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Kelsey Morris

CI 280 Autoethnography

Pauli Badenhorst

October 12, 2017

How I Came to be the Linguistic and Cultural Being that I Am

In a statement, I would describe myself as a universal culturally accepting person, though

with little diversity myself and little exposure to most other cultures. Meaning, I am open to and

extremely interested in other cultures, yet I’m not sure how to go about experiencing or learning

about them due to my lack of interaction with them or with people of those cultures in general.

To me, I feel like I don’t have much cultural diversity; I only speak English, majority of my

friends are white, middle-class Americans, and I’ve never really made a point to go outside of

that norm. I don’t do these things on purpose, rather I think they were categories where I had

been placed that I was unaware of until now. This brings me to the question of: How did I come

to be this being that I am? And how can I change the practices I don’t like? Though from the

surface I have described myself as this very undistinctive person in a society, I realize now that I

do have my own developed practices and thoughts that truly make me a cultural being. It isn’t

just the few most obvious aspects of culture that define you, but the vast, under-the-surface

aspects that build your character and identity. A lot of these characteristics and perspectives

develop from personal experiences, so I am going to share a few.

Firstly, I grew up in a household where arts and crafts were daily activities and creativity

was encouraged. My mom was an artist at heart and kept me in art classes outside of school and

during the summer. In addition to this, I was fortunate enough to have an absolutely incredible

art teacher for elementary and middle school. This was super important because fostering a skill
like this at a young age (much like language!) strengthened my retention and desire to learn,

which carried into my adulthood. So art was being pushed as important in every aspect of my

life. I really, truly enjoyed it and art became a huge part of who I am as a person. I always just

thought about it as a hobby or how I got my mind off things, but it wasn’t until I was older that I

started to view my experience with art differently.

It is not an unusual question to ask someone how many/what languages they speak, and it

would not be an unusual answer to hear things like Spanish, French, Italian, etc. But I think now,

what about art? Art is always described as “a way to express yourself” and is that not what

language does as well? Through visual references, designs, tones, colors, subject, almost any part

of a piece, you can convey a message to your audience. This is a skill I learned early on,

especially by working with my old art teacher who was previously an art therapist; she directly

worked with kids and analyzed their art in order to get a better idea of their mental state. Having

this ability, though not to a professional degree, but at least casually, I feel a sense of

bilingualism. Art is not technically an official language anywhere, but consider that the first

written language among humans was pictographs. They were using visual representations in

order to communicate with each other. But because we have amore intricate and sound language

system now, I can use my ability to read people’s art for other purposes. For an obvious example,

looking at artwork helps me understand a person on a level that they may not be able to describe

in a vocal language. In addition, when approaching a piece of art, I must always go in with an

open mindset and a wide range of perspectives because the piece may look like one thing on the

surface, but have a completely different meaning. I have seen this characteristic transfer to other

parts of my life, and help define who I am as a linguistic and cultural being. When approaching
arguments or complicated situations, I always keep my mind open to both sides, consider all

possible reasoning, and try to open others to new perspectives.

I know that this sense of open-mindedness and perspective will help me to be a better

teacher, especially for ELLs. Through art, I have an accessible, indirect path to communicate

with my students on levels past just their academics. I will be able to find their personalities,

their voices, and their cries through a medium that will not discourage, intimidate, or restrain

them.

Another role that my family and schooling played in my socialization into language and

culture is my concept of “self”. Being one of three girls (and no brothers), I think my mom and

dad really emphasized us becoming successful independent young women. After school they

always sat down with us, my mom would help me with my Science and English work, and my

dad with my Math. They were both very supportive, while also holding very high standards for

us, to which we always strived to meet. This motivation helped me do well in school which in

turn boosted my self esteem. In addition to this, my parents were always supportive of whatever I

wanted to do, or whatever I thought was “me”. Their daughter wanted to wear only basketball

shorts, baggy tshirts, and gel her hair in a tight ponytail for a year or two? That was fine with

them as long as I was a good and hardworking person. Their daughter wanted to try basketball,

then field hockey, then lacrosse, even though she was horrible at every single one of them? They

would still be there for every game cheering my name. I could not thank my parents enough for

being my supporters and for providing the foundation to my independence and success.

