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Kenneth Yu, a young Malaysian, compares what he calls the Teen Experience in his homeland with that of American teens. What he has discovered is that there are certain similarities amongst teens, no matter where they live, but there are also many undeniable cultural differences!
The InSite: What do you mean when you use the term: The Teen Experience?
Kenneth: The concept of The Teen Experience may seem a little abstract, but it is, in reality something highly practical. The Teen Experience consists of various circumstances, incidents, opportunities, challenges that mold a teen's character [so that he/she can] face harsher obstacles in adulthood and beyond.
TI: Can you name me some of the aspects of The Teen Experience?
Kenneth: It's a pretty vast area to talk about. Some of its examples are: loneliness, gaining acceptance among peers, and angst (of the Kurt Cobain variety). However, it all boils down to one simple thing - the quest for individuality.
The Teen Experience...all boils down to one simple thing - the quest for individuality.
TI: Please explain what you mean by that quest for individuality.
Kenneth: It's a teen's journey into fully realizing his or her own identity. It's a difficult phase [because] there is an ultra-thin line between fitting in and just being oneself. It's the time when a teen [tries] to uncover his or her [own] significance and niche in life. [Whether the teen is in] Albania, Angola, or America, the journey is fundamentally the same, though the way a teen manifests his or her struggle is different.
TI: Can you say more about those differences?
Kenneth: Different countries have different laws, customs, and traditions. This leads to different mind sets and viewpoints, with different interpretations of freedom of expression. Even teens of urban and countryside areas in the same country differ somewhat in their thinking. [So it stands to reason that] teens from opposite sides of the globe [would too!]
There is an ultra-thin line between fitting in and just being oneself.
TI: Can you give us a few examples of these cultural differences as they relate to freedom of expression for teens?
Kenneth: The expression of one's sexuality for instance, hinges on race and culture, and differs in both occidental (Western) and oriental countries. In the US, for example, it is socially accepted for teens to display public affection for each other. In Malaysia, my country, it is discouraged. Homosexual activity between consenting adults, for example, is protected by laws in the USA. In Malaysia however, homosexuality is taboo to even speak of!
TI: What about school, certainly a large part of every teen's experience? How are the two countries different?
Kenneth: As a product of the Malaysian Education System, I truly envy Western, particularly US education. Over here in Malaysia it's all about cramming [for exams] and [pouring out] whatever we had learned. We live in an exam-oriented society where the enjoyment of studying is deemed a hindrance in the intense paper chase. Truly, academic excellence is placed highly [over many things, even] character [and personal ethics.] On the other hand, Western teens, enjoy a pressure-cooker free type of schooling. They thrive in a system where talents and abilities are encouraged, not repressed.
We live in an exam-oriented society where the enjoyment of studying is deemed a hindrance...
TI: What about sex education?
Kenneth: Let me share with you an anecdote about my friend who currently resides in Atlanta, Georgia. In a sex-education class, all the students were asked by the teacher to close their eyes. The teacher asked those who weren't virgins to stand up. Practically the whole class stood up, except my friend and a few others. Here in Malaysia, I can picture a scenario where everyone would remain seated, sweating in anticipation of some poor soul standing up! Same planet, different worlds. This is yet another factor of the 'Teen Experience' that differs from nation to nation.
TI: So, as you've pointed out, while all teens quest for self-expression and individuality, their culture and national customs makes the teen experience different for many young people around the world.
Kenneth: Right! And as for what you can do, no matter where you live, to fully maximize the Teen Experience, remember this statement: "Be true to thyself." The essence of living is to be the person that Divine Reason had intended you to be, to leave an indelible footprint on the cosmic beach, to be someone significant. To do so, you must rise way above the tides, above conformity, regardless of circumstance. It may be hard, but the results are ultimately worthwhile.
"Be true to thyself."
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last updated August 24, 2005
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