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My Story


I remember my father telling me when I was eight years old about how fortunate I am to live in a family that can eat when it wants, and turn the heat up as high as its wants – he was not exaggerating. Many of my friends and family struggled to make it through the long winters in Moscow. The temperatures would plummet to well below freezing, and this was challenging for many Russians. Fortunately, my father is an engineer and could afford to provide my mother, sister and I with whatever we needed.

Growing up as an upper middle-class child in Russia gave me a unique perspective on the world around me. I felt extremely lucky that I was able to live a life relatively free from the pain of going hungry and of the biting chill on cold winter nights. I would frequently pack more lunch with me than what was needed, and give it to my friends at school. The boys and girls in my classes were too proud to ask me to share, but after my friends were done eating, I would ask them if they wanted my sandwich.

This charitable nature is something that I have carried with me throughout my life, and I always look to help many of those who are unfortunate. I think coming from a family that had a relatively high amount of income, coupled with the fact that my mother and father are extremely loving people, has made me into the type of person who wants to make use of her fortunate situation and help those around her. Not all of the people in my class were poor. In fact, several had more money than my family. But I was different from the rest of them because I sympathized for people who did not have as much as I did. When my classmates who had money would ignore those around them, or act pretentious about their luxurious state compared to the others, I would become sickened, and wanted to help the others even more.

My time in Russia is likely the most valuable and influential period of my life so far, and I think it will have the greatest impact on who I will be in the years ahead. While my fortunate upbringing has given me tastes that are perhaps more luxurious than the average person, I do not feel entitled to the splendors I receive. I feel there are many people who should get to enjoy the basics of life, such as enough food, water, and shelter. This is not to say that I was extremely wealthy while growing up in Russia, but my experience there did teach me a lot about class, and the struggles that others go through while some do not have the same worries. I fortunately did not have to learn about how difficult life can be first hand, but I feel that spending considerable time with my less fortunate friends made me appreciate what I have, and understand what it means to have nothing.

This lesson has sculpted me into the person that I am today. However, everything is different in Canada; while I still see poverty, it is not nearly as frequent, and people do not seem to be struggling to meet their needs; instead, people seem to be struggling to meet their wants. Those who are concerned about having a lack of money, are typically dogged down by mortgage or car payments, for example. Unlike in Russia, their hardships are not as dire. If they do not have enough money, their homes will be foreclosed, for example. In Russia, if a person does not have enough money, they might not eat. I have noticed that the very poor people in Canada are not poor because of a lack of reasonable employment like in Russia. Here, it appears that most people are on the streets because they are either addicted to drugs, or they have a mental disorder. This is very sad and unfortunate, but I feel there is little I can do to help these people.

Not seeing much of a need to help in Canada, and not having the ability to help many of those who are in need, has caused me to look elsewhere to find out what I might be able to do to help the less fortunate. While I am not currently in a financial position to dedicate my time and resources to leaving Canada and helping to support those in need elsewhere, I think bringing the impoverished in developing and Third World countries up to a level where they are living life free from the everyday hunger burdens is a meaningful activity that can bring joy to myself and to others.

Moving to Canada was obviously a major turning point in my life, and it helped me realize the disparity between nations with a considerable amount of wealth, and those that do not have a reasonable average annual income among the populace. This has given me an objective view about the struggles of nations, and that would not have been possible without my father’s vision of a life in Canada. Even though my family was among the lucky ones, and I was happy, my father was convinced there was a better life waiting for us across the frozen border.

He always wanted what was best for us, and that meant we needed to study hard. Earning an education, just like he had done, was more important than anything – besides family. The only time I ever saw my father angry was when my sister and I neglected to do our homework. He would give us long talks about how important it is to learn English, because one day we would only speak in English, and how well we knew the language would decide our level of success. Much of the studies were related to English, and my dad hired a tutor to ensure we knew the language well before moving to Canada. It was not long before we started to finish our schoolwork immediately upon arriving home, and this made me learn the language very fast.

That period in my life also set me up to be the academic person who I am today. My father instilled a passionate work ethic in me, and this has resulted in my academic pursuit in Canada, which I hope will provide me with the skills that I can use to become an effective cross-cultural communicator. I believe my thorough knowledge of two languages, and my understanding of two others (French and Spanish), will help me to more effectively communicate throughout the world. I think my education in communications and my familiarity with languages will be of a huge benefit to a humanitarian group that looks to improve the standard of living in nations that are less fortunate. Without the guidance of my father, and the knowledge that I gained in Russia, this vision would not be possible.

