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Martha Nowacki

Dr. Grinde
Cross Cultural Psychology: ethnographic paper
Who knew that a twenty-one year old girl from Colombia would have anything in common with

an elderly woman from Ireland? Two totally different people from two completely different countries,

coming from two drastically different eras have more in common than one would think. As I sat down to

interview Laura from Colombia and later, Maureen from Ireland, I never thought that I would gather as

many similarities as I did between them. Their stories wove together at some points, yet also separated at

others. They shared similar values, beliefs, and experiences, but did not share the same cultural

background. Culture is a funny thing, because it is portrayed as belonging to one specific group and often

doesn’t imply going behind the scenes in order to show the vast similarity between peoples. One can learn

from the stories of two different cultural backgrounds, because they yield different, yet similar

perspectives on the world. After having interview-like conversations with these two lovely women, the

differences were obvious, but so were the similarities and the rich culture. As a result, I was able to pick

out three specific themes based on the interviews, being connectedness, child rearing, and work

experience. With newly gained knowledge on cross-cultural terms and ideas relating to psychology, it was

interesting to learn, analyze, and apply this new terminology to these themes that at surface level, seemed

entirely contrasting, but in the end were comparable in some aspects.

The first theme that was obvious, based on both interviews, was connectedness. This

connectedness that I noticed within both stories didn’t just involve family and friends, but involved

people in general. Both Laura and Maureen spoke about a sense of happiness when it came to interacting

with those around them. Laura explained that in Colombia, family is very important and this importance

can be portrayed during holiday events and even throughout the course of a normal day. More time is

spent with the family in Colombia than in the US, based on Laura’s experience. Specifically, nine days

before Christmas, Laura’s family starts a novena, which are nine days of prayer. Along with prayer, the

family and friends get together to celebrate. Secondly, during the evening of any normal day, Laura’s

family always eat together and also watch T.V. episodes with one another. Along with this, the youth in

Colombia don’t work like they do in the US, because this enables them to spend more time with family.
Martha Nowacki
Dr. Grinde
Cross Cultural Psychology: ethnographic paper
Overall, Laura really pinpointed on connectedness being a value of hers and something that makes her

happy. She told me that even if she were to have a small chat with a stranger, this would make her feel


Similar to Laura, Maureen told me that in Ireland, a lot of customs revolve around the family. She

said that all people had different ones, but based on her family, holidays were especially family oriented.

For example, on St. Patrick’s Day, her family would go down to the park near their home and pick small

shamrocks from the grass. After this, their mother would place the shamrocks into a bowl of water until

the family went to mass, in which their mother would hand out the shamrocks to everyone. Maureen also

said that if she were to go back to Ireland at any time, everyone would come see her and treat any guests

she may bring as part of the family. Unlike Laura, who doesn’t have children, Maureen explained that her

children are her “most precious commodities”. She really dove into her connection with her children,

stating that she values her children the most. She also discussed the importance of family and friendship,

which are two things that make her happy. Lastly Maureen stated that a number of the Irish always stay

together and look out for one another, making sure everyone is cared for.

Based on the theme of connectedness that I was able to tie into both stories, I learned that both

cultures reflect aspects of collectivism. Both Laura and Maureen treasure the people around them and

focus on time spent with others. I would even say that the Irish, more so than the Colombian culture,

portray collectivism because it seems as though some never leave their family members or others to be

left alone. Specifically, when an elderly individual is left alone, due to the spouse being deceased, other

members of the family will go to live with the elderly member. I can also tie this connectedness and

resulting happiness that both Laura and Maureen feel to studies on happiness, in that their lives will be

more fulfilling because of this connection that they share with so many people. They will never feel

lonely, will have improved health, and will live longer, because of these multiple connections. Lastly, the

fact that both Laura and Maureen avoided cultural equivalence before talking about specific family

customs was interesting. Specifically Laura stated that Colombia is so diverse socioeconomically, that her
Martha Nowacki
Dr. Grinde
Cross Cultural Psychology: ethnographic paper
experience will not be the exact same as other individuals. This relates back to the point made over and

over again in regards to cross-cultural psychology, in that there is more diversity within a culture than

between cultures. An idea, custom, or even tradition may not mean the same within two different areas of

a country, like Laura was getting at. One cannot simply generalize amongst an entire culture, because

each person, family, or community within a culture is so diverse. This goes back to the issue concerning

mental health across cultures. Depression may mean one thing in a certain area or country, yet mean

something totally different in another area.

