A comparison of cultures: Vietnam & America

Pierce College International Student Irene Vu traveled from Vietnam to America for the 2015-16 school year in a cultural exchange high school program. Now, she is going to Pierce College for an Associate of Science to become a Biochemist.

Rebecca Dickson, Reporter

Student Irene Vu spoke excitedly with her fellow members of International Club. The ongoing event Cultures Around the World focuses on a variety of cultures so international and domestic students can learn about the different cultures. Many students didn’t know about these cultures before attending.

Vu, however, has wanted to travel for a long time and has studied many cultures.

“Coming to America is like a dream to me,” Vu said. “It’s been an experience. It’s not easy, but it’s not really bad.”

Although Vu came to the United States in order to study for high school and college, she was also curious about other cities. Vu had the opportunity to travel to New York, which was a life-changing experience for her.

“I really loved New York before I (went) to New York. I loved the big city,” Vu said. “(It was) A trip mainly for shopping, but we saw a Broadway show.”

At 17 years old, Vu crossed the Pacific Ocean to come to America. Originally, she came to participate in a high school. Michigan, also titled “the freezing state” by Vu, was a change in weather and perspective. While Michigan has colder weather, Vietnam is more tropical.

“(In Vietnam) we try to avoid sunlight as best as we can,” Vu said. “We don’t like to be tan. Pale skin is like the standard of beauty. We like the thing we don’t usually have.”

While Vu wanted to come to America, she knew it would be a big change from her culture. However, the exchange program at the high school in Vietnam provided a unique opportunity for learning and for travel.

“It was an opportunity to come to America,” Vu said. “I wanted to try.”

Vu said that the education she received in Vietnam is quite different from the education she’s currently receiving in the U.S. Vietnamese schools last longer, with more subjects than American schools

In addition, Vu said the American education is more practical, with more hands-on learning.

Vu identified several differences in culture between the U.S. and Vietnam. One of the biggest differences she identified was in food preparation.

Vu said Vietnamese food tends to have more seasoning than American food. Traditional Vietnamese food has spices and sweet and sour flavors. This is contrasted with the taste of American food.

“America is either saucy or plain,” Vu said.

While most wouldn’t think of what method to use to heat something up, Vu does. She stated that the methods of cooking are different between the two countries. While Americans tend to put things in the oven and wait for it to be ready, traditional Vietnamese food often calls for the use stovetops and for special ingredients.

“The texture is different when you use the oven,” Vu said. “America really likes leftovers”.

Vu said that in Vietnam, most house parties have one big table where everyone sits down and eats, with the host providing food for the guests. In America, Vu said, that’s less common.

Another big difference between the two cultures is language. While Vu took English in school, she speaks Vietnamese as her first language.

Vu said there are differences in the meanings words that are used.

“In Vietnamese, one word has a lot of meaning,” Vu said. “(In English,) there’s not really a lot of inferred meaning.”

Another difference is the placement of accents Vu said accents can change a language and accents can change the entire meaning of a word.

“In English, we don’t have the accents, which makes (each word have) one meaning,” Vu said.

Vu also spoke about traditional beauty standards in Vietnam. Vu said there are several differences in these standards between Vietnam and the U.S. One beauty standard in Vietnam is the belief that pale skin is more beautiful than darker skin.

“Usually the older women, they will say that (babies with pale skin) are pretty,” Vu said.

Vu said the traditional beauty standard for Vietnamese women is a woman who is thin and has pale skin. This seems to be a big difference to Vu, as she said American culture praises full figured, strong women.

Another strong beauty standard in Vietnam is the existence of tattoos. When a person has a tattoo in America, they’re often seen as normal or acceptable. However, in Vietnam, this is less acceptable.

“To Vietnamese, (most) older people oppose the tattoo culture. We are traditional, so we want to keep that (belief),” Vu said. “It’s hard for them to accept the new things different from traditions.”

There also are strong gender roles in Vietnamese society. Although in the main cities tend to have more equality, the countryside has more defined gender roles.

“In (the) countryside, men have the more important role, but it depends on the family,” Vu said. “We usually listen to the men, (but that is changing slowly). We receive the influence from the outside.”

Overall, Vu noted that Americans seem more outgoing, while people from her culture are more reserved.

“Americans are more active, and Asians are more conservative,” Vu said. “(We) wait for others to approach up until we are more open to them”.

Some of this comes out in the perceived closeness to others Americans demonstrate.

“Americans give random compliments. We usually don’t (do) that. We say (complements) to close friends,” Vu said. “(Vietnamese) tease each other. I don’t know if Americans are telling the truth or teasing us”.

Vu is currently working to graduate Pierce with an Associate of Science, where she will transfer to a 4 year University. Although Vu isn’t positive to where she will go to University, she said the U.S. is a choice she may choose.

“It depends on the University I go to,” Vu said. “The USA isn’t a bad place. It’s already great. You don’t need to make it great again.”

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Rebecca Dickson

A comparison of cultures: Vietnam & America

by Rebecca Dickson time to read: 4 min