Emojis & Emoticons and Their Interpretation in Japanese Culture

Over the last couple weeks, my CRS 400 class concluded our studies by spending our time researching, writing, and discovering intercultural differences through personal projects focused on examining foreign cultures and their usage of social media. Given the background of the project and my passion for technology, I chose to focus on Emojis and their usage by Asian cultures, but Japanese culture in specific. In fact, my research question was the following:

“Are emojis used as frequently on social media across different cultures? Specifically, in Asian countries, how are emojis interpreted differently than in other countries such as the United States?

My inspiration for this project largely came as a result of my background in software engineering and a love for writing code. Over the past summer, I worked on an engineering team for a company called newBrandAnalytics, who were building software that could process, analyze, and derive sentiment from customer reviews on websites like Yelp, Twitter, and Facebook. In the world of computer science, this is referred to as NLP (Natural Language Processing), which basically consists of building linguistic models that teach computers to read and interpret emotions from text, just like human beings. One of the conundrums our engineering team encountered was how to account for Emojis, given their rise in social media usage across the web. At the time I was interning there, a fellow software engineer showed me a fascinating site, emojitracker.com, which analyzes Twitter feeds across the world, showing viewers real-time usage of Emojis and their frequency. If you have a chance to visit the site, you’ll see it’s not only impressive, but crazy to think Emojis are so widely used nowadays.

After seeing this website, I became intrigued by the ideas of Emojis—not just their usage, but also their interpretation across social media, especially by foreign cultures. As someone who lives in a country (The United States) where emotions and loud-talking are common in everyday jargon and interaction, I was interested to see if the same was true in countries like Japan, who are generally more reserved and less outspoken. I realized that Emojis would serve as the perfect vehicle for this experiment, because they were an unanimous icon used across the world, especially on sites like Twitter, which would later be my research tool.

Below you will find a presentation of my research, including methodology, background, and data/results, along with an analysis of this data. Overall, I learned a lot about Japanese emotion and their usage of Emojis as a way to express it. Although their usage of Emojis may be different than American usage, Emojis are nevertheless a growing niche that helps people across the world share sentiment via social media.



The Do’s & Dont’s: Tips From an American Study Abroad Student

It seems like just yesterday, all of us Syracuse Abroad students were stepping off the plane and into London Heathrow Airport, marking our successful voyage to our place of study for the next 3 months. While it’s bittersweet to be wrapping up the program and heading back home, my CRS 400 class decided to make a series of videos highlighting some tips for next semester’s incoming students.

Below you will find a video produced by me that suggests 10 tips for American students studying abroad. Some of the ideas in this clip parallel specific topics we’ve learned in this class, which is why I’ve also included some external resources as well. You can find these below.



Bennett’s Scale: http://itdc.lbcc.edu/cps/history/sensitivityScale/scale.html

Trompenaar’s Dimensions: http://www.gwu.edu/~umpleby/recent_papers/2003_cross_cultural_differences_managin_international_projects_anbari_khilkhanova_romanova_umpleby.htm

Hofstede’s Dimensions: http://geert-hofstede.com/dimensions.html

How a Movie Made Me Understand Cultural Differences

Like Water for Chocolate

Like Water for Chocolate movie cover

Over the past week, my CRS 400 class completed group projects in which we were instructed to watch, analyze, and present about a particular film with regard to cultural differences. My group selected the film, Like Water For Chocolate, produced by Alfonso Arau in the year 1992. The film takes place in Mexico during the time period of 1910-1934 and focuses on several main characters, particularly Tita (the protagonist) and Pedro who are in love yet cannot get married because of barriers such as arranged marriage and preexisting family traditions. While much of their strife is caused by the menace of Tita’s mother, the two secretly find ways to be together.

