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Multiracial students say they are finding balance while feeling stuck between differing cultures

An illustration of a man in a white shirt with the Petronas Towers and Taj Mahal in the background.

Living in multicultural communities forced Vincent Augustin and Dalvin Keil to find a balance between the cultures surrounding them. Augustin and Keil are both sophomores majoring in information technology and are from Malaysia and Samoa respectively.

Being in between two cultures is an issue Augustin said he has experienced his whole life. Augustin is Indian but has lived his entire life in Malaysia.

“I wanted to please both groups I was in. With the Indians, I wanted to be more Indian, and with the Malaysians, I tried to be more Malay.”

Augustin grew up in a predominantly Malay neighborhood, and he said he tried to fit in with them. At the same time, at home, he was expected to be Indian. He noted he was forced to find a balance between the two.

“I would just really try to be how they are. I really exposed myself to movies of all cultures. That’s actually how I learned English too.”

He said embracing the Malay culture was easy for him because he was surrounded by it. The Indian culture was harder for him, he said, because his parents were “more Americanized.”

When he spent time with his cousins, Augustin shared he felt not Indian enough, so he had to be more deliberate about his Indian culture. While he was in high school, he said he did not fully embrace his Indian culture.

“I wanted to choose to be not Indian, and that was tough because I am Indian. I really didn’t interact with many Indians until my senior year. Then I decided to embrace [it].”

He shared it was more important to embrace his family’s culture than to worry about fitting in with others. Although he embraces his family’s culture more now, Augustin said he still works hard to accept and embrace other people’s cultures as well.

Being multicultural has been an asset for him, explained Augustin. “It’s been a huge positive for me. It’s helped me here, to be comfortable with people of other cultures. Because I’m comfortable, I’ll be able to answer their questions, and ask them questions too.”

He said he wants people to know it is okay to be different. The important thing is to be true to yourself and not pay attention to what other people think of you.

Adjusting to BYUH

After living in Samoa for 19 years, Keil said the move to Hawaii involved culture shock. Keil described how it took a little while to get used to being surrounded by so many students from different backgrounds and cultures.

“I would say I felt in between culturally,” said Keil. He shared he had to learn how people acted here because it was different from back home. Although he had to learn other cultures and adapt himself, he said he did not mind it.

One of the things Keil said he had to deal with was being intimidated by the mainland students’ English.

“I always thought their English was top-notch. I was fascinated by the way ... they described their feelings, thoughts and personal opinions. It was very interesting.”

He explained the new slang and metaphors he would hear were interesting to him and things he had never heard before.

However, Keil also said he felt he had to choose between his Samoan roots and the new cultures at BYU–Hawaii.

“I tried to adjust myself to their culture, and I learned a lot from it. At the same time, I didn’t want to lose my roots. I also wanted to learn something new.”

As he settled in, he said he realized he was not alone, and there were other Polynesian students in the same situation as him. As he connected with others, he said he did not have to choose between either culture.

“I would say I felt in between culturally, but I would also say I’m more than that because having the gospel in my life makes me different ... It made me want to express love and charity to everyone. It doesn’t matter what culture they are or I am.”

A professional’s perspective

Often, people feel they have to choose between their different cultural heritages, said Dr. Chiung Chen, a professor in the Faculty or Arts & Letters. Chen teaches intercultural communications at BYUH. She said people can have multiple sides culturally and can find a balance between their cultures.

“It makes it harder for multicultural people when they are forced to choose [only] one of their cultures,” said Chen.

People tend to choose one culture when they are young because they want to fit in, she said. This is because differences are often seen as negative.

People deal with cultural identity issues in different ways, said Chen. “There is no one solution for everyone.”

While people generally choose one of their multiple cultures when they are children as they try to fit in, as they grow up, they tend to want to explore more aspects of their cultural identity, shared Chen.

According to Chen, college is where most people learn more about the other cultures making up their cultural identity. However, there are some who do not want to embrace the different sides of their cultural identity, Chen said.

People not wanting to explore their different cultures is not a problem, explained Chen. “It’s [too bad] if they don’t get to embrace their culture, but if they are happy, then it’s totally fine. Some people like the melting pot and are fine to melt into the host country’s culture.”

Chen added that now more people are celebrating cultures, and it is what makes people unique. It is almost to the point where if you only have one culture, it is seen as boring or limiting, she added.

The world being more multicultural now than ever before is a good thing, said Chen. “I’d prefer a multicultural society than a single culture society because a single culture society means conformity. If there’s no room for other [cultures], then you’re forced to conform.”