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"Don't Call Me Aunty or Uncle!"

Most of us grow up being taught to address those older than us by adding Aunty or Uncle to their names. Leave that behind when you decide to study abroad.

Most Asian kids grow up learning to have and show respect to their elders - and one way of expressing this is by referring to them with respect: you call them 'Aunty' or 'Uncle' or if just  'Sister' or 'Brother'.

Photo by: by dominicanuniversityofcalifornia (Flickr) 

It is however, a habit you will have to adjust if you plan to study abroad in the western world.

In most countries and cultures in the West, it is common to address everyone, no matter their age, by name.

In most countries and cultures in the West, it is common to address everyone, no matter their age, by name.

You will find those teaching you in class will often let you know how they prefer being addressed and most of the time they will introduce themselves by their first names. Some want to be referred to as 'Professor' or 'Doctor', whilst other teaching staff will want to be called by first or last names. 

The general culturalism tends to be easier to remember in a classroom setting since most of us are used to addressing our teachers as 'Madam' or 'Sir', rather than 'Aunty' or 'Uncle'.

There is relatively greater equality between generations inside and outside the classroom and this means you need to learn to speak up for yourself more willingly rather than expect a teacher or a stranger to coax you into saying something.

You will find those teaching you in class will often let you know how they prefer being addressed and most of the time they will introduce themselves by their first names. Some want to be referred to as 'Professor' or 'Doctor', whilst other teaching staff will want to be called by first or last names. 

The sooner you embrace the informal ease with which westerners address each other, the less culturally sore you will feel!

There is a basic set of  western social and cultural values that are useful to remember:

There is relatively greater equality between generations inside and outside the classroom and this means you need to learn to speak up for yourself more willingly rather than expect a teacher or a stranger to coax you into saying something.

It’s just different. And the better you understand the difference, the sooner you will find yourself better adjusted in your new surroundings.

It also means that those much older than you often don’t expect to be ‘helped’ into or out of buses/chairs/doors unless they ask to be helped.

And neither do they feel obliged to be protective or indulgent towards you unless you have struck up a close connection and have moved beyond being acquaintances.

But there is nothing vindictive about any of this. It’s just different. And the better you understand the difference, rationally and objectively, the sooner you will find yourself better adjusted in your new surroundings.

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