As someone who does not often watch movies that predate the 2000’s, Like Water For Chocolate was a new experience for me, especially because it was produced in Spanish with English subtitles. Moreover, when I watch movies, I typically do so for pleasure and in my free time as a leisurely outlet. Because I was watching this film for a class and knew I would have to later analyze it, I took a completely different approach and as a result, closely examined the saga of each and every character and their contribution to the overall plot. As a movie that took place on a rural Mexican ranch during the Mexican Revolution, it was fascinating to see the lives of the characters unfold and their disconnect from modern-day society. The film forced me to pay attention to small details such as non-verbal communication and the way each character used diction and rhetoric to convey their emotions. For example, in American culture, I would rarely cry to convey my displeasure, rather I would use words to articulate how I am feeling and why I am feeling that way. However, in Like Water For Chocolate, nearly all of the characters weep constantly, regardless of gender as way to channel their feelings. Throughout the film, Tita cries sporadically as a result of her mothers’ wicked words and as a way to indicate her misery and trepidation towards speaking out against her mother.

Tita crying because of her mother's harsh words

Tita crying because of her mother’s harsh words

Moreover, one of the overall themes that highlighted a major difference between my culture and the characters’ Mexican culture is that of arranged marriage and rigid family traditions. As someone who has grown up in a different time period and in a more progressive society, it was difficult to understand Mama Elena’s emphasis on arranged marriage and the subjection of women. Tita is seen as nothing more than an eternal slave until her mother’s death—existing only to take care of her mother and to answer her every need. While this may have been the norm in that culture and time period, it seemed ridiculous to me as women in my culture are treated as equal counterparts to men. Additionally, Mama Elena’s family tradition that the last-born daughter is to take care of the mother until her dying day was hard to understand. In my culture, one’s birth status determines nothing of their future and their obligations. To think that one is “locked-in” to a life of misery and servitude simply because of age is preposterous.

After watching the movie for the first time, I was able to understand the plot and some of the overall themes. However, it wasn’t until I watched the movie a second and third time before I began to understand the emotional depth of each character—the tension that existed not just between Mama Elena and Tita, but Tita and Rosaura as well. Moreover, after watching the movie a second time, I began to sympathize for Mama Elena. Although she was incredibly mean to her three daughters, specifically Tita, I realized that perhaps she too was a victim of this vicious family tradition and was seemingly brainwashed into forcing it upon her youngest daughter.

Looking back on this project, I had several cultural stereotypes that prevented me from watching Like Water for Chocolate free of bias. However, after watching it several more times, I was able to shed that bias and see the movie for what it was and to understand the culture in which the characters lived. I realized the important lesson of experiencing a culture free of bias, as it expedites one understanding of that culture and its attributes. Furthermore, experiencing another culture, whether it be through film or actually in person, helps one understand their own culture. It magnifies some of the differences between cultures and how those differences alter relationships and the way in which people act towards each other.

An Unpatriotic American & His Position on the Bennett Scale

Unexpected Anti-Americanism

Unexpected Anti-Americanism

Arriving in London on September 1st, nearly three months ago from today, I had no idea what to expect. I was in a precarious situation as I had several fellow Wake Forest classmates studying with me in London, however, none of which I knew particularly well. All of my close friends had elected to study as one big group in Barcelona, Spain, and I was the oddball who decided to spend the next three months in the United Kingdom. People asked me “why?” or “don’t you want to be with your friends?” and the short answer was simply, no. I am sure I would have had a blast studying with my friends but I felt that in order to get an authentic study abroad experience—one free of American archetypes and in-your-face-patriotism—I would have to study alone, far away from what is known.

However, I soon learned that was an incredibly novel but naïve assumption. While I may not be with my immediate friends here in London, I am constantly surrounded by fellow Americans. Whether it’s in my flat, in my classes, or even on the streets, I feel as though it’s impossible to detach myself of my American counterparts. I realize this sounds very aggressive and unfriendly, however, constantly being surrounded by American students has blinded me of an authentic study abroad experience. It has persisted a sense of Americanism despite being 3,000 miles from my home country. While this inherently sounds like a bad thing, this has led me to have a perverse reaction towards American pride and our position in a global community.

