Last Updated 18 Mar 2023

Culture as a Social Construct: Living in America as a Chinese Student

Category Culture, Students
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Culture as a Social Construct

Human beings are always confronted with the question of what it means to be who they are or what defines them. One theory that has been used to describe social identity holds that this phenomenon is not inane or fixed, but rather, it is something that changes with time. My personality is largely influenced by the environment in which I was brought up as well as the methods of thoughts that are instilled in me. Though the Western culture has influenced me since I became an international student, there are some attitudes and beliefs that 1 hold which are undeniably Chinese. These attitudes and beliefs are inculcated in me through socialization and having grown up in China in my formative years.

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One of the specific ways in which Chinese culture defines me is the belief that being frugal or economical is important. This is something that I do not see in many of my friends who were born and raised in the West. I learnt that being frugal is a concept that is generally esteemed and treasured by many Chinese people. This means that unlike many of my friends from the West, I prefer saving as much as possible. The fact that many people (especially the youth) in the West do not save was one of the cultural conflicts that I encountered when I became an international student. From my childhood, I was taught to be economical in spending and save the remainder. It is for this reason that the saving rate in my home country is particularly high compared to that of many Western countries such as the United States.

Another aspect of culture that defines me as a Chinese living in the West is the tradition of paying for goods and services using cash. Though the world is becoming single social system that affects everyone and local cultures (Giddens, et al., 1996), the idea of credit cards that is now a global sensation is yet to catch on in China. Indeed, people prefer paying using physical form of currency. While I have a credit card, I use it very sparingly. Chinese culture has taught me to be particularly wary of debt. I see many young people struggling to clear debts or going deep into debt. I do not understand this obsession with credit cards and the idea of living in debt.

China is a country of courtesy. I still practice my traditional Chinese etiquette while in the West. This culture introduced me to morals that are never taught in uaditional classrooms and which some people in the West find to be ancient. For instance, I have learnt to respect my elders and those in authority. When I moved to the West, I had to adjust to the idea that the age and profession of a person should not dictate how you speak to them or great them. This adjustment is an emphasis of the fact that identity is situational; it changes based on the context (Yon, 2000). Nevertheless, I still nod and slightly bow my head when greeting a person I consider my senior.


  1. Giddens, A., Duneier, M., Appelbaum, R. R, & Carr, D. S. (1996). Introduction to sociology. WW Norton.
  2. Yon, D. A. (2000). Elusive Culture: Schooling, Race, and Identity in Global Times. SUNY Series, Identities in the Classroom. Ithaca, NY: State University of New York Press

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