Similar to the concept of family and ideas pertaining to family, child rearing was the second

theme that I was able to see as a prominent topic throughout both interviews. Both Laura and Maureen

focused in on discipline as a key feature to raising a child. As Laura was growing up, her parents were

very strict, yet affectionate towards their children. They not only expected their children to do what they

were told, but to do it well, and this was especially true for academics. Since discipline was habitualized

at a very young age for Laura, as she grew up she began to see discipline as a value. She explained to me

that children should be able to make their own decision, but at the same time, should not be able to “rule

their parents”. Along with communication and affection, discipline was one of the factors that she listed

as characteristic of excellent parents.

Again, similar to Laura, discipline was a huge topic of conversation for Maureen. Years ago,

discipline was fairly harsh in Ireland. She told me that once when her brothers broke an individual's

window playing ball, her father gave them “a good whipping”. However, now in Ireland, it isn’t as harsh

as it used to be, although discipline is still imparted onto children and families are very well mannered.

Unlike Laura, Maureen discussed differences in discipline between American culture and the Irish

culture. She explained that one of America’s problems dealing with child rearing, is the fact that children

aren’t taught how to be respectful and are willing to talk back to teachers in schools if they feel the need.

On the other hand, in Ireland, most children don’t talk back to teachers and are disciplined in school.

Even if a student was being disrespectful, the teachers wouldn’t stand for that kind of behavior. Along
Martha Nowacki
Dr. Grinde
Cross Cultural Psychology: ethnographic paper
with discipline problems, Maureen told me that America overall experiences problems with family. For

example, she stated that parents are too occupied with work, the family doesn’t spend enough time with

each other, and she also commented on the frequently occurring problem of young people having children

before marriage, saying that the child suffers due to lack of resources. She said that women never worked

after they got married, but this may be different now due to changes in the value of women in work.

While interviewing Laura, she told me that both of her parents work, so this was different between the

two cultures, but still may be due to the changing of times.

In regards to what I learned from the topic of child rearing and in particular discipline, it is

evident that both Laura and Maureen were subject of cultural transmission. The idea and value of

disciplining children was passed on to them by their parents. Laura, having no children, said that

discipline was a key characteristic of an excellent parent, while Maureen, having six kids herself,

imparted discipline on them. The type of transmission that was being used was socialization, in which

such things as values and behaviors are passed on through a variety of influential agencies. In both cases,

school and family were the two main agencies in which values were passed down to Laura and Maureen.

Another idea that I thought was interesting and could easily connect to child rearing, in terms with both

interviewees, is parenting style. I noticed that Laura and Maureen’s description of their parents

incorporated both love and sternness, and they both reflected this in their explanations of the best parental

qualities one can have. This parenting style of being strict and stern in discipline, yet affectionate, is

authoritative. Laura commented on the fact that she was always able to go to her mom and talk about

anything. They could be open with each other, be physically affectionate towards each other, yet her mom

was firm in discipline. The third idea that came up over and over in this theme, as well as throughout the

entire interview with Maureen, was the changing of times, specifically chrono system change. Work

wasn’t as valued for women as it is now, discipline was much more brutal back then, and premarital

sex/child birth was looked down upon and it would’ve been shameful for a couple to have a child before

marriage back in Maureen’s youth. But now, norms, values, and behaviors have changed, which then
Martha Nowacki
Dr. Grinde
Cross Cultural Psychology: ethnographic paper
affects development differently based on the difference in time period. Just like a change in chrono

system, the macro system for both interviewees was also different growing up. The overall conditions

were vastly different due to not only the culture, but also the time.

The third theme that I found to be different than the last two and very interesting was education

and work related. Laura began by explaining that the educational system in Colombia is very different

and probably the biggest difference between America and Colombia. She described that in Colombia,

students don’t switch schools in between years, there is no division or category of grades (such as

elementary, middle, high school), and that the quality of education varies throughout Colombia but the

content of learned material is the same. She also stated that, based on her experience, she received a

wonderful education at a private institution, which are the most common in Colombia. Although, she

noted that some families can’t afford private schools, so the “poorest of the poor” usually attend public

schools, where the quality of education is substandard. After talking about the education that she received

in Colombia, she began to explain what she wanted to do with her life and why work is important. She

told me that after graduation, she would like to go on to graduate school for international relations and

human rights. She went on to say that work was important because, aside from the obvious reason of

making money to survive, work enables one to share their talents with others. Work gives one the

opportunity to grow in their talents and to serve/connect with the people around them.

