Culture: A Difference of Opinion

I can't pinpoint the exact moment when I decided to go back to school. I had been in Canada for only two years, and somehow I knew I was looking for my voice. I had no interest in going back to what I had been doing in my native country, but I needed a purpose to give meaning to my immigration.

I started by taking general courses like Communications in order to decide my next move. From the first class, I realized that I didn't understand the attitude of students towards our professors. The boys were allowed to wear hats in front of female teachers and my classmates brought food and ate while the professor was speaking to them. I was bewildered when I realized that nobody stood up while speaking, or even raised their hands for permission to speak. I was puzzled by the ice-breakers at the beginning of class and considered the Canadian professors a bit naïve to believe in this method of education. Questions like, "What is your opinion?" and "What do you think?" were puzzling and unknown to me. Why would my opinion be important?

I was repelled by my Canadian peers in school and didn't know why. Was it because their attitudes toward our professors were the opposite of what I was used to in school? Was it maybe because they weren't afraid of speaking their minds, making suggestions, and opposing rules and conventions?

School in my native country is all about memorizing.  I remember long nights, staying awake - memorizing - while everybody in my household slept. From the first day of elementary school we were groomed to memorize, without ever considering our opinions. Our opinions counted for nothing, and we were punished for disturbing a class with our suggestions. Nobody wanted to seem impertinent, so nobody expressed their real feelings.

We were trained to underestimate ourselves, and overestimate our professors.

I recently had a conversation with a friend who has been in Canada for over thirty years. He seemed to understand my confusion, and told me that when he came to Canada he felt that he didn't know what he was capable of. He wasn't used to speaking in his own name, arguing for himself or defending his work.

I related so much to him. I didn't know what I was capable of either; I always let others decide for me.
After three years of school in Canada, I've learned to appreciate my voice, my peers and my professors. I've changed and I've discovered that I respect those who stand up for themselves and for what they believe in.

And I've learned to better understand and empathize with people from different backgrounds, and their struggles to regain their own voices.