. In 2017, he was appointed to the position of Adjutant for The American Legion, China Post 1. James has authored a book published in 2013, “Leadership and Management Lessons Learned,” a book in 2016 “8 Eyes on Korea, A Travel Perspective of Seoul, Korea,” and a new book in 2017 Secrets to Getting a Federal Government Job.”

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