It is easy to just be a part of one's own culture. During childhood we develop assumptions that inform our thought processes throughout our lives, and when we are living in our native culture these assumptions are usually below our conscious awareness. However, when we have the opportunity to interact with a different culture these assumptions may be challenged, and as a result, we learn more about ourselves. Although we have not yet left the US, I am experiencing a preview of having my assumptions challenged in our Tagalog classes.
Sometimes the most apparent cultural differences pertain to gender roles. In the US, opinions about gender roles vary depending on who you ask, but as a group most Americans are proud of the advances we've made in gender equality. Thanks to the hard work of women's advocates, American women have more opportunities than our grandmothers and great-grandmothers. Although I'm not sure all American women would agree, our Tagalog teachers tell us that in the Philippines Western men are said to help out with housework. The US also has room to grow, especially in the areas of pay disparity. Yet advances in gender equality present in different ways according to the customs of the culture.
According to the 2007 Global Gender Gap Index, which compares countries according to health/survival rates, education, political empowerment, and economic opportunity, the Philippines is the sixth most gender equal country in the world. This report not only challenged my basic assumptions, it also helped me reflect on what it means to be an American woman. Opportunities such as these are what make life in the foreign service a constant learning experience. When you live in a foreign country you not only learn about that country, you also have the opportunity to learn about yourself.