Perhaps one of most comprehensive studies regarding peoples’ adjustment into a foreign culture was conducted by Milton Bennett PhD, executive director of The Intercultural Development Research Institute. In this study, Bennett created a scale on which people and their current state of cultural assimilation can be plotted. This scale is composed of six stages, beginning with ethnocentrism and ultimately transitioning into an “ethnorelative” outlook. This scale is especially useful when analyzing study-abroad/exchange students and their interaction with a foreign culture. After learning about this scale in my CRS 400 class, I found it invaluable in understanding some of the feelings I have experienced while studying abroad, and it has helped me give meaning to certain reactions I have had towards British and American people alike.

Bennett Scale

Bennett Scale

Having been fortunate enough to travel to countries in Asia, Europe, and South America, I realized early on that America is not the center of the world as some may see it. By accepting this reality at a young age, I believe I bypassed the denial stage, which assumes that one’s native country is the best place on earth (i.e., ethnocentrism). However, while the next stage on Bennett’s scale is Defense, there is a rare variation of this stage known as Reversal. Bennett describes reversal as when an adopted culture is experienced as superior to one’s primary culture. As someone who is disgusted by American pride, gaudiness, and the “we are the best” mentality, I found myself experiencing reversal upon arriving in the United Kingdom. I was so excited to shed my American shell and to the side with the British in criticizing American culture. I finally had found an outlet to scorn my country and people with whom to share my cultural disdain for the United States. I was tired of believing that “America was the best” and being surrounded by grossly patriotic citizens who viewed America as the arch stone of the world.

However, over the last several weeks, I have moved away from this stage on the Bennett scale and I am now beginning to accept to British culture for what it is, rather than a shared antipathy towards the United States. Although it’s hard and sometimes daunting to branch out and experience London without fellow American students, my transition into the acceptance stage has been catalyzed by meeting native British citizens (often through class projects) and trying new food. While the latter may sound somewhat ridiculous, I have found that food is a great way to break down cultural barriers and provide a glimpse into another culture’s inner-workings. For example, our class trip to Addis Restaurant not only exposed us to Ethiopian culture, but also showed us the diversity of British culture. London is bastion of foreign foods, perhaps most notably Indian food, but other cultures as well. Moreover, writing these weekly blog posts have forced me to digest a weeks worth of exploring London and to reflect on my experiences. They helped me understand what I’m feeling and to make sense of my integration into British culture.

As my study abroad experience winds down in the next several weeks, I can’t help but wish I had more time to fully immerse myself in British culture. While reaching that stage of integration may take years, I hope to one day live in a culture long enough to the point where I treat it as my home. Although it may seem like time is the only way to become integrated in a culture, food and reflection are great ways to speed up that process.

Why Bias Kills Intercultural Communication (and how an Italian couple made me realize this)

World Prejudices

World Prejudices

As a study abroad student in one of Europe’s most central hubs, I have had the privilege of experiencing not just British culture, but Italian, German, Czech, and French culture as well. As an American, it’s been incredibly interesting to witness how people interact, despite being neighboring countries. While I try to be open to different cultures and their customs, it has proven to be hard to shed my conservative and judgmental shell when traveling abroad. Although this is something I wish I could change, it has given me the opportunity to step back and reevaluate my opinions and emotions regarding other cultures.

Being mindful of other cultures is something nearly every foreigner attempts to do when visiting a country other than their own. We try our best to leave our judgmental and biased views behind, however, it is often easier said than done. Judgments such as “that’s wrong” or “that’s weird” flood our conscious as we attempt to rationalize and make sense of new discoveries, while comparing our findings to what is known back home. As an American studying abroad with other American students, I feel as though I am constantly surrounded by this phenomenon. Anything that appears unfamiliar is met with a confounding response as to how “America doesn’t do that” or how “America knows the right way.” I admit, I too sometimes fall into this ignorant category.

