kenya, england and the self-concept

I was born in Kenya and moved to England when I was four years old. With the exception of two years spent in South Africa, most of the years I’ve spent on this Earth have been in the UK. However, I’ve been going back to Kenya at least once every year since I left.

Now we have that out of the way, we can talk about how the two cultures I’ve been predominantly exposed to throughout my life have influenced my self-concept. I used the scale developed by Singelis (1994) to measure my levels of interdependence and independence. Interestingly enough, I got the exact same score of 5.2 for both of them. This got me thinking. In addition to conceptualising myself independently, I’ve always been someone who considers myself in relation to the groups I belong to as well. However, I’ve always attributed that to aspects of my personality without really considering the cultures I’ve been heavily exposed to.

After reading the first few pages of chapter 5, I began to think about the role my cultural background could have had in this. Kenya scores pretty high on collectivism, while the UK is considered an individualist culture. The book discusses how interdependent cultures, such as Kenyan culture, tend to promote the conceptualisation of the self in relation to others, while independent cultures, like the UK, tend to do so in terms of individual aspects of the self.

I totally see this come into play in both Kenya and England. One custom that occurs in both cultures, although very differently, is marriage. In Kenya, it matters who I marry. It matters to my parents (obviously), my brothers (just as obvious), my aunties, my uncles, my cousins, my great-aunties, the relatives I’ve never met before, the people from the same village as me, the security guard I had an interaction with two years ago and..you get the picture. I can’t bring a guy who is simply a good friend of mine to Kenya with me. This is because, what seems like the whole country will forever remember how I brought a a guy who I may potentially marry (in their eyes) to a family gathering and tried to play it off like it wasn’t something that would affect everyone.

In England however, no one really cares. While any close family members I have there will feel they have some stake in the matter, everyone else will go about their business with the understanding that who I marry will hardly, if at all, affect them.

I wonder how much these specific characteristics of each culture – interdependent and independent- have contributed to my self-concept. I feel like the amount of exposure I’ve had to each one influences the extent to which this characteristic is present in my self-concept. Since I spent much more time in England, I conceptualise myself more independently. However, because I’ve still been exposed to Kenyan culture (at a lower level), I also conceptualise myself interdependently, albeit significantly less so than the former.

One thought on “kenya, england and the self-concept

  1. Interesting discussion Shani! Great job discussing your own experience and weaving in social psych concepts throughout. I’m also a bit of an independent/interdependent balancing act because I am American but I grew up in Japan, so it’s interesting to hear your thoughts! How’s your Swahili by the way?

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