Your Unique Cultural Lens: A Guide To Cultural Competence

Layer 10: Social Class – Example 2


Context setting:

I was born into a middle class family. My father was a truck driver and my mother was a stay-at-home mom. I lived in a very small house in New Jersey together with my parents, older brother and younger sister. When I was around four years old, my family moved in with my mother’s mother (my grandmother), my grandmother’s sister (my aunt) and my late great grandmother’s husband (my step great-grandfather). We were eight people living in a small house with four bedrooms (which were converted from other living space) and one bathroom. I never remember feeling crowded, but now I cannot imagine sharing a bathroom with 7 other people (I currently live alone and have three bathrooms!).

Neither my parents nor their parents went to college. My great grandmother immigrated from Austria/Ukraine, and my step great grandfather was Russian. My great grandmother did not speak English when she arrived in the U.S., and my brother, sister and I were told she lost almost everything she owned because she signed a paper without understanding the language.

We lived in the same house of eight people until we moved to Virginia when I was 13. We moved into a middle-class subdivision. I landed a fairly good job when I was 18 and did not attend college immediately. My boss, co-workers and I were trained on a new computerized system (this was in 1979 in the very early information age), I was able to grasp it easily, and afterward I wound up training my co-workers and boss. I decided at that point that I would study telecommunications, but eventually changed to management/leadership for practical reasons.

When I was 20, I started taking classes part-time while working full-time, never really imaging the end given the slow progression as a part-time student. As finishing school became closer to becoming a reality, I was motivated to take more classes and finish, which I did. I always wanted to work in a position where I would be helping people or animals. I was already working in an area that helped people and enjoyed it very much. My mother passed away when I was in my 20s and my father moved away. Shortly after I was faced with a $10,000 hospital bill because my medical condition was deemed pre-existing by the insurance company. I was working a full-time job plus a part-time job, self-supporting and paying my way through school. I could barely make ends meet, but I eventually paid off the hospital bill. I had no family or family inheritance to rely on, so I had no choice but to make it.

I have been constantly promoted in my jobs. Work always came first for me and I have been a very dedicated worker, which may be the reason for so many promotions. I had already started supervising staff in my 20s and moved into management and then a director in my 30s. My salary started increasing in my 30s and I was no longer struggling to make ends meet. I received a good salary and bonuses at work, and by my mid-40s and through my current 50s, I was making an above-middle class income.

I do not live a lavish life-style and I am frugal in my spending. While one of my favorite pass-times is travel, when I was younger I felt guilty about traveling because there were people and animals starving in the world. Every time I took a trip I could not enjoy it, but eventually got over that.

I always wanted to go back to school and get a law degree or Masters degree, but I traveled overseas frequently for work, not to mention being extremely busy with work, and before I knew it I was 50 years old. In my early 50s, my workload was reduced at my job, and I decided to go back to school and get my master’s degree. I continued to work full time while I completed the degree.



I never felt deprived during my lifetime. While my situation may not have always been ideal and I struggled during my younger years, I do not recall spending time wishing for a lot of money or something better. I do not have a desire to drive an expensive car, to live in an expensive home, or to wear expensive clothes or jewelry, although I do enjoy nice vacations. I notice that I have been practical in my choices as early as my early 20s. I feel compassion for people who are struggling, and that may be because I experienced it myself. I am also not impressed by luxury – driving a comfortable car and wearing comfortable clothes and shoes are more important to me.



I think I am able to be compassionate because of what I went through in my life. I have always been a hard worker, usually putting work first. I am not sure why that is ingrained in me. I have little tolerance for people who are not eager to work hard, and maybe I am projecting my own values on them. I feel lucky that I grew up in a country like the U.S. where hard work pays off. I was able to get myself out of debt by working two jobs and being frugal in my spending. In many of the developing countries I work in people do not always have the option of getting ahead because the resources just are not there. When things got tough at work or in school or with my physical health, I was able to persevere and keep moving forward. I realize I have little tolerance for people who self-pity themselves or get upset over what I consider irrelevant matters, and maybe I need to realize that not everyone is as strong as me, or perhaps have not experienced the struggles that may have contributed to my being a fairly strong person today. It also saddens me to see people spend thousands of dollars on expensive luxury items that they rarely use without contributing to helping people who are struggling due to poverty. I realize I am passing judgement on these people and should not be. On the flip side, I wonder if perhaps I am sometimes too frugal in my spending, such as looking for sale items for clothes rather than paying little extra for business attire to ensure a more polished image.