Perhaps one of the best examples of my prior lack of cultural mindfulness happened when I visited Florence, Italy several weeks ago. After landing at the airport and taking the train into the city, I was astonished by the site I saw upon exiting the train terminal. There was a couple, passionately kissing while crowds of people walked past them, completely ignoring their presence. As someone who becomes uncomfortable by the slightest trace of PDA (public display of affection), I thought it was the weirdest thing ever. However, as I frantically looked around for other uncomfortable onlookers I soon became aware that perhaps I was just being ignorant—that maybe it was completely normal and acceptable. I always thought that public affection was merely a stereotype of Italy, however, I was experiencing the real thing. I became embarrassed by my emotional reaction and attempted to blend in with the rest of the crowd by ignoring it.

Through watching this couple kiss, I realized the detrimental impact of cultural ignorance. It skews our willingness to understand another culture and leads us to form a bubble around our own nationality. Moreover, it instills a sense of superiority and xenophobia that causes cultural divides and unwanted stereotypes.

Since experiencing this cultural judgment, I try to my best to respect other cultures and to be aware of my personal bias. Although at times it may be hard, I realize that there are certain aspects of American culture that foreigners might think are weird or even perhaps rude. While it may sound cliché, it is not our place to judge another culture, however taboo it may seem. We are simply outsiders looking in and must respect what we see and accept it. Perhaps we may not agree, but we should maintain an open mind.

While becoming culturally mindful is a lofty goal, especially for those who do not travel often, it makes for a better experience when visiting another country. It yields a feeling of “fitting in” and allows there to be transparency between cultures. I suggest we all relinquish are preconceptions and accept other cultures for what they are!


A Semi-Religious Person’s Perspective on Religion & Culture

Culture & Religion

Culture & Religion

From the time I was old enough to sit through my first religion class, nearly every teacher thereafter opened up the first day of class by posing perhaps one of the most debated questions in the world:

“What is religion?”

While it is hard to put a finger on an exact definition, many view it as a system of beliefs and tradition that provide rich cultural layers and a foundation upon which to live one’s life.

The most common associations with religion are of course supernatural beings and symbols such as God, scripture, and prayer. However, religion goes deeper than just being some connection between the holy and the mundane. It is a framework for ethics, law, and morality, all of which work towards making us better people. While this may seem naive, especially given the contention that erupts from the mixing of politics and religion, religion is an unavoidable and an inevitable power that has touched the lives of nearly everyone.

As a Christian Episcopalian child, I grew up in a religious background that was fueled by weekly church attendance and rigorous Sunday schooling. My parents believed that it was important to have a religious foundation, an idea that was shared throughout my family. However, I loathed the idea of going to church and I would make up any excuse to get out of our family commitment. This budding disdain for religion was only catalyzed by my matriculation into high school and then college, where weekly church attendance became annual church attendance and my religious roots ceased to exist.

Furthermore, my ignorance towards my religion was fueled by an overwhelming wave of atheism that seemed to be shared by the majority of my friends, as if it was some cool new trend. However, looking back on my religious pastime, I have come to appreciate all that religion has done for me. It taught powerful values, such as love, respect, and kindness. And while I may not be the most avid church attendee, I recognize that my religious heritage has made me a better person. It has taught me not to outright hate things that do not make sense and to accept and show compassion towards other people, regardless of differing views.

While there are certainly some people who use religious influence to overpower and often suffocate non-believers, I view religion as a shaping factor for behavioral norms. It teaches the power of loving thy neighbor, and encourages people to act peacefully and rationally, as exemplified in the 10 Commandments. Religion is about social connection and making people feel united under a common bond. It encourages forgiveness and for humans to be true and faithful. This has a massive effect on surrounding culture, as religion often lays the basis for what is right and what is wrong.

