Cultures are a collection of cultural practices, norms, beliefs, and values that emerge from the interactions of individuals within a society. Cultures are different than religions in that they tend to be fluid, flexible entities that often adapt to changing social circumstances. Cultures also share traits and behaviors that are shared by members of a group even if those members belong to different groups with significant other populations. The extent and number of Cultures on the planet are vast. Cultures share some core elements including language, tradition, values, norms, and knowledge.
America is a melting pot of Cultures. This is evident in the differences in languages, music, food, and in the construction of their most fundamental institutions such as schools and colleges. America is a globalizing society in which many cultures are deeply influenced by European and Asian intellectual currents and values, while at the same time retaining some traditional customs and beliefs from the original settlers. Americans tend to value individual freedom and privacy, and are strongly religious – particularly during formal church meetings where white Christian men are present to affirm their fellow white Christian men’s righteous beliefs.
Europe is a collection of diverse Cultures. Most Europeans are highly secular, with very little religion attached to their lives, although there are some small groups who practice religion. Germany, Italy, Poland, Greece, Spain, and Portugal all have their own unique cultures and have experienced periods of ethnic turmoil. Hungary is a post-cold war nation that struggled to stay together after the dissolution of the Soviet Union; there is a strong Catholic minority in the country.
Asia is a collection of different cultures with vastly varying religious beliefs, norms, and political systems. China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and Vietnam all have their own cultural elements. However, there is one commonality: all the countries have a highly dominant Chinese identity. In this case, cultural studies and Asian American studies will likely need to be developed in tandem with each other.
North America is probably the most globally cohesive part of the world. A variety of ethnic groups from Hispanic, Caribbean, African, Middle Eastern, Native American, Native Chinese, and European backgrounds come together to form a colorful melting pot. The US has a rich history and a variety of ethnic and cultural roots. There are also differences in beliefs and practices among groups, which makes for a very prickly situation when trying to teach about any one group. When attempting to incorporate European culture into an Asian American education curriculum, instructors must pay careful attention to the differences between European and Asian cultural elements, and work to construct courses that will both teach about these two different areas, but also give students a thorough grounding in their own native heritage.
Cultures have long been identified with political and social class. With the increasing global inter-connectivity of people and the Internet, however, cultures have become a much more vague concept. People are just a part of a group – there is no such thing as a “Western Culture” or “Chinese Culture.” When trying to teach about a particular culture, instructors should make sure they explain the difference between a culture and its beliefs.