International Fair’s lectures spanned history, from the journey of Marco Polo to the immigration of a Knox professor, to give a snapshot of this year’s theme, “Culture Shock.”
Professor and Chair of History Michael Schneider took a long view of the evolution of the gap between societies in a speech that spanned an hour and 800 years.
“If you look into the past,” Schneider said, “they don’t talk about culture shock…[it is a] product of modern intellectual history.”
He used the journeys of Marco Polo as an example. Although the journals of the famed explorer mentioned many of the astonishing sites he saw in his travels between Europe and Asia, Polo never described feeling unnerved by the gap between his culture and theirs.
From Polo, Schneider moved on to Captain James Cook, who sailed in the Pacific Islands. Although Cook was the traveler, Schneider suggested that it was the islanders, not Cook, who experienced culture shock. Cook’s philosophy told him that the native people he found were just his cultural ancestors. For the native Pacific Islanders, Cook was an invader from a completely different cultural background who tried to teach them to adapt to his way of life and disrupted their religious traditions.
Schneider finished with the tale of Hamada Hikozo, the first Japanese person to become a citizen in the United States. Hikozo was shipwrecked and brought to America while he was still a teenager. His memoirs tell a more traditional tale of culture shock. He was confused by the traditions of the American sailors, whom he mistook for cannibals. Hikozo made a splash in the United States. He learned how to speak and write in English and went on to be a successful publisher.
Schneider postulated that the cause for the development of culture shock is the development of national identities.
“When we begin to see culture as two unique national identities, they are able to clash,” he said.
Visiting Assistant Professor of Spanish Julio Noriega gave a much more modern and personal picture of culture shock at his lecture. He described himself as in a life “between three different cultures.” Noriega grew up in a small village in the rural mountains Peru. When he was in his late teens, he moved to Lima for school, and later moved to the United States for his doctorate. Noriega’s life of travel let him give advice to students planning to traveling abroad.
Other cultures, Noriega said, are not wrong or right, just different. He advised those going to other countries to keep an open mind and ask a lot of questions and watch others.
“Always ask—it’s better to look stupid than regretting it later,” Noriega said. “Never go first. Watch others and see what they do.”
Noriega says that this life has its pros. He can take advantage of the United States’ resources and opportunities, but when he needs to relax with family, he returns to Peru. On the flipside, he feels like he does not have one place or culture to call his own.
“I don’t have that sense of home,” Noriega said. “Wherever I am, there’s always something missing.”
Before he came to the United States, Noriega taught himself English using tapes. His scores were high on the school’s English language test, so he felt confident in his speech. When he got to the United States a month before his classes started, a guy asked him “What’s up?” That’s when Noriega realized his tapes were from the BBC, and did not prepare him for colloquial American English.
Although Noriega has experienced culture shock firsthand, he had words of encouragement for those who travel abroad.
“Be always ready for surprises,” he said to the gathered crowd. “Don’t be afraid. You’ll survive, no matter what.”