Conflicting Cultures


Culture is a complicated word to unravel when you think about the depth and variety of societies in this world. In the past week, I have familiarized myself with the Zambezi culture but during one of our leadership class discussions, a piece of this culture began to reveal itself, getting more than just the tip of the iceberg, and I’ve been trying to digest the unsettling parts of this society ever since.

On Friday, I was privileged to lead a discussion about women in business and leadership roles to a group of about 25 men and 4 women. Our purpose for the discussion was to leave our students with a more open mind about the capabilities that women possess and for us to have a better understanding of typical gender roles in a Zambezi family. The conversation started with us asking about a woman’s role in Zambezi. We received answers that were similar and for the most part expected: A woman’s role is to care for her children and to cook food for the family. When we asked what a man’s role was, we received answers like, “The husband is the “President of the house” as well as “A man’s job is to provide for his family.”

Our class asked us how marriage works in America. I explained that, though my experience doesn’t represent America as a whole, both my parents work full time and house chores are split relatively equally. They asked me, almost in unison, “Who is the head of household!?” When I answered, I could sense the utter amazement and confusion when I said, “I don’t think either of them is the ‘head of household’; they make decisions for our family together. While this answer seemed so normal to me and would probably be a pretty common answer among American families, the Zambezi students were wide-eyed and puzzled. To try and continue to decipher who the head of household was, they then asked me, “Well, who pays the dowry?” and I quickly responded, “What’s a dowry?” While they explained, my uncultured brain was becoming confused once again. Apparently, a dowry is a gift, usually money, that a man gives his future wife’s father if he wants to marry her.

Many men in the class agreed that women were equal to men. They explained that a woman could do anything a man could do, but I haven’t been able to understand why, if they believe what they are telling us, they also believe that a man must be the “head of household” or that there even needs to be a “head of household.” I was under the assumption that in Zambezi, financial provision equated to decision-making authority. With that assumption in mind, I presumed that men are always the head of household here because they are the ones who make more money, but later one of our students completely challenged my thoughts by telling us that his wife makes more money than he does. This is the same man who told us a man’s role is to be the “president” of the house.

The conversation became more intriguing and at the same time more unnerving when I posed the question, “Why do you believe there are more men in this class than women?” This subject led to a discussion on women being less educated. One man explained that a father might stop paying their daughter’s school fees because she will get pregnant anyway and it will just be a waste of money. To this statement I asked, “but is that a common situation?” To which they replied, in agreement, “yes.”

We also learned that in order to keep class sizes an equal number of boys and girls, girls have lower standards to pass than boys do in school. Girls, in general, also test lower in Zambezi than boys. After asking many questions, we figured out a few possible reasons why. While girls are in school, they are still responsible to help their mothers with duties around the house. The boys have more time to study as well as more encouragement from their parents because one day they will need to provide for their own families.

You can imagine their faces when we explained that there are more women enrolled in Gonzaga than men.

The more I process this class the more I am able to understand how much of a culture shock this conversation was for all of us in the room. I’m still processing this class but what I have come to understand and accept is that there are many different cultures in the world and there is no “right” way of doing things. This conversation has led me to think more about our culture in the United States, and it is far from perfect. There are certain things we do as a culture that would be hard to explain as well. Why do we take a man’s last name in marriage? There are many causes as to why this is but it’s something we don’t question as a society. Many western cultures—even my own—have strong traditions of gender inequity. Back in the day, women weren’t allowed to own property, so assets were passed down through the last name of the man. In patriarchal cultures ruling power was passed down through the male line. In our day and age, a woman can own her own property or be the Queen of a country but most still take a man’s last name in marriage. I don’t think it’s wrong to question someone else’s culture but I think we need to question our own in the process.

Nothing I do here, no amount of time spent in Zambezi or any other part of the world could erase the American experiences I’ve had or the values I possess. I am proud of who I am and where I come from but this also makes it impossible for me to accept other cultures without being critical. My hope is that in my remaining time here, the people in Zambezi will continue to help sculpt my views of the world by sharing their culture and values with me.

Kisu Muane,

Bree Fealy, Class of 2017

P.S. To all my friends and family, I miss you all and I can’t wait to share my experiences with all of you!


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17 Responses to Conflicting Cultures

  1. Lucy Endres says:

    Hi Bree!

    So excited to see and read your post! Can’t wait to hear about all of your adventures and experiences in Zambezi! I think about you every day and hope that it is all that you hoped it would be (minus some of the stories you told us at dinner). Enjoy the rest of your time!

    Love you,
    Aunt Lucy

  2. Andre House says:

    Hi, Bree!! Wow- such thought provoking questions and discussion posed during your leadership and business session! My how you’ve grown…….I still remember when you and Chad were singing “Soak up the Sun” on the karaoke system at Hayley’s Birthday party 😉 Treasure this experience, I know it changed Conner’s view on life as we know it! I think we may all be a little less stressed with our normal hustle and bustle lives if we walked a day in the shoes (or bare feet…) of the people of Zambezi and learn to live more in the moment, not dwell in the past or look to far into the future. We’re proud of you and the entire ZAG Fam!! Love, The House Family.

  3. Emily Handy says:

    That was wonderful. I am so impressed and proud of your ability to step back and reflect on our own culture. Further, your ability to recognize that our culture has it’s own flaws and therefore we cannot judge another culture is incredible. You are doing amazing things Bree and I am proud to know you! Also, miss you and can’t wait to see you at the end of June!

  4. Marieke & Steve Fealy says:

    Katie P~
    Thank you for the visual of you all sitting around the breakfast table sharing blogs and comments. Such a great way for you all to start your days. Your comparison of the 5th grader that you mentor here at home and children around the world was beautiful. Being a history buff, I would have really enjoyed sitting in on the conversation regarding Zambias destructive history and your experience of the similarities of the Blackfeet Nation. I have to admit the “dead lizard” under the plate prank is most defiantly unique and funny!

