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The Differences between East and West in Culture and Education

2 Jun 2021

We live in a global village, but there is still a perception that the East and West can never truly assimilate culturally. Of course, this is no bad thing, as countries and regions are defined by their history, religion, philosophy, and political systems, and the world is, more or less, all the better for it. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few of the fundamental differences.

Culture

Keeping emotions in check
Showing emotion is ‘all the rage’ in the West – but it just doesn’t cut it in Asia. Everyone gets annoyed with the lousy service of injustice from time to time. In the West, tackling this head-on with strong emotions – even anger – is not uncommon. However, in the East, this is virtually unheard of and definitely counterproductive. Subtlety, tact, and the concept of ‘saving face’ are all-important. It is also seen as a weakness, reminiscent of a child’s inability to control their emotions. This is true not just in business circles but in everyday expatriate life.

Expatriate life

Hierarchy still matters
In Asia, there is a strictly hierarchical society. In the West, business decisions are often reached by group discussions involving several levels of management.  It is generally a top-down management style in Asia with no decisions until the top boss makes the call. This is often also the case socially, with households only making decisions after consulting the family elder.

These same factors also play a crucial role in how education systems in the East and West contrast.

Business people
business discussion

Education

Creativity vs. hard work
Western educational systems encourage creative and critical thinking skills.  In Asia, the emphasis is much more on rote learning, memorization, and unquestioning acceptance of authority figures such as teachers and elders. Hard work and effort in the East are also practiced to a higher degree. Asian students entering higher education at overseas universities are for these reasons, often seen as more productive and conscientious.

Asian education
Education

Individualism versus rigid learning
Western schools focus on creating an environment where students are not afraid to question the status quo and challenge ideas, i.e., critical thinking. There is more participation in discussions and greater freedom to challenge old beliefs.  This would be highly unusual in Asia. It is virtually unheard of in Asian classrooms. In the East, creativity is replaced by conformity, and the teacher’s authority is absolute. It is generally a more formal learning plan with little or no off-tangent, exploratory discussions.

Group participation
Asian studies

There are advantages and disadvantages to each system.  Both have features, benefits, and drawbacks.  It is well worth understanding each style’s foundations to function effectively and thrive in these different learning environments.

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