By Airman 1st Class Mercedes Muro
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
All U.S. military branches contain a plethora of cultural diversity. Airmen and civilians from different states, countries, ethnicities and backgrounds join the Air Force and contribute to the service’s diversity.
At Little Rock Air Force Base, one Airman adds to the cultural competence of the United States Air Force.
Airman 1st Class Matthew Frederick, who claims Chiang Mai, Thailand, as his home town, has had valuable cultural experiences, been exposed to culture shocks throughout his travels and gained the appreciation of what each country or lifestyle has taught him.
Although he calls Thailand home, Frederick was actually born an American citizen.
“My father was in the Air Force, so we moved around a lot,” said Frederick. “I was born in Utah while my dad was stationed at Hill Air Force Base. I lived there for two years. Then, we moved to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, for seven years and then moved to Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, for five years. After that, my dad retired in Thailand, and I lived there for 12 years.”
Since Frederick moved to Japan while he was still young, his first exposure to American culture was when he moved to Tyndall AFB.
“I remember there were a couple of bizarre things,” said Frederick. “I remember sitting in a car and my sister was reading every billboard out loud in English. It was the first time we could read all the billboards in English because the ads in Japan were in Japanese.”
Frederick also had interesting experiences when he began socializing with civilian children.
“I was 10 years old, and I met people who weren’t military kids,” said Frederick. “I would say ‘Let’s go to the commissary or the base exchange,’ and kids would be like ‘What’s that?’ I thought it was so strange.”
Frederick has also had intriguing cultural experiences with his wife, Pauline, a stay-at-home mom.
Pauline, a native of France, met Frederick in Thailand while they were both attending college. Once they were married, the couple went to visit France, and Frederick received an insight into French mannerisms and etiquette.
“In France, they don’t hug,” said Frederick. “In Thailand, there’s no physical contact, especially with a member of the opposite gender. When I met my brother-in-law’s wife for a first time, she came up to me and gave me a kiss on both of my cheeks. I was shocked; I looked at Pauline like ‘I didn’t do anything!’”
To learn more about cultural mannerisms and etiquette, the Fredericks encourage others to ask questions.
“A lot of people don’t ask questions because they fear they are going to be impolite,” said Pauline. “Asking is the first step to becoming culturally competent. Not asking questions isn’t very intelligent because you’re not opening yourself up.”
Keeping an open mind often helps people to become more understanding. However, staying true to one’s beliefs also boosts resilience and spirituality.
“My morals are non-debatable to me,” said Frederick. “They’re the standards I hold myself to. I know I can have different standards and that’s okay. I think that it helps your spirituality and resilience because you can become more thankful for what you have and be more understanding.”
Frederick believes understanding where people come from and their cultural experiences or upbringings can help Airmen execute the mission more effectively.
“Every day, we encounter people from all ages, ethnicities and social classes within the Air Force,” said Frederick. “It is important to understand that all people or cultures have a reason for doing what they do. With this mindset, people are less likely to be frustrated with others who are different and will work cohesively toward a particular goal.”
Throughout his travels, the main thing Frederick has gathered is a new point of view.
“I’ve gained a different perspective of things,” said Frederick. “I realize that just because people do things differently, it’s not necessarily wrong. When I meet someone from a different country, I’m more ready to understand and less quick to judge. I also realize that you’re a small part of a very big world. The more you travel, the bigger the world gets.”