    What an amazing day for you and the rest of the health care team. Your one sentence held profound meaning for me. “The human capacity to love will overcome the limited number of hospital beds or inadequate amount of supplies and federal funds.” For those of you going into the health care field, I can imagine this experience must really make you all look at yourselves and identify why you have chosen this avenue and what you want to accomplish by going into the medical profession.

    How interesting to lead a discussion on women in business leadership roles. I really enjoyed you explaining how the discussion went. The best part was the man that was “President” of his household that later admitted that his wife made more money then he did. That was hysterical. Great revelation that Gonzaga had more women then men enrolled. Hopefully, someday in Zambezi girls will be able to get an education equal to boys and allowed the same opportunities as boys. I am so proud that you may have actually planted a seed in the minds of some of these Zambezi men and maybe one of them will think differently about educating their own daughters. Mahatma Gandis quote comes to mind. “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
    This is true for all of you on this journey. Everyone has a story. You never know how deeply you can influence someone by sharing your own story and listening to theirs.

    Love you Bree!
    (Dad is gonna write his own piece later he is working today)

  5. Blake Fealy says:

    Hey Bree! Was great reading your blog post, I shared it with Kristin too. It was an interesting subject. Very proud of you. And I’m pretty sure Mom looked that quote up online and said “I’m going to say that this quote, came to mind” lol (:

    Love you,

  6. Conner House says:

    Good to hear from you Bree!
    I’m so happy you had the opportunity to really dive into an interesting piece of culture. Before I left my sophomore year, I visited Ms. Heartwell down at Sumner. She and I discussed the fact that one of the biggest thing awaiting me in Zambezi was a change of perspective. Examining different cultures for me not only changes my global perspective, but also how I perceive my own country and culture. It was so refreshing and cool to see you dive into that in your beautiful reflection.
    I hope dipalata treated you all well! I was talking to my dad about the village yesterday, and how beautiful of a place it is. I’m sure the stars were beautiful.
    Hope you all are doing well! I’m going to guess some sort of egg and tomatoe variety this morning (I’m probably way off with these guesses, but it’s fun to try and remember all the meals we had)
    Take care
    Kisu Mwane

  7. Kim Pierson says:

    My girl Breeski! So great to read about your experience, its really interesting to hear about the different perspectives seen in these two cultures. Your ability to love the people around you so fully is something that I’ve always admired about you and I’m sure it’s serving you well throughout this journey. Proud of you for questioning and opening yourself up to so many new experiences. See you soon – we’ll all be waiting to hear all about it when you get home!

  8. Kim Pierson says:

    My girl Breeski! So great to read about your experience, it’s really interesting to hear about the different perspectives seen in these two cultures. Your ability to love the people around you so fully is something that I’ve always admired about you and I’m sure it’s serving you well throughout this journey. Proud of you for questioning and opening yourself up to so many new experiences. See you soon – we’ll all be waiting to hear all about it when you get home!

  9. Jake Fraley says:

    Brilliant post Bree! I can’t wait to hear all about your experiences in a place where cultures collide. Your insights undoubtedly have a lot to offer all of us back home. Keep learning, loving, and experiencing. Love ya and miss ya!

    – Jake
    P.S. I’m stoked to see the famous tiger T Shirt make an appearance half way across the world!

  10. Michaela McDermott says:

    Wow, I’m literally in awe at how deeply you’ve been able to dive into the culture there in such a short period of time. Pretty crazy to be thrown into a culture that’s so different than the common culture seen here in the US. Sounds like you’ll have some great insights and stories to tell us when you get back! I’m so proud of you and your unquenchable thirst for knowledge and experience. Can’t wait to see you when you get back! Love you Breeski! Keep killin it over there 🙂

  11. Ty Smith says:

    So good to hear your thoughts, Bree! Discussion is the ultimate avenue towards understanding, and it is really cool to read your discussions! I hope you have the most amazing time and to remember to fill it with intentional conversation and thoughts always remember to fill your heart with love, not fear! Can’t wait to see you in August!


  12. Mackenzie Sherry says:


    It is so so good to hear from you! When I saw this picture in your blog post, I couldn’t stop smiling. I can just tell how much you are growing and thriving!! I am so proud of all you are doing and ehow you are embracing the uncomfortableness. Keep reflecting and keep growing and keep processing!! Thinking of you all every day!!

  13. Shaun LaVigne says:

    Hey Bree!

    So awesome to hear all of the things you are going through. Being exposed to different cultures like that will open your eyes to many things and change your mindset indefinitely. You are such a great listener and teacher and I am so glad you are using your skills and your enormous heart to help people over in Zambezi. I love you to pieces and I miss you like crazy, I can’t wait to see you again and hear all of your amazing adventures.


  14. Maddie Schmitz says:

    You are beautiful. This was such a special way for everyone to get a piece of Zambia and learn about your amazing experience thus far. So happy you are sharing it with us and gaining a new perspective. This life has great things in store for you. So proud of you and your adventures. Can’t wait to hear all about it.

    Love always,

  15. Steve Fealy says:

    Sound like you are learning a lot about the Zambezi culture. It’s interesting how different the two cultures are. This an amazing experience for all of you. The blog has been a great way to follow your adventure.

    I miss you, Can’t wait for you share all your stories with us.
    Love, Dad

  16. Kaumba says:

    Hi Bree,

    i love the blog!
    keep it up

    kaumba, zambezi

  17. Leah Miller says:

    Bree! You go girl! It’s so great to read about the difference you’re making over there. I loved your post and it’s so interesting how different cultures really are. I’m so excited to see you when you come back!
    Miss and love you!

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