"To truly understand your own culture--no matter how you define it--requires the personal knowledge of at least one other culture, one that is distinctly different than your own."
When considering the question of whether it is necessary to have the knowledge of one distinctly different culture to truly understand our own, I believe it is needed. While it may be partly true that anyone who lives in our society for a long time can eventually understand what our culture is about, without a comparison with another culture, one can hardly truly understand it.
Admittedly, living in a culture is a direct way of understanding it. For example, a Taiwanese child starts to learn the culture surrounding him since he is taught to speak his first word. Growing up, he knows that his father is the god of the house, and elder's opinions are something he should never argue about. The culture of the country is like air to him, absorbed with every inhalation.
However, does he ever understand why he should listen to his father's instructions? He may learn more about it from history books that Taiwanese society, where I was raised, used to depend on an agricultural economy. To support the family, men needed to work extremely hard in the fields. Therefore, men spoke louder as they were the only source of money. Besides, fathers seemed to know the best decision for every member in the family as they worked independently, they "knew the world".
Yet, to know these tiny things about a culture can not be considered truly understanding it. If the boy has no chance to learn about a foreign culture, he will think that anywhere in the world is just the same as his home country, and he will not realize that the value of a family-oriented culture as well as the drawbacks of it. Take Taiwan, my home country, as an example. Most of the media coverage reports local news and political debates everyday. Many people, as a result, believe that those are all about our country and our life. We need to spare ourselves a moment to look around the world. We will find that we are trapped and lost in our own culture.
Having the knowledge of another culture--a distinctly different one--can help us understand our own culture better. Take my own experience for instance. I never left my parents and lived alone outside until I had graduated from the university. My first trip was to live in the United States, a very different country from Taiwan, for three months. Each month I lived with a different homestay family. Coincidently, all of them were divorced women with children live far away from them. It was my first culture shock. Firstly, the divorce rate in Taiwan was not so high, and secondly, we have a very strong link with our family. If a mother is divorced in Taiwan, she will live with her children, not solitary. I realized the positive aspect of our culture is that we do not need to worry about a lot of things because we usually have our family around us, but the negative aspect is that we are not as independent as Americans. People rely on other's help rather than finding solutions on their own.
In addition, I observed that there are more senior workers working in the United States than in Taiwan. It is an interesting finding that people in Taiwan like to be considered "old" as older age represents more sophisticated and deserves more respect from others. On the other hand, Americans believe old means useless, so they try to keep active in their lives and refuse to admit that they are too old for something. Moreover, most older people in Taiwan retire and live with their children, and center their focus on their children and grandchildren's life, whereas Americans prefer to have their own lives as the way they like.
In sum, we may not have trouble to learn about our own culture with daily life in it, but without comparing with others, we do not know how special ours is and understand the difference between everyone. Lacking the knowledge of it, we only get to know the hows but not the whys about our culture. Therefore, I contend that the personal knowledge of at least one other culture is entailed to truly understand our own.