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Cultural Patterns in Spanish and Japanese Culture vs. American Culture

Updated: Jul 5, 2020

A country or culture's cultural patterns, or value orientations, are used to describe the cultural values that characterize the dominant group within a culture. These patterns encompass the conditions that contribute to a social group's perception of the world and how they live in that world. Cultural patterns are integrated, dynamic, and can be contradictory.


When studying abroad, it is very likely that you will experience many of your new culture's cultural patterns and values. If you travel with the mindset that the country where you plan to study will have the same values as you, as an American, you may be in for a bit of a surprise. By preparing yourself with the knowledge of the basic cultural patterns in the country to which you're traveling, you will be much more prepared, which could lessen the intensity of your culture shock.

According to Professor L. Robert Khols, who spent most of his life working to improve cross-cultural understanding, the dominant American cultural patterns include personal control over the environment, positivity toward change, control over time, emphasis on equality, the importance of individualism and privacy, self-help, competition, future orientation, work orientation, informality, directness, efficiency, and materialism. As these values are characteristic of most Americans, it is likely that you identify many of these as part of your cultural identity. Just as these cultural patterns represent American cultural identity, the cultural patterns of Spain and Japan do the same.


One important cultural pattern present in every country is time orientation. Spain is a present-oriented culture, meaning the people there value the idea of living in the moment. They often lead more impulsive, spontaneous, and casual lifestyles. Additionally, in present-oriented cultures, the future is seen as ambiguous and beyond the control of any individual. Since the past is over and the future is unpredictable, living in the moment is an important value orientation in their culture. Contrastingly, Japan is a future-oriented culture. This means they are extremely-time conscious, and they value change, taking chances, and view the future with optimism. The Japanese culture looks to the future to be grander than the present and past. The U.S. is also a future-oriented culture, so this aspect of Japan's cultural identity may not be a big change. However, traveling to Spain and other Latin American cultures may force you to slow down and live in the present much more than you would in your typical American society.


Although there are many more cultural patterns that describe the specific values of these cultures, (see the Additional Information page for a brief overview) another cultural pattern that may affect you specifically when traveling from the U.S. to Japan or Spain is the masculine or feminine orientation of their cultures. Japan scores the highest of all countries on the masculinity scale. This means that Japanese culture's dominant values are male oriented. Gender roles are highly defined, assertiveness and materialism are emphasized, and interpersonal relationships are not as important as personal success. The United States is also a male-oriented culture. Despite the push for gender equality, women are still paid less and are hold fewer positions of power. Contrastingly, Spain is a feminine-oriented culture, meaning nurturing behaviors, gender equality, interdependence, and sympathy are emphasized. The representation of women in leadership roles is greater in these cultures. When choosing where to study abroad, the opportunities for women may be greater and more acceptable in feminine cultures like Spain, while the greater power of men will continue to be emphasized in highly masculine cultures like Japan.


Before choosing your study abroad location, it is important to be aware of the many cultural patterns that make up the values of the particular culture. Consider researching other value orientations like power distance, uncertainty avoidance, high/low context, activity orientation, industry/indulgence, and face. Being aware of your country's cultural patterns ahead of time will make for a smoother transition when it comes time for you to being your study abroad program.


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