I have two daughters who are graduating this year. My oldest daughter has now officially graduated from high school, and my middle one is graduating 8th grade tonight. Every time I see the sea of graduation gowns and hats and listen to an inspiring graduation speech, I imagine all the new possibilities and experiences that are waiting for these young people right around the corner. Their lives are entering a whole new stage, and they will evolve and change in ways that are hard to grasp at the movement of graduation.
I was almost 18 years old when I came to the US from Europe to study in college. The first week that I spent in the US was focused on international student orientation. Those of us who came to the college from different countries were able to get to know one another and also meet with the professors and college staff whose role it was to educate and immerse us in the American culture.
I remember being at a cross-cultural lecture where the professor drew a circle, a square and a hexagon next to each other. He explained to us that we all have our own cultural shape that we came in with, in this case, a circle. We entered a new culture that is a different shape, with different cultural values, the square. Our own circle culture doesn’t fit into the square culture and we can experience a culture shock. We struggle to adjust. But as we give ourselves grace and time, we will in the end become a cross between our own culture and the new culture we have entered, hence, the hexagon!
In my youthful inexperience and arrogance, I didn’t believe that that would happen to me. After all, I came from a Western culture too, so how different could this new culture really be? I also mistakenly believed that by almost 18, I was a fully formed person and that I wasn’t going to change at all!
Of course, what happened was that the new culture did shape me in many small, but profound, ways. Those changes took place over months, so I didn’t actually notice how much I had changed since I didn’t feel any different. But when I came home for the summer, I had a really hard time re-entering my own culture! I was shocked that I felt like a visitor in a place that was so integral to my earlier life. So I did become a hexagon, after all, and I didn’t even know it!
Our early young adult experiences, whether those were in college, trade school, or the work place, have a profound effect on the rest of our lives. This is a formative time in life, when we needed to figure out how to be truly responsible for our own actions, care for our own physical and mental needs, and find the right people to mentor and guide us. We set the stage for how we will grow in the future.
How have your experiences in early adulthood changed you? Did you enter a new culture and have to deal with becoming a hexagon, like I did? Which people, events or experiences had a profound effect on you?