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My culture as defined by me and others

Written on: Friday May 23rd, 2008

A journal entry from: Malaysia (my rite of passage)


My office has air conditioning. I repeat those words to myself everyday while cramming into the train at the busiest station in Kuala Lumpur. As I look around my eyes fall on many of the expatriates standing in the train with me. For me it is a connection as we are both foreigners in a country. But as I have realized soon after arriving here, I am not a foreigner, not to them anyway. To them, I look very much as if I belong. After all I am brown skinned, dark haired, don?t cringe when I eat the spicy food, can dance all night to the music and understand the language.  When they look at me they see someone part of this ?culture.?

In Canada it was a natural thing to embrace my bicultural identity, however, in Malaysia, I am finding it overwhelmingly difficult to be Canadian. I can?t begin to count the number of times I have told people I am from Canada and people have stared at me waiting for more. I end up having to clarify that my background is Sri  Lankan, but I live in Canada. It seems people expect a certain person when they think ?Canadian?. I am obviously not living up to that image. With all that said does this mean I am not part of the Canadian culture?

In the three weeks  I have lived in Malaysia, my ?culture? continues to be shaped, formed and reshaped. Depending on where I am and who I?m with my culture is defined very differently. At work I am the Canadian intern who loves hockey, doesn?t care about -40 weather and craves for Tim Hortons. With my local friends I?m the Tamil girl from Canada who has forgotten parts of her Tamil culture (wanting to go out for beer did not go down well with them) and with strangers on the train I am no different from all the other Malaysians. 

I may not be the Tamil girl people here expect me to be or the Canadian they picture but my experiences as both has had an impact on the way I question the actions of those around me, develop ideas, and fight the battles in my head, all the while trying to understand who I am; and after all that is what makes up my culture, not the way I look, dress, the music I listen to or the food I like!


From Carly (Unquillo, Argentina) on May 24th, 2008

This is a really interesting blog! Here in Argentina I have found that I look the same, but as soon as I open my mouth my accent and speech make it clear that I am not from here. In that way, I always sort of seem like an outsider and I always kind of maintain my identity as the "Canadian"...haha. Really enjoyed reading your blog! Chau, Carly

From Larissa on May 26th, 2008

Hey Denoja, I like your writing style. Nice and casual which is gentle on my Monday morning brain. I would propose something to you and feel free to pump it or dump it. Is it possible that you culture doesn't change but becomes more apparent or synthesized when reflected back at your through different eyes? I think you move between cultural identities when you are in your different cultural homes - i.e. you wouldn't go for beers when in Sri Lanka but that isn't an issue when in Canada or other parts of the world. Just a theory I'm working on. Let me know what you think.

From Daniel Barmasch from Valencia on May 27th, 2008

i can definately relate to the idea of a 'swinging' culture ... i have also been in Valencia for three weeks now and it seems like my culture is in a constant pendullum ... its been quite awesome to try to contemplate exactly what sort of environmental obstacles are playing in its shape

From Vivien Kwong on Jun 2nd, 2008

I feel the same way about having to explain where I am from... People are usually very surprised to hear that I am from Canada, because I look Asian! Here in France,I feel that people are quite puzzled when I speak French with an English accent, as they expect me to speak like a Chinese. Its not always easy, but a great learning experience! Have an amazing time this summer!

From Sarah on Jul 13th, 2008

It is amazing the preconceptions we all have. Since my position is in Canada, I am just another Canadian. I really enjoyed reading your blog and cannot wait to hear more.