But my experience in Canada has also played a significant role in who I am today. After my father filled out the necessary paperwork, my family packed our belongings and the four of us flew to our new life. I was sad to leave my friends and the culture that was important to me, but I was also excited to meet the life that was waiting. Canada was nothing like I expected. However, I did not entirely know what to expect. I knew the nation was relatively wealthy, and I had looked at images of Canada on the computer when I was still in Russia, but the environment was completely different when I arrived. The airport seemed relatively similar to what I would experience in Europe, but when entering Richmond I could see that the buildings were much different than what I was used to, and there was not a real difference in each community I drove through. Sure, downtown Vancouver is much different than Coquitlam, for example, but the age of the buildings all seemed similar. Many little differences such as this intrigued me about Canada, but after a while it also made me miss the old-style architecture of Russia, which is much more artistic.

This initial reaction was a bit of a shock, but the culture is the most significant component about Canada that I noticed. When I went to school, of course there was a different dynamic. I was no longer one of the more financially fortunate individuals, and I was now one of the regular students. This change in socioeconomic status was a shock, and it felt strange not needing to look out for those around me, because they already had enough money to pay for whatever they needed. At the same time, my money did not go as far towards getting what I wanted, because everything was more expensive. That meant living in a home that was not as luxurious. These elements created an environment where there was not as much visibility of class differences. I was one of the regular people this time. That concept made me feel both happy that there was no need to help the less fortunate, but at the same time I felt a desire to give back in some way. I think the act of giving creates happiness in an individual, and now there was no one for me to give to.


I started sending packages to my friends at home, which contained various items from Canada. Nothing major, just small trinkets. This lasted for several months, and the more time that passed, the further away I felt from Russia, but the culture was still in me. I needed to find a way to express myself culturally, and this was not easy in Canada, which has much more different values than Russia. The kids at my high school, for example, did not seem as open and cheerful as my peers in Russia. I understood immediately that this was simply a way people here behave. That’s what my father told me. I met nice people in Canada from the start, but they were much different from the people who I knew in Russia. At first, I did not feel as much of a connection, and I wanted so badly to return to Russia, so I could laugh with my friends again. Needless to say, the transition was extremely tough, and I would count down the years until I might be able to return to Russia. But as each day went by, I began to like Canada more and more, and my cousin and sister are largely to thank for me improving my level of happiness. They have been great companions to me from the time that I arrived in Canada, and the three of us are great friends to this day.

My sister and cousin gave me great confidence to try to enjoy my life in Canada. So as each day went by, I started to become happier. I gradually started to see various nuances in common between me and the other people in my high school. Throughout this time, my sister and cousin were very close to me, and we gave each other the support that each of us needed. Without having them to share their experiences and perspectives about life in Canada, I do not believe I would have been able to be happy at all. So with a courageous heart, I would leave the company of my family each day and learn everything I could about the Canadian culture. This gave me such a unique perspective about the world, and I was able to identify with the two lifestyles.

I consider that knowledge to be extremely valuable. It is something that was not easy to attain, and sometimes the hardest lessons are the ones that are the most important. I now believe that the first-hand experience of living in both Canada and Russia has given me primary knowledge of the wants of needs of people in at least two countries. I believe this will make me better prepared to analyze the various components of life in other nations, and figure out what it will take to bring the less fortunate to a level where they are receiving the necessities for living that they need. I do not know exactly what it is at this point that will allow me to help those in impoverished nations, but the next 10 years is a very important moment in working out the dynamic between developed nations and developing nations. Globalization is transforming this dynamic, and the right policies need to be in place in order to ensure the proper transition into a global economy where no nation is the victim of the other. I will need to do a considerable amount of travelling to learn as much as I can about several cultures that I think need assistance, and then I can use the information that I have gleaned from my communications courses to help facilitate a smooth transition into a globalized economy that does not disenfranchise other nations.

It is important to note once again that I want to use my unique position as a person who has experienced multiple cultures to improve the quality of life for those who are unfortunate in other nations. To this end, I will evaluate my experience with my goals while using course concepts to define how I might be able to accomplish my goal based on my personal life experience, and how I might be challenged.

Participant Observation
While I have experienced both the Canadian and Russian cultures, I have not seen the type of poverty that would have people clinging to life. However, I believe this is the demographic of people who need the help of the world’s fortunate. Specifically, this is a time when globalization is starting to change the income of people in developing nations. In the past, many western corporations have done a poor job at giving back to the developing or Third World nations in which they operate. Some have even gone as far as to exploit the locals by having them work in factories for very low wages. The most famous occurrence, perhaps, is of Nike’s “sweat shops” in China. However, social corporate responsibility has taken on a new role due to the immergence of the Internet, and the quick flow of information. Now, companies need to be responsible so that they earn the respect and loyalty of the public. Nike has since cleaned up its act, and this is due largely to people boycotting the company because of its unethical treatment of people in China. So where does “participant observation” come into play?

