Category Archives: Cultural Exchange

The Benefits of Bilingualism

By Nikhita Datar

Edited by Natalie Grace Sipula

[3 minute read]

The power of language is undebatable – it has the ability to break down barriers and connect people from different parts of the globe. Meeting someone who can speak the same language as you can be comforting as there is already an established level of familiarity with the person, and the more languages you know, the more common this experience is. Did you know that beyond communicating with more people, knowing multiple languages also has a lot of personal and scientific benefits as well? 

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According to an opinion piece in The New York Times by Yudhijit Bhattacharjeee titled ‘Why Bilinguals Are Smarter,’ “Being bilingual, it turns out, makes you smarter. It can have a profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shielding against dementia in old age.” So being bilingual doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re the next Albert Einstein (there are a lot of bilinguals in the world, but only one Einstein), but scientists and research have demonstrated that there is a connection between increased cognitive abilities and those who are able to speak more than one language. 

I was always aware that I was able to communicate with many people differently – I knew I would talk to my friends at school differently (in a different language) than I would my grandparents, but I never thought anything of it. I primarily speak English and Kannada (a language spoken predominantly by the people of Karnataka in the southwestern region of India), and I can also speak some Hindi, Marathi, Spanish, and Korean. The majority of the languages I know I picked up from my grandparents and parents from a young age, so I learned them much faster. Knowing multiple languages has been a benefit to me because it has allowed me the opportunity to connect with a greater number of people, especially extended family that live abroad who I would have otherwise had difficulty getting to know. I can understand a greater amount of people, and it allows me to see humanity in a different and more nuanced way. 

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The Wall Street Journal wrote, “Bilingualism calls on capacities to learn the two languages, keep the sounds straight, switch deftly between them and so on.” Ideally as a bilingual you should be able to switch between the two languages you speak comfortably. For me, as much as I can switch back and forth as needed, the challenge lies in finding words that have a similar meaning in another language. Often times, my brain gets stuck on a niche word in one language that seems like it can’t be translated into the other language. The phrase, “I don’t know what the translation of that in English is,” is something I’m a little too familiar with. In these moments, I don’t exactly feel the improved cognitive function that is supposed to come with knowing multiple languages. 

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Navigating American Service Culture: to tip or not to tip?

By Tara Khan

Edited by Natalie Grace Sipula

[2.5 minute read]

When you walk into a store in the United States, you are usually met with a friendly greeting such as, “Welcome!” or “Hi, how are you today?”. Typically, these greetings tend to be followed by a question such as “How can I help you?” or “What would you like?”. Employees will ask these questions to give you a more positive shopping or dining experience. In exchange for their friendly service, service industry workers usually receive some type of extra compensation in addition to their standard pay. This compensation either comes directly from you, the consumer, in the form of a tip, or from the business in the form of commission. It can be confusing to know when and where you’re expected to tip in the U.S., so here are some helpful examples of when tipping is recommended or not recommended.

clear glass jar
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Add a tip! The following are situations where tipping is strongly recommended or encouraged:

  1. Restaurants: When dining in at full-service restaurants, tipping is customary. The amount you tip your waiter/waitress is usually proportional to how much your check is and how good the service was. If you thought the service was good, the general rule is to tip 15-20% of your check, pre-tax. A tip of 10% or below usually indicates that the service was poor, while a tip of 25% or more indicates the service was excellent. You can leave your tip in cash, but if you want to pay with a card, there is usually a place to add a tip on the receipt that you sign. Not tipping at a dine-in restaurant is typically considered to be rude, so always factor in the tip into your eating out budget!
  2. Counter service/fast food: Unlike at dine-in restaurants, counter service establishments, such as fast-food restaurants or coffee shops, typically make tipping optional. Usually, you can find a tip jar next to the cashier for cash tips. There might also be an option to add a tip on the credit card machine if you pay by card. If you are getting a $5-$10 item, a tip of $1-2 is usually acceptable, and is by no means required. Tipping at counter service establishments is an added bonus for the employees, and just something nice to do if you really enjoyed the service!
  3. Hair salons/nail salons: Tipping at beauty salons, such as hair and nail salons, is also optional. However, it is highly encouraged if you like the final product. The tip is usually 18-20%, but it can vary depending on how much time was taken to do the service as well as the number of services performed.
  4. Rideshare: Depending on the length of your ride, tipping on rideshare services, such as Uber or Lyft, may be appropriate. Generally, tipping about 10% of your ride price is acceptable, but not something you have to do all the time.
green coupe scale model
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On Being An International Student During The Lunar New Year

By Hannah Teoh

Edited by Natalie Grace Sipula

[3.5 minute read]

Recently, the Lunar New Year passed and celebrations were happening everywhere. If you aren’t familiar with the holiday, the Lunar New Year is celebrated every year to mark the beginning of the Lunar calendar. It originates from China and is celebrated widely by Asian diasporas all around the world. As an ethnic Chinese person from Malaysia, Lunar New Year has always been an important event to my family. On the eve of Lunar New Year, everyone gathers at the ancestral home to have a big traditional feast, followed by a grand ritual at midnight to commemorate the new year. The festivities typically last for a week. We usually clear our schedules for the week for visiting relatives and for going to temples to pray for the upcoming year. The Lunar New Year was always my favorite time of the year, purely because it is a time of unity, reflection, connection, and remembrance. 

The Lunar New Year has looked very different the past few years. For me, the Lunar New Year lost its usual vibrant vitality and character during the pandemic, as lockdowns and social gathering restrictions discouraged visits to temples and seeing relatives and friends— but with good reason, I must add. Many of my relatives are quite a bit older and were part of the population that was highly vulnerable to the air-borne infection. We also did not have a vaccine roll-out at that time, so it was a more precarious situation to navigate. While I understood why such restrictions were put in place, it also made our Lunar New Year celebrations humbler. Streets were quiet when they normally would have abounded with cars and people on their way to different celebrations. The night sky remained calm when it would have been painted in splatters of fireworks.

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2020 was the last year I had a Lunar New Year celebration with my family back home in Malaysia. I left for the U.S. the following year in 2021, right before the New Year. I stayed with my sister in Boston and we had a small Lunar New Year’s eve dinner with Korean take-out food. We called our parents and our grandmother to give well wishes, and they in turn gave us virtual red packets (packets of money traditionally given out by elders during Lunar New Year). A grand celebration that usually takes place over the course of a week was relegated to a modest dinner. 

For the first time, I spent the Lunar New Year alone this year. Between finishing schoolwork, attending class, and going to work, I never really prioritized celebrating the holiday. Plans to have a dinner for Lunar New Year were mentioned in passing but never brought up again as people got busy (myself included). The dumplings that I usually make were stored for an extra day because it was time-consuming to make them. I called my parents late, with the 15-hour time difference throwing off my frame of time. My Lunar New Year celebration started and ended with a bowl of glutinous rice sesame balls in Alhambra.

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