Cultural Duty


So, I have a friend from South Asia who came to the United States to study biology. She got her degree, married an American man, and has chosen to live in the United States. My mom thinks that she, and other foreigners who come here to study, have an obligation to go back to their home countries and use their education to benefit their own people.

I told her that it’s easy for her to say that, since she has never experienced the hardships that come with living in a third-world country, and that certain things we take for granted as Americans (i.e. fresh water, grocery stores, medicine, women’s rights) are not universal to all countries.

I am preparing to go to medical school, and several years ago I mentioned that when I became a doctor I wanted to go minister to people in the Middle East. My mom scoffed, and asked me if my own poor weren’t good enough for me. This puzzles me, because I don’t see why I shouldn’t be able to take the gifts I’ve been given and pay it forward to people who don’t have access to the same services that the majority of Americans enjoy.

She views the issue through the lens of tribalism, whereas I don’t think that a person’s moral obligations should be determined by the accident of having been born into a particular culture.

What say you?


No one is obligated to use one’s talents in any particular place.

I’m from the Philippines and am now Canadian. I’m staying Canadian and the recipient of my talents will be Canadian society.

If someone like me wants to go serve the Philippines, by all means, do so.

No one “should” have to go one way or another. This is what personal freedom is about.

There will be poor everywhere. Whichever poor you serve is praiseworthy. Mother Teresa chose to serve the poor of India, although Albania had its own share of poor. She is a canonized saint because of her service, not despite it.

This is indeed tribalism. Mother notwithstanding, she needs to back off.


Your mother is being tribal.

She can say all sorts of things but ultimately you are free to do what you want to do.

I also recommend you on your serving spirit.


It makes most sense to go where you think you will be most useful.


No. No such duty exists. And if the lady you mention is married then her primary duty is to her husband and family, not “the improvement of her home nation”.

If your mother is catholic, I would ask her does she think that this woman should uproot her family just to fulfill this “obligation”.

It sounds like there’s a hint of racism in her comments.


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