Well, in order to really understand the challenges that are being faced by the nations that are now part of the global economy, individuals need to live in the nation where the difficulties are happening. It could be a challenge and a shock to experience life the way that many of these unfortunate people must experience it, but I think it is important for me to do as Napolean Changon did, as described in the article “Excerpts From Being Human: An Introduction to Cultural Anthropology,” by Mari Womack. Chagnon arrived in an isolated jungle located along the border of Venezuela and Brazil. “I looked up and gasped when I saw a dozen burly, naked, sweaty, hideous men staring at us down the shafts of their drawn arrows! Immense wads of green tobacco were stuck between their lower teeth and lips, making them look even more hideous, and strands of dark-green slime dripped or hung from their nostrils – strands so long that they clung to their pectoral muscles or drizzled down their chins” (Womack: 1998: 1). Despite this unwelcoming introduction, Chagnon managed to conduct his study, which resulted in him spending over three years with the Yanomamo people. He became submerged in the culture, and this provided him with extremely valuable information about the Yanomamo way of life.

This could be the type of experience I will have when studying the potential impact of globalization on the well-being of developing and Third World nations. However, given my past, it could be difficult for me to make the transition. After all, I have not experienced much exposure to extreme poverty. Russia is the closest that I have come to poverty, but the situation in my home country is not nearly as bad as what many in the developing and Third World nations are going through. Participant observation will be a major struggle for me; however, learning about new cultures is nothing new, which is why I believe this line of work could be appropriate for me, despite the challenges of having to experience an extremely impoverished culture first-hand. Furthermore, the participant observation would not allow me to observe from a distance. In order to really develop a strong understanding about the difficulties that are being faced by the people I want to investigate, I need to be willing to be an active participant in that culture.

Border Crossings
In my journey into investigating other cultures and seeing how the objectives of globalization line up with their own issues, I will keep in mind that there are specific cultural norms that need to be preserved in the civilization in which I am investigating.


“Official anthropological doctrine holds that each human culture is so unique that no yardstick can measure one against another. No one of them is higher or lower, richer or poorer, greater or lesser than any other” (Rosaldo: 1993: 196). It is imperative to ensure that my goals as a person who is undergoing participant observation are in the best interest of the nation or region in which I am observing. My experience with two different cultures already helps me to understand the needs of each cultural group. While the Russian and Canadian cultures do not seem to be extremely different, I have noticed the many nuances that make them more of opposites. For example, the role of men and women is very different in Canada than in Russia. In Canada, there is a strong push for feminism; whereas in Russia, families often stick to the traditional roles. This nuance is an example of what is important to take into consideration as cultural elements when introducing globalization. For example, in a hypothetical situation, if Canada were to begin working closely with Russia in the production of oil, and the Canadian economy were to make a significant impact on the Russian economy, nuances such as the role of men and women would need to be taken into consideration. This would be in relation to advertisements in the country, for example. This knowledge could also impact the employee recruitment practices if the Canadian government were to potentially impose its own policies on hiring female workers in Russia. This example’s shortcoming is the fact that the Canadian government would very likely not attempt to impose any of its policies on Russia. However, the example provides a benchmark from which to compare my experiences to the type of dynamic that begins between nations that work together economically. I believe the more financially powerful a nation is, the more it will impact the culture of the weaker nation. This brings me back to my thesis about the challenges that will be faced in rich nations like the United States combining efforts with developing or Third World nations to improve economically. In order to not take advantage of the weaker nation – such as what has been done in the past – I, and others, need to work towards understanding these weaker nations to create a situation where no country is taken advantage of. I believe my unique understanding of the different nuances of cultures, through my experience of moving from Russia to Canada, provides a valuable tool on which to base my analysis of other nations.

Positivist, Interpretive, and Critical Approaches
When observing another culture, it is important to go into the experience with a framework by which the observation will be conducted. By taking a positivist approach to globalization, nations will be develop based on their own beliefs. “The objective of most positivistic social theorists is to hold a mirror up to nature and, in so doing, to present new discoveries about society in as pristine a form as possible” (Bogardus: 1998: 1). This means the researcher, which would be me, needs to separate her opinion from the culture that is being observed. In other words, an objective perspective is required in order to ensure the nation or region is not being changed by the culture that is influencing it. I believe my experience coming to Canada turned me into positivist after the support I received from my sister and cousin. They allowed me to look at my situation in a more objective manner. At first, I was critical about the culture around me, because it felt so different from Russia, which is home. This unfamiliarity caused a high degree of stress, and I was very critical of this culture. However, I gradually took on more of a positivist opinion when experiencing Canada. I began to accept the differences, and I viewed Canada objectively and began to accept it. This is the same type of attitude it will take for me to be an effective observer of other nations. I will have to overcome any judgements I may have about the culture, and simply focus on the reasons why this culture lives in the way it does. This will help facilitated a clearer understanding of the culture and why the nation has its current believe systems and social structure.

