The Nature of the Beast

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"It's the nature of the beast". Some readers may have heard this expression used to attribute both good and bad behaviour. How does this saying translate to being an ESL teacher in China?

There are a number of perspectives that help to explain and understand the complexity of human behaviour. There are the sciences of psychology, sociology, philosophy, theology even mythology. All are attempts to reach the apex of human knowledge in all domains imaginable.

However, one keyword that gives insight and predictability to human behaviour is CULTURE. This article will elaborate on tow opposing cultures and give insight to what foreign teachers will experience when they arrive and attempt to adapt and recover from their "culture shock" of Asia. NB Asia in the context of this article only refers to Japan, Korea and China.

The approach taken in this article is based on the research into "Cross-Cultural Psychology" (CCP): A branch of mainstream psychology that specifically examines culture and social behaviour. In other words CCP attempts to study the subjective aspects of individual and collective behaviours and the interaction of belief systems, attitudes, values and the perceptions that steer the human behaviour of people who have been born into, or cultivated by a society that is significantly unique from any other. This form of socialisation is also referred to the process called enculturation.

This article will focus on China, Korea and Japan hereafter referred to as a "Collectivistic Society" (CS) and a number of Western societies (U.S.A, Canada, Australia, and England to name a few) are grouped together under "Individualistic Society" (IS). This comparative review of Asian cultures with the groups of countries mentioned is chosen because in the majority of advertisements for teaching vacancies in Asia it is these English native speaking nationalities that are preferred by recruiters acting on the behalf of educational institutions. This article will not address the objective aspects of Asia culture such as food, clothing, rituals, festivals and religions.

Key words and their definition have been cited from Matsumoto (2000) publication entitled "Culture and Psychology: People Around the World". pp. 41-42).

Individualism-Collectivism (IC) refers to the extent to which a culture encourages, cultivates, and assists in meeting the needs and values of an autonomous and unique self (individual) over those of the group (collective). Lets look at (IC) in a practical context.

In the United States of America and Australia the individual perceives themselves as having autonomy over their choices of lifestyle, career path, relationships and just about any behaviour that is within the constraints of the law enforcement of their country. The most important consideration is given to the fulfilment of the individual's desires and they themselves construct their unique self-identity. This behaviour is not to be synonymous with greed, self-centeredness or acting selfishly. No man is an island and even in an individualistic society there is the overpowering need to form meaningful relationships with others or form "in-groups" for support and security.

Collectivism has individuals perceiving themselves as forming part of a collective group -- family, workforce, organisation, community and may extend to strong sense of nationalism. They have a group identity that overrides their self-identity. Unless they can assimilate and feel intimately bonded to the group they have difficulty forming a strong identity or sense of belonging. To be alienated from the in-group be it their class at school, their nucleus or extended family or the wider community brings with it a feeling of shame and disgrace. Asian countries like Japan, China, and Korea come under the umbrella of collectivism.
Author: Paul A Hodge