Culture is the arts and customs of a social group. It is found in society and everyday life through media, technology, and books. Culture has defined the identity of an individual. Many racial groups, such as African Americans, Hipics, and Native Americans, use different ideas and values to celebrate their history. They also express their love for its culture through language, religion, and music. Culture is important in society because it helps us gain insightful information about our ancestry. Culture has played a pivotal role in our social relationship with different people and provide teachings about the meaning of life.
I am a middle-class African-American man from Detroit, Michigan. I grew up in a two-parent household with three brothers. I went to many different schools, such as, a predominantly black Christian school and an all-boy Jesuit high school. Throughout my experiences, I learned that you have to be extraordinary instead of an average black man. You also have to be careful in your own surroundings and avoid being a stereotype. I learned about different topics that have affected African-Americans in society, such as, police brutality and racism. I am proud of my African-American culture because it instilled in me different values that help me develop my identity.
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When I was finishing my sophomore year at my high school, University of Detroit Jesuit, I went on an immersion trip to Ecuador. I wanted to go to Ecuador because I wanted to step outside my comfort zone and take new risks. Before the trip, my group and I had meetings to learn about the Ecuadorian culture, getting essentials for the Ecuadorian residents, and improving our Spanish speaking skills. When my classmates and I went to Ecuador, we didn’t know what we were expecting. During the ride to the compound, we passed by empty streets and heard sounds of stray cats, dogs, and chickens. I soon realized that I was experiencing a different world.
Throughout my trip, I met various residents of Mount Sinai, a community that has been shunned by the Ecuadorian society because of its unsafe conditions. They greeted my group and I with open arms and treated us like we were a part of the community. The encounters we had with the residents were intercultural because we were listening to their stories about their daily lives in Ecuador. After meeting the residents, I felt blessed and humbled that I live in a community where I don’t feel judged because of my socio-economic background. Although they were rejected for their housing conditions, they looked after one another and treated each other like family.
The meetings gave me a new understanding and appreciation of the Ecuadorian culture. Throughout each meeting, we had translators who knew the residents and helped us immerse ourselves in the culture. During the trip, we visited a residential hospital called the Damien House. We met patients who were affected with leprosy, a bacterial infection that causes nerve damage and muscle weakness in the body. They were also not welcomed in society because of the disease. We learned that some patients had their arms or legs amputated in order to stop the leprosy from spreading. We were also heartbroken that the patients were living with a life-threatening disease.
I didn’t have any assumptions about the Ecuadorian residents. During the trip, I interacted with different people because I wanted to learn from them and have fun. When I went to the hospital, I felt saddened because the patients were treated less than instead of middle-class. However, the patients were happy and delighted to interact with us by playing dominoes and making arts and crafts. They taught my group and I how to battle our struggles and set everyday goals.
After going to the hospital, we visited a Catholic public school and had a conversation with the teachers. They told us that they do not have a lot of resources for students, such as, books and computers. They also go to different markets to obtain clothes and supplies for the children. When it was time for recess, the kids immediately left the classrooms and were thrilled to interact with us. We played soccer with the children and gave them piggy-back rides. It was great that I interacted with the children and learn how a school functions with minimal resources.
On the last day of the trip, my group and I went sightseeing around downtown Guayaquil and we gave our reflections about the trip. After sightseeing, we went back to the compound and we were surprised by some of the residents of Mount Sinai. They prepared us a dinner and we talked and played Uno after dinner. After reflecting on the trip, I learned so much about the cultural difference between Ecuador and the United States, which promoted an intercultural encounter. I also learned how to empathize with people from different backgrounds and how to develop an open-minded worldview. Sometimes, I look back at my Ecuadorian experience and I feel proud that I partook in a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I always wonder if I will go back to Ecuador for study abroad. The whole experience taught me to be more appreciative in my life and to accomplish my goals.
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