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People’s experiences of aging through social role changes

My interviewee of this assignment about Experiences of Aging is professor Z who is a Literature instructor in the department of Asian studies at the University of British Columbia. For instance, he was born in Nanjing, China and became the visiting scholar at Simon Fraser University and immigrated to Canada in 1988. After that, he began