One of the best things they did for me was send me to Gwynedd Mercy Academy, a

private, college-prep, all girls school. Now from that alone, it sounds absolutely dreadful, and

that’s what I thought. But it wasn’t until I got there and experienced the sense of community and
empowerment that I realized what the school was all about. Yes, academics were a huge part of

my education there, but their mission is really the well-roundedness and character of their

students, along with the empowerment of women. This school turned me into the woman I am

today, from the incredibly caring faculty, to the sense of community that is instilled in you from

the moment you walk into the building. So together, my parents and my schooling have guided

me to my independence and I wouldn’t have my concept of “self” that I do today without them.

Although I know everyone’s concept of “self” is different, it is important to me that every

person in a community feels important. I know also that in some cultures it is unlikely of parents

to praise and give as much attention to their children as mine did with me (tying into their

emphasis on the better of the group, rather than just yourself). However, as a future educator, I

know there are ways to incorporate both of these practices, without making my students

uncomfortable. The right mix of commendation, critique, and emphasis on individual/group

work will give these students the best of both worlds.

One last experience and perspective that I would like to share is sometimes hard to

acknowledge and explain without feeling somewhat uncomfortable. This perspective has

stemmed from my development of manners, what was right and appropriate and at what times.

Just like any other kid, you learn your first manners at home from your parents, who try and raise

you to be the best kid you can be. If you have older siblings, in my case a sister, you look up to

them as role models and learn correct behavior from them as well. In accordance with that,

elementary school definitely has a big emphasis on manners. I went to catholic school for 13

years of my life. There, manners are like rules. If you were not being kind and considerate, you

were most definitely getting in trouble. But growing up in catholic education, you did have that

reminder in religion class every day on how you were supposed to treat people. Everyone is
equal, and therefore no one should be treated differently. The quote, “Do onto others as you

would have others do onto you,” was the Golden Rule, given by Jesus to guide people in fairness

and equality. Growing up with rules like this and a consistent set of morals, I definitely have a

strong foundation for a sense of what is right and wrong and when someone is being treated

unfairly.

However, a point I should mention is that every school I’ve been to before Penn State has

been predominantly white, Catholic, middle-class, and there was little to no diversity in the

student or faculty population. Recently I have discovered that I think the mix of the constant

reminder to treat every one equally, while being surrounded by people who were all relatively

equal, could have had a negative effect. (This is not to demean Catholic practices, or say that this

was their intent; rather, it was how my over-conscious mind interpreted it.) Being told over and

over how wrong it is to treat other people differently, I developed this “fear” of ever making

someone I met who was different than I feel any less important because of our differences. So

then, my first instinct was to ignore any obvious differences between us because that would

eliminate the possibility of me ever accidently insulting them or making them feel inferior. I

would describe this as some say “not seeing color” (and for my example, any other

cultural/physical/social/etc difference). Though this can be a great way to avoid things like

discrimination, it can also strip people from their identity. Being interested in the many cultures

that the world has to offer, this is not something I want. I have a desire to learn about other

people’s cultures but I’ve discovered I don’t know how to approach that desire. I am forever

grateful of the privileged education I have received, and the sacrifices my parents made to send

me there, but sometimes I wish it didn’t come with the extensive shelteredness. This is

something that at the time, I wouldn’t have realized its effect on me, until I came to Penn State.
Now, as an educated young adult, in pursuit of being an educator for those in inner-city,

high-needs areas, I recognize the importance of being able to discuss and share the aspects

culture and language within a community. And I want to make my classroom a community

where all are welcome, and all are embraced for their differences.