On the other hand, Maureen shared her experience of going to school and working, which was

vastly different from Laura’s. She explained that in Ireland, at the time, a student had to go to school until

they were sixteen, but after that they had the choice of going to a vo-tech school or going to get a job.

Maureen decided the latter and began working at a weaving mill, because, ultimately, she wanted to do

and see things in the world. She told me that office jobs were the most common, but she wasn’t educated

enough for that sort of job. Throughout her life, she worked at a mill, as a nanny, and lastly as the owner

of an Irish store. She went on to say that work meant money for her. She needed the money when she was
Martha Nowacki
Dr. Grinde
Cross Cultural Psychology: ethnographic paper
young and especially as she started a family. Opening up the store here in Dubuque helped give her the

resources she needed in order to efficiently raise her six kids and get them all through college.

Based on the conversations pertaining to work, I learned that a lot of the differences between

Laura and Maureen’s story were related to demographic issues, being socioeconomic status, and chrono

system changes. Laura was given the opportunity to attend a private institution which enabled her to

receive a successful education in her younger years, as well as attend college abroad due majorly to SES.

Her parents were able to support her in order that she got a substantial education. Also, in regards to her

reasoning for the importance of work, I believe this too is based upon SES, because she doesn’t really

have to worry about working solely to survive. Secondly, times have changed in regards to how society

sees women in work. Maureen, on the other hand, wasn’t necessarily given the opportunity to receive

such a profound education, because of not only SES but the time period/historical context. She had to

work in order to survive and provide for her children--this was her sole reason of working. Also, during

that time, there was no work for the people living in Ireland and going to America was the hype in those

years. Everyone wanted to see America and also take advantage of possibly finding work there. Lastly,

men, because of gender stereotyping, were obviously seen as more valuable with work in those days, so

Maureen’s work opportunities were most likely restricted because of this factor also.

Aside from these three themes of connectedness, child rearing, and work experience, I was able to

make connections to newly gained knowledge of terms/ideas and such to other topics throughout both

interviews as well. Both Laura and Maureen hit on the idea that America and Colombia/Ireland are very

similar now. Maureen stated that there are more similarities now that the world is more open, while Laura

went more into depth about this topic. She stated that she considers Colombia as more of a westernized

culture, because media, products, stores, and values are similar. Globalization is key here, because more

and more countries have been adapting a more western based way of life/culture. This idea reminded me

of how most research is based in the US and that theories, research methods, and publishing are centered

within Europe/US. Even though these two ideas don’t directly relate, they do in some way tie together,
Martha Nowacki
Dr. Grinde
Cross Cultural Psychology: ethnographic paper
because a number of indigenous cultures, as well as research theory, are taking advantage of western

based material.

The last “outside” connection that I made, aside from those pertaining to the themes, is related to

in-group/out-group bias. Maureen stated that back in the day, the Protestant and Catholic faiths absolutely

had nothing to do with each other and it wouldn’t be accepted if they were to marry outside of their

religion. In Maureen’s case, since she was Catholic, she would have been a part of the in-group, while

regarding the Protestants as the out-group. Again, this idea is portrayed in the American value of the Irish

culture. Maureen explained that Americans value the Irish culture to a certain extent, but that they truly

value it if they are of Irish descent. The Irish culture could be considered part of the in-group criteria,

especially if one attributed it to their identity. If a family is Irish, than they will most likely value the

culture more so than a family who is not.

Through these interview processes, I learned more than I ever thought I would when I first began.

Culture truly is a funny thing, because it encompasses so much more than just food, clothing, and beliefs.

It can unfold so much more about a person, such as how they interact with those around them, what they

believe the best parental qualities are, or what opportunities in regards to education/work that are

available to them. Culture is making connections with others, learning about others, and being able to see

things from someone else’s point of view. By interviewing Laura and Maureen, I was able to uncover

another side of culture.