The interpretive approach is understanding the meaning behind the ways of the culture that I am observing. It is important to interpret accurately so there are not misunderstandings given in a report after the field study. And a clearer interpretation can be generated through an objective viewpoint, which was covered in the positivist approach. The interpretive approach is most valuable at interpreting meaningful human action. “It is based on the assumption that we can learn about the meaning of the actions of people who are separated from us by time or physical space because all humans communicate with one another using some symbolic medium” (Bogardus: 1998: 1).

I think I will be able to attain this approach with relative ease, due to fact that I had essentially done the same thing after moving to Canada. I witnessed the differences in the culture here, and compared it to my culture in Russia. In doing so, I looked at the actions of the people in the Canadian culture and interpreted those. This helped me to better understand the culture. However, I believe I was more equipped to interpret the Canadian culture because I was able to understand the language, which is the symbolic medium by which a considerable amount of the communication is made. On the other hand, if I were to go to a nation where English or Russian was not being spoken, it would be exceedingly difficult for me to be effective in this regard. I would need to take the time to learn the language, which would help me to ensure that I was able to pick up on the various nuances and be an effective interpreter of the culture.

The critical interpretive approach is driven by the urge to promote social justice. Various components are linked to this central idea, and they typically believe the interpretive social science is lacking. For example, the interpretive approach does not attempt to examine the system of inequality that informs dominant cultural meanings. Also, “The interpretive model is weak in addressing the unintended consequences of a person’s actions. Unanticipated outcomes are significant for they frequently support existing social inequalities” (Bogardus: 1998: 1). Central to the critical interpretive perspective is the idea that human reality is developed in a social field that is power laden. The truth is a negotiation, instead of being a function of a reality that is objective and free-standing.

Looking back at the time when I gave sandwiches to my less-fortunate classmates, I can see that I line up closely with the type of person who would be inclined to use the critical approach. I would not go as far as saying that I am currently a humanitarian, but the critical approach is something that I think will drive me towards a stronger understanding of the needs of the people in the nations where I will be doing my work. The whole point of me being involved in participant observation is so I can ensure appropriate decisions are being made by corporations and governments when integrating developing and Third World nations into the global economy. It will be my mission to ensure that these countries are not taken advantage of, like they have been in the past, and I will work towards building a stronger understanding between the nations that will be doing business together. My compassion for those who are less fortunate will be of a great benefit in creating an environment where no nation is exploited, and the critical approach is an important component in my goals with the developing and Third World nations.

After reviewing my story more closely and comparing that to many of the concepts learned in class, I believe I possess many valuable skills that will help me in my mission abroad. Not only do I speak multiple languages, but I also come from a unique position that will allow me to be a better participant observer. But in order to be effective at this task, I will need to pay attention to the many concepts learned in class. This paper has helped me identify that “border crossings” needs to be taken into consideration, and during the information gathering stage I need to pay attention to the positivist, interpretive, and critical approaches. This will help me to better understand the culture that I am observing, and the approaching give me a guideline to follow when I am making my observations about the culture.

The world is currently experiencing a considerable amount of change, and participant observation will become a vital component of ensuring the cultural norms of the people in the nation that is being observed are respected. Furthermore, the observation needs to be conducted in a way that reflects that nation’s own believes, and this is accomplished through the positivist approach. At the same time I will need to do my best at being objective and understanding the meanings behind what the people in these nations are doing, and this is reflected in the interpretive approach. A final component that is within the scope of this paper is to take a critical approach in order to ensure that the rights of the people in these nations are preserved. If I follow these components in my participant observation, I will be better able to make a positive impact on developing and Third World nations.

Bogardus, J. (2013). Ways of seeing: theories in the social sciences. Anthropology and Contemporary Life. (

Rosaldo, R. (1993). Culture and truth the remaking of social analysis. Boston, Mass:         Beacon Press.

Womack, M. (2013). Excerpts from being human: an introduction to cultural          anthropology. J. Bogardus (Ed.), Anthropology and contemporary life(Reading            1.1 pp. 1-3). Burnaby, Canada: Simon Fraser University.

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By Hanna Robinson

Hanna has won numerous writing awards. She specializes in academic writing, copywriting, business plans and resumes. After graduating from the Comosun College's journalism program, she went on to work at community newspapers throughout Atlantic Canada, before embarking on her freelancing journey.

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