Health & Wellness, Personal Development

Culture Clash: You’re Not Alone

Have you noticed large cultural differences between your home environment and that of the dominant culture? How are you coping and making sense of those differences? Are you able to openly discuss points of conflict/confusion or do you find yourself hiding parts of yourself?

Let me introduce you to a hypothetical student named Janina who you might identify with. Janina’s parents were born in a land overseas and immigrated to Toronto before her birth. Janina was born and raised in the suburbs of Toronto. Her parents were hyper-aware of the differing cultural context in which they were raising their children; thus, they made great efforts to maintain their cultural values, customs, religious beliefs, and traditions. Janina learned her parent’s native language, regularly attended religious and cultural events, and internalized many of her parent’s values. She respected and enjoyed many of these teachings, but struggled with others. Janina learned that in order to be accepted by her family and community, she must follow certain rules. For instance, she must dress “modestly;” be home early; refrain from dating (or date someone of a predetermined “acceptable” ethnic background, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.); avoid frowned upon social events or activities; and pursue a “prestigious” academic and career path.

In high school, Janina began to question some of these rules. She wanted to wear the latest fashion, attend school dances, and experiment with dating. Her parents refused to give her permission to do so as her desires went against their deeply held values. Janina repeatedly attempted to negotiate with her parents, but their stance was firm: as long as she lived under their roof, she would follow their rules. This was the beginning of her double life. Janina explored aspects of her identity that were forbidden, but went to great lengths to hide these parts of herself. She was often anxious, worried, and stressed about the possibility of getting caught and being disconnected from those she loved most.

Now a post-secondary student, Janina’s struggle continues. As her workload increases, she finds her studies suffering as she slips deeper into her double life and internal conflict that comes with it…

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Janina is a hypothetical student, but you may see yourself in her story. Young people from various ethnic, religious, racial, and cultural backgrounds—regardless of gender—often find themselves caught between two worlds. The world they grew up in (at school, in their city, with their friends), and that of their parents (their home-life). If parents/caregivers are not open to discussion and negotiation, young people often cope by hiding parts of themselves that are deemed unacceptable or somehow shameful. A state of inner conflict follows. Research shows that high levels of such conflict are associated with increased anxiety levels, mood difficulties, relationship difficulties, substance abuse, disordered eating, identity confusion, and lowered self-esteem. These types of difficulties can, in turn, negatively impact academic performance and one’s ability to succeed in school.

If you are struggling with difficulties reflected in Janina’s story, know that you are not alone and that support is available to you. Ryerson’s Centre for Student Development and Counselling is offering a new therapy group called Culture Clash, where a group of students comes together to explore and discuss the experience of living with multiple cultural, ethnic, racial, and religious identities. Together, Culture Clash works towards building coping strategies where conflict, secrecy, and confusion may lie.

The winter term group will be starting in the beginning of February, so if you’re a Ryerson student and interested in joining, simply contact the Centre for Student Development and Counselling to book an initial meeting. Questions about group therapy? We have the answers to commonly asked questions, here.

We hope to see you in the Culture Clash group!

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