Yet while I am a Christian, I often find it interesting to examine other religions. Coincidentally, last week my CRS 400 class traveled to the London Central Mosque to explore Islam and their prayer services. Having been to a small mosque in North Carolina only once before, I was shocked at how large the main prayer room was. Moreover, the mosque was incredibly humble compared to the stained-glass cathedral architecture characteristic of Christian churches. I remember thinking at the time that perhaps this was related to Muslims being typically humble people.

London Central Mosque

London Central Mosque

However, this visit to the mosque clarified my understanding of the relationship between religion and culture. Islam’s five pillars clearly depict how religion should be used to better the lives of its followers. For example, one of the pillars is “Zahak,” which embodies the idea of giving back to the poor and needy through a small redistribution of wealth among all Islamic people. After learning about this, it became clear to me that religion is more than just social cohesion—it is a system in which values are formed and people can look out for each other. While Islam and Christianity may be viewed as completed different religions, they, along with other religions, all serve to better peoples’ lives. Moreover, they empower people to treat each other with respect and decency.

Trompenaar’s Dimensions & A Weekend in Dublin

Foreign Perspective

Foreign Perspective

Nearly a week ago from today, I was sitting on an airplane on my way home from one of the coolest places I have ever visited. As someone who has been fortunate enough to travel the world, people scratched their head when I told them that Dublin was now at the top of my “coolest places I’ve been” list. The typical response I received from my friends was, “I mean, its just Ireland, right?”

Wrong. Sure, they speak the same language and much of the United States is of Irish decent (including myself), however, there is much to be said about the Irish. They are incredibly friendly and welcoming regardless of your nationality. Their outlook on foreigners in their country is characterized by warmth and an appreciation for visiting Ireland. Moreover, I was impressed by their food and of course, their devout love for the infamous Irish beer, Guinness.

However, my understanding of Irish culture went deeper than just experiencing Dublin. Coincidentally, I was charged with another field assignment in my CRS 400 class that involved me and my partner, Mubarak Hayatu-Deen, developing a questionnaire to ask foreigners on their perspective towards Americans. Seeing that I was in Dublin for the weekend, I decided it would be interesting to see how my results varied against those obtained by other students in London.

After attempting to ask Irish locals to complete my questionnaire, I soon realized it was too long. Once people realized that it was eight questions, they immediately gave me the cold-shoulder and walked away. I therefore compiled the survey into a single question, which I felt would be less obtrusive and more time-conscientious for my interviewees.

 “How do you perceive Americans, and why”?

Below, you can find a chart with the breakdown of nationalities I interviewed.

Breakdown of Interviewed Nationalities

Breakdown of Interviewed Nationalities

You can also find my results here: Field Assignment Results

Initially, I was surprised with the positive remarks people made towards American culture. However, I soon realized that it was most likely because they did not want to say negative things about the United States in front of an American (me). This is why I suggested the best way to administer this questionnaire would be via an online survey and to do so anonymously. This would eliminate any hesitation the interviewee has and would allow them to be completely honest.

However, I began to realize my results paralleled Trompenaar’s dimensions. For example, many of my interviewees touched on the fact that Americans are hard-working, independent people. This plays into the dimension of Individualism vs. Collectivism and highlights the fact that Americans are generally considered to be individualistic. Moreover, Americans learn more towards the specific dimension rather than diffuse because they value work over relationships and tend to put their job first. Below, you can see in the word cloud generated from my data that this is evident as words like “hard” and “working” appear more than others.

Interview Word Cloud

Interview Word Cloud

Additionally, many of my interviewees alluded to the dimension of achievement and how Americans measure success. For example, some people talked about how Americans can often be seen as gaudy and show off their wealth and others highlighted the fact that Americans boast about their military strength and over-patriotic. While Americans may measure success differently, it is often through materialistic means such as money or possessions.

I’m interested to hear what other people think of Americans, so I have attached a minified version of my questionnaire below. I realize that my blog audience is mostly American, however, I would prefer if other nationalities took my survey.

Take Our Survey