Cultural Diversity

Douglas Holwerda, American trained and licensed mental health counsellor, answers your questions and offers advice


Dear Douglas,


I am from England and have been living in Vietnam for a year now. It is the first place I have lived outside my own country. While I am sometimes confused and challenged by the culture I am in, I get disgusted when I hear some of my colleagues complain and speak critically all the time about Vietnamese people. I want to learn more so I can understand how the ‘psychology’ of the Vietnamese people is so different than what I am used to. Any ideas?


— Trying not to culture clash


Dear Clash…less,


I can offer some food for thought, but it is by approaching your experience with an open mind and listening to people and reading books that you can sort this out.


Differences, and there are certainly differences between how Eastern and Western people think and behave, can so easily become conflicts. Conflicts can occur between people and/or can be internal experiences. It is the need to make sense of things that confuses us. Our minds seek to create resolution, when what we see or experience doesn’t fit into the schemas that we are most familiar with. The quickest way to resolve this internal dissonance is to divide behaviours into good and bad, right and wrong, smart and dumb, and then to apply that code onto the behaviours we see or experience. It might be what your colleagues are doing… to find a way to resolve the inner conflict that is inherent in being immersed in a culture that is different to the one in which their ideas and schemas were developed. The problem is that they end up carrying negative feelings and distancing themselves from the people whose culture they are living in.


It appears that you are trying not to slip into a negative perspective, but still feel confusion and the need to make sense of it all. You may be more aware that the way you see things is through the lens of your own bias, the schemas that are part of the way you grew up. These feed your assumptions, your expectations and ultimately influence the way you interpret most of what you experience. Just knowing we are biased helps to create more space for other ways of seeing things. Instead of seeing a behaviour that is confusing to us as good or bad, we can see it as different… a little bit like agreeing to disagree. From this mindset you can learn from and appreciate the differences of Eastern and Western thought, and expand to include the set of options that come from each orientation.


There are many examples of the difference in the ‘psychology’ or orientation of Eastern and Western peoples. As visitors living here, it behooves us to suspend judgements and open up to ways that are different than our own. The acceptance of these differences is seeing the broad ways that the human species has emerged over thousands of years of development. Also realise that some of what we experience with other people is the outcome of self-fulfilling prophecy. When we align ourselves with people, demonstrating acceptance and expecting the friendliness we bring, it is more likely that we will get just that. Of course, the reverse is also true.


Enjoy the time you are in Vietnam!


— Douglas


Do you have a question you would like Douglas’s help with? You can email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Personal details will not be printed

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