Describe a situation where you had to work or closely associate with someone from a background very different from your own. What challenges did you face and how did you resolve them? 

“OppaGangnam Style!”

When that trendy music was turned up to the highest volume, and actresses started swinging vigorously on stage, Dr. Tinh, my literature teacher, angrily rushed out of the theater. Surprised and worried, I rushed after her. What had I done to make her so unhappy?

That was the first rehearsal for my newly-written play based on “The Tale of Kieu,” an epic poem that is considered one of the greatest works of Vietnamese Literature. As I was deeply interested in literature and its manifestation of different societies, I have proposed to transform a few excerpts into a play and received hearty approval from Dr. Tinh. When I started writing the script, I realized that if I followed the original ancient text word-for-word, the students would be bored, which would make it impossible for them to absorb this piece’s beauty and appreciate its universal themes. So, I decided to “modernize” the piece by updating the language with popular slang terms, choosing modern outfits for the actors, and choreographing a K-pop dance.

I did not expect such a negative reaction from Dr. Tinh. Though we both admired traditional literature, she thought that the best way to preserve it was to treat it with complete reverence. To her, I had insulted the legacy of Vietnamese literature. Was she right?

When I had a chance to think about it, I realized that, in a way, she was right. I had been so eager to entertain the audience that I neglected to preserve the spirit of the epic poem. As a result, I had unintentionally mocked the work I admired so much. At the same time, I also knew that I was right about how the young audience would be bored by a completely traditional performance of the piece.

I realized then that it is important to balance tradition and change. If culture is treated only as an unchanging collection in a museum, it would lose its relevance. However, if our cultural heritage is completely replaced with the latest fads, we would lose our identity. Culture, thus, is a living tree, with branches stretching towards the future but still deeply rooted in the past.

The next day, I went to see Dr. Tinh and apologized to her. I showed her my revisions and asked for her feedback. Opening up, Dr. Tinh decided to consider my ideas. For the entire afternoon, we discussed every detail, every modification, trying to figure out the best way to present the ancient story in a fresh but respectful way. There were no more silly dances or slangs, but we did agree to update many old terms with modern ones.

Week later, I conducted the project at school with the participation of all students in school and DrTinh. When I saw Dr. Tinh applauding heartily, I knew that we were finally able to see each other’s perspective. More importantly, I believe that we both understood what we needed to do in order to properly share our beloved culture with new audiences.