Actively attempting to understand and embrace one’s cultural background and difference from the Canadian culture opens up a new world of experiences. Travel creates a whole new set of lenses that are often spoken about in Sociology as three concepts Ethnocentrism, Eurocentrism, and Cultural Relativism. Canada is a culturally diverse country, however, the lenses that are often used when observing a culture is in a Eurocentric way, and when observed by people of other cultural decent in an Ethnocentric way. Being born and raised in Canada, it has always been hard to understand my cultural background that my parents hold so close. After travelling last year across Europe, and to my home country of Afghanistan, the experiences I underwent opened my sociological lenses of understanding my culture and traditions.
Canadians often use western view of understanding their neighbour’s behaviours and norms when practicing their traditions who may be of a different culture. This in often cases is a Eurocentric lens where many of the Canadian citizens who are not of minority groups understand other cultures in a western perspective. Having parents who were born in Herat, Afghanistan, culture is naturally rooted in my life, but it is not constantly taught to me. More than 22% of the Canadian population is made up of the first generation and 17% of Canadians are the second generation with at least one parent born outside of Canada (Stats Canada). Leaving just over 60% of Canadians that are the third generation or more, first and second-generation citizens are stuck between two cultures, and it is often the Canadian culture that dominates. Being raised in Canada I always felt I had to choose to either be Canadian or Afghan and this is what makes it difficult for Canadians to learn the cultures that their parents practice to this day. It is as if everyone who is a third generation Canadian has a pair of glasses with lenses that are Eurocentric and can only compare or relate your culture with the western perspective. There is an uncomfortable feeling for both you, and the person who sees you because you begin to feel you do not belong, and they begin to feel you are not Canadian. What changed my outlook on this issue was travelling to Europe, and to my home country in the middle east, Afghanistan. It’s truly fascinating and at the same time scary when you get off of the plan into a country that doesn’t primarily speak English, or have the same societal norms and behavior’s in Canada. Travelling taught me that life is not always black or white, this means, generalizations are not always true, travelling through the various countries around Europe everyone had a different perspective on their neighbours and it became clear to me how these generalizations create deep and complicated issues between countries across the world.
Second generation Canadians often cannot read or write in their ethnic language, yet, they can speak it efficiently. This gave me an edge when associating with people from different countries, picking up languages became much easier for me and helped my understanding of other cultures. In contrast, this becomes very difficult to third-generation Canadians, and it is partly due to how closed off and strictly they abide by their western values and norms. English is the primary language in Canada even though it is a language taught internationally to all students, it is not spoken primarily everywhere. This issue is not understood by Canadians because many of them have not traveled beyond their typical family vacation to a resort where English is all they speak. This is where Eurocentrism is clear due to their “inability to see anything other than the lives of those who are comfortable installed in the modern world”(Lowy, 715). The resistance of Eurocentrism has led to nothing but the destruction of cultures and civilizations. Landing in Afghanistan everything began to feel familiar, religion instantly made me feel at home and everyone was similar. Islam is practiced by the majority of Afghans, governing most of their personal, political, economic, and legal lives. Friday’s in Canada was my day to always go out and enjoy with my friends, in Afghanistan it is a holy day where all shops and offices are closed and governments begin to become involved closing on Thursdays. Weekends were no longer on Saturdays and Sundays. In the west’s eyes, we are left out on Fridays, in Europe, many of the kids go out and party many of them are legally allowed to drink at around the age of 16. In contrast, Afghan children dress in traditional clothes and attend the prayers on Friday’s with their families, holding strong ties to their values and morals. This leads many of second-generation Canadians to leave their culture behind due to the “western mind’s overriding compulsion to impose some form of totalizing reason… on every aspect of life is accused of being not only self-deceptive but destructive” (Lowy, 716). This has taught me to no longer use western views when understanding anyone’s culture.
The concept of cultural relativism is understanding one’s belief’s values, and practices of their culture based on that persons own culture instead of judging them in the viewpoint of another. Living in Canada, it becomes clear that many Canadians do not truly understand cultural relativism and base their opinions off of the media. The government warns you on travelling to these countries and advises to “avoid all travel to Afghanistan due to the unstable security situation, ongoing insurgency, terrorist attacks, the risk of kidnapping and a high crime rate” (Government of Canada, 2017). However, once I arrived in Afghanistan the only unstable security was from the North American law enforcement based in Afghanistan. The only attacks that took place were on Afghan civilians while many tourists from across the world were traveling through Afghanistan, seeing any harm to them was very rare. The history and wonders Afghanistan holds are being covered by inaccurate media claims of the country being
an extremist state. Travelling through Europe into a middle eastern country such as Afghanistan is a drastic change however the culture does not become corrupt, everyone holds the same basic universal morals and values yet the world looks down upon them. In 2011, four Canadian soldiers lost their lives in service operating in Afghanistan (Veterans Affairs Canada, 2014). Although those were Canadian soldiers, United Nations Recorded 3,133 Afghan civilian deaths and 4,706 injuries in 2011(UNAMA, 2016). Travelling to this country opened my eyes on how the world views these countries that suffer from attacks but are still being blamed for them. The terrorist attacks must be viewed through a culturally relative lens to fully understand that these attacks are not validly motivated by culture or religion.
Since my travels I have become much more grateful of the country I live in and take pride in, however I feel for the people of my ethnic country as I witnessed the land of such rich history and resources become a battle field for military combat operations and a target for terrorist attacks. The sociological lenses; Eurocentrism, Ethnocentrism, and Cultural Relativism have a significant impact on people from all countries and it is crucial to learn all three to minimalize issues such as discrimination and racism. Travelling has taught me to test my comfort zone or I will be stuck, this also goes to for those to change their sociological lens when understanding another culture, changing their world outlook. Travel is an effective way of educating a person on language, cultural differences and similarities, along with the social justice issues occurring across the globe without getting into politics.