Cultural differences are very real, and play an important role in education, the workplace, and in relationships.

I came across several articles this past week about these differences dealing with education and other areas.

The ones that most intrigued me look at the differences between the cultures of the East and West.

Two big concepts seem to explain many of the differences: individualism and collectivism.

Individualism is the tendency of the West and it favors the individual, self-promotion and self-worth.

People in the East are more likely to embrace collectivism where individuals are part of a group and the needs of the group come before the individual.

Of course, these are generalizations which often are both accurate and stereotypical.

American saying: The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Japanese proverb: The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.

Some of the differences I found listed are questionable, maybe even insulting. Do Westerners really believe that there must be one special person in the world just for them? Do. Easterners make a lasting commitment and not give up when their relationship hits a rocky patch?

However, when it comes to education, I do see differences. I taught for many years in a town that had a large Eastern population. My Western students and their families value individual achievement, natural ability and thinking for yourself. .When students fail, the school or a teacher can be blamed.

I can recall several parent conferences with Eastern parents who made it clear that they believed that every student is equal and has the same chance of academic success. Success comes from hard work. They couldn’t understand when we would say that we thought a student was not “an A student” and that if it meant having to study six hours every night, their child could be that “A” student.

I suppose our cultures have given us certain traits and beliefs, but that doesn’t mean each of us can’t be individuals when that works and part of the group when that works.