Being fully fluent in two cultures is not only possible, it is your birthright. For those who have grown up between cultures, it can be a challenge to understand who you are. Culture is the lens through which we view the world. Changing the prescription in your glasses is dizzying. Changing the lens through which you view the world can be equally so. It can feel like we are viewing ourselves through a carnival mirror. It does not have to be so.
It is possible to be fully fluent in two cultures. How do you create “cultural bifocals”? How can you keep both views of the world without losing your balance? Both of your cultural lenses must be clear and polished, with the right prescription to see. Then, you must spend adequate time with both prescriptions.
Let us look at four ways we can polish our lenses, roughly in order from easiest to hardest.
To understand a place, you must know what is going on in that place. Every major world city has a newspaper in English. You need possess no other skill in order to be abreast of current affairs. It is possible to do this in at least two places at once. This is a good place to start.
In order to know who we are, we must know where we came from. As a Koreanized American, I went learned more Korean history than American history. Instead of being a bicultural individual, I was at risk of replacing my first culture.
I was inspired when I saw friend who won an award for excellence in studying American history. This friend was not then (but is now!) a US citizen. This friend grew up, like me, between worlds.
History can be studied in isolated packets. Yes, history connects together! But it is possible to look at events in isolation. You can learn about one historical event at a time. Start with Wikipedia. Learn as much history as you can from both of your cultures. The more you learn, the more you will want to learn.
Undeniably, language impacts our vision! The words we use to describe ourselves impact the way we view ourselves. The way we describe the world around us changes the way that we see the world.
In order to be fully fluent in both cultures, you must be more than adequate in both languages. That doesn’t mean you need to be a poet. It doesn’t mean you need to be an author. It means that you need to understand enough to be a functional adult in the most common situations you will encounter.
We need not complicate language. You simply have to let your language parent put you on a slide in the playground and give you a good push. Let your consumption run ahead of your output and you will succeed.
Popular Culture and Social Mores
Once you have the other elements in place, you are a functional part of society. Now you just need to spend time in that society. You will understand what is appropriate behavior. Others will lead the way. They will teach you. They will correct you. They will help you to become someone fluent in your culture.
Being fully fluent in two cultures is not only possible, it is your birthright.
Being fully fluent in two cultures requires more work. It is worth it. It unlocks different lenses through which you may view the world. Through those lenses, you will be able to see things that others do not see. Through those lenses, you will be able to make connections that others can not. But, it doesn’t happen overnight. Even with the right prescriptions, it takes time for your mind to process what your eyes see.
What other aspects of culture might you need to be aware of in order to be fully fluent?
Beware: culture changes! Your prescription might not stay the same forever. Many Koreans who immigrated to America in the 1970s still view the world through “1970s Korea” lenses, much to the chagrin of their contemporary counterparts living in Korea. It takes work to make sure that you keep your lenses up to date.