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Collectivism vs. Individualism: Moving from China to the US

By: Shengyong (Sherry) Zou

So… this is my second article and I am excited again to share my experiences with you, the audience.

I did not mention this in my last article (if you did not read my first article, make sure you read it!), but I have to admit when I first came to the United States, I had a hard time adjusting to the school life here. I examined and I scrutinized the reasons why. Finally now, I come to the conclusion that it is not only because of cultural differences, but also psychological differences between the ways that Chinese people think and the ways that American people think. Chinese people think collectively and American people think individually. Because of this disparity of thinking, everything changes in terms of how we behave, talk, and act.

In China, generally speaking, it is structured by a collectivist model of human interaction. While in the United States, the society praises individualism of human behaviors and thoughts. This posed a problem for me back when I was nine; I had a difficult time accepting idiosyncrasy because I was used to the collectivist model of commonness within a society. As a result of this mindset, my classmates saw me as boring and lacking of unique traits as an individual. Over time, I stopped having conversations with them and I started to enclose myself in my own world of learning and studying for school.

Over time, I noticed that the collectivist model of human interaction would not work for me. I needed to change. As a result, I had decided to adapt myself to the environment rather than to have the environment to adapt to me. It took a while for me to take action but I had finally decided to speak up and socialize in the environment that I was in. Even though I had failed in some circumstances where I tried to join a group, I had learned something out of it. Rather than sticking to a specific ethnic, cultural population of people that I am interested in talking to, I should be more open and active. As a result, I found my identity as a student, a volunteer, and an individual who has continued to grow and to aspire toward seeking existence in this society.

Looking back, I feel proud of my ability to overcome my struggles. Furthermore, I feel the need to reflect and to learn from my experiences; more importantly, I feel the need to inspire others like me who struggled through school and life. In implementing my goals, I choose to study psychology because I see myself doing this in the field. In the end of deciding what area of psychology I want to pursue, I choose clinical psychology because it allows me to treat patients who are mentally and behaviorally struggling to grow and to thrive; at the same time it allows me to conduct in depth research about them. I want to do many things in order to benefit people and I believe that the field of clinical psychology will offer that.

Hope you guys enjoy reading the article! Stay tuned for the next one (not revealing the topic). It will be after July 4! Enjoy the holiday!

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