What are your ideas about the quote "It is only through multiple exposures to different environments that we can define our identity"?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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W. Somerset Maugham wrote,

...men and women are not only themselves, they are also the region in which they are born, the city apartment or the farm in which they learned to walk, the games they played as children, the old wives' tales they overheard, the food they ate, the schools they attended, the sports they followed, the poets they read, and the God they believed in. You can know them only is you are them.

People who have ever traveled to foreign countries or moved from one region of their country to another realize what Maugham wrote is profoundly true. Most noticeable are the small things: the way people walk, the way they move their hands when they talk, what they laugh at, how they eat, what they eat, what interests them. Anyone who has moved from the Midwest to the East coast perceives the differences in interests, customs, dress, attitudes, manners, and in foods; anyone who has moved from the Northern states to the Southeast finds quickly that there is a culture in the South that differs from that of Northern states. Anyone who has lived in another part of the U.S. and moved to the Southwest or the West Coast also recognizes many differences in attitudes, humor, food, and political ideologies. The move from one area of the country to another makes one stand apart from others who were born there.

Immigrants, especially those from non-European countries, may differ greatly from the typical American. Similarly, when Americans are in Europe, the facial expressions, the way one holds a fork, the ice one puts into a drink--these small gestures identify them as American. And, perhaps for the first time, they realize that they act differently from other nationalities.

Without doubt, the exposure to other environments makes people realize more clearly how they define themselves. After realizing that not everyone says the same prayers, eats the same foods, believes in the same principles, believes the same superstitions, holds the same ethics and morals, has had the same type of childhood experiences, and laughs and cries in similar circumstances, we recognize what things combine to create us. In the final analysis, when one visits other environments that are not identical to one's own, one perceives himself or herself much more clearly amid the contrasts.

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