I believe there is more than one way to live in the world.
I have been blessed to experience life and love in several cultures. My work took me to England, where I lived for over six years. My marriage took me into an Iranian family who considers me one of their own. When I left the United States, I was excited about an adventure. When I returned here eleven years ago, I was surprised how much the experience had changed me. During my time in London, I was able to see my country from a distance and identify how growing up in America had shaped the person I had become.
My experiences with my Iranian in-laws in London presented great challenges and rewards. Iranians place a huge emphasis on family, which translates to many days spent together, often with multiple generations present. The Iranians teach the importance of respect, and their traditions reinforce this practice. In Iranian culture, everything of yours is mine and everything of mine is yours. Once, when I complimented my sister-in-law’s earrings, she immediately took them off and gave them to me.
My global experiences have enriched my life in so many ways. I have a hunger for travel and the fresh perspectives it provides me. Yet, these experiences can fill me with conflicting emotions. I am overwhelmed by the selfless generosity of my in-laws even while I struggle to understand the differences in personal boundaries that I thought were the same for everyone. Reconciling these diverse expectations challenges my sense of what is normal and right. I discover that while my American family and my Iranian in-laws share the same values, we have a very different way of interpreting them.
We left England and my husband’s family to raise our children in Louisville, where they could live among my extended family. It has been a truly wonderful experience. My challenge now is to ensure our children understand both their American and Iranian heritage, and grow up as people who see difference as an opportunity to learn. People raised in the United States tend to have such a strong sense of pride in what it means to be an American that it can sometimes keep us from seeing the value to be gained from embracing other perspectives.
That’s one reason why my husband and I strive to raise our children as global citizens. In all our travels with them, we encourage them to be keen observers of the cultures we visit. We want our children to understand and be sensitive to the differences among people around the globe. Perhaps they’ll even learn how to help bridge some of the gaps that too often divide us.
I believe every culture provides an important contribution to a world so much in need of balance and tolerance. If I am able to appreciate instead of criticize the values and beliefs of others, then I will find the right balance in my own life.
Elizabeth George is a communications director in Louisville, Kentucky. She continues to feed her curiosity about world cultures through frequent travel with her husband and two daughters.
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