It’s the end of the academic year. A student comes into the Career Center, visibly distressed and somewhat anxious. The student sits down, takes a deep breath, and says, “My parents want me to be a doctor, but I’m failing Biology. I want to major in the Arts, but am afraid about how they would react. I don’t know what to do.”
This scenario is not uncommon. As a Career Counselor at the University of California, Irvine, I am fortunate to work with a very diverse population of students: Asian American, Hispanic, and Middle Eastern, to name a few. Throughout my experiences, I have noticed time and time again how cultural and family values can impact career decision-making. Being a Persian-American myself, my family’s values were largely shaped by the Persian culture, which places high value on education, prestige, and financial security. Consequently, careers in medicine, law, and engineering, are encouraged and in many families expected.
What happens then when a student wants to pursue a different path, like the Arts or the Social Sciences? In some cases, the student is both encouraged and supported by his or her family. However, for many students I have counseled, this is not the case. Often times, the student is forbidden to pursue such an “unstable” career, which can be highly discouraging for the student and very strenuous on family relationships.
So as a Career Counseling professional, how do I approach this situation? Tell the student to think independently from his or her parents? Suggest pursuing his or her passion, regardless of the family’s reaction? Absolutely not! In some families and in many collectivistic cultures, like the Asian, Hispanic, and Middle Eastern cultures, family and group decision-making is highly valued. So who is to say that an independent mindset is the “right” way to be? As helping professionals, it is imperative that we consider the “whole” person, and in doing so, tailor our counseling approach accordingly.
I first begin by recognizing the common ground between the student and his or her family. I often state, “It is obvious that both you and your parents have your best interest in mind. You each just have a different idea of what that means.” It is not a question of right or wrong, but rather one of conflicting values.
Second, I encourage students to identify their own values and those of their parents, so that they can begin to see where the discrepancy lies. Once they have identified this discrepancy, we can begin to discuss how to reach a compromise. This process involves:
Let’s take an example: A female college sophomore states that she is interested in Studio Art, but her parents want her to major in the Physical Sciences. Once I have listened and gained a good understanding of the situation, I can proceed with the following steps:
Yas Djadali received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Kentucky and her Education Specialist and Master of Science degrees from The Florida State University. She is also a National Certified Counselor and a Distance Career Counselor. During her graduate study, Yas was a Career Advisor at FSU’s Career Center and a Co-Instructor for an undergraduate Career Development course. Currently, Yas is a Career Counselor at the University of California, Irvine Career Center. She is the liaison to the School of the Arts, the School of Humanities, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Transgender Resource Center, and Transfer Students. Yas also co-instructs an undergraduate Career & Life Planning course. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the UC Irvine Career Center web site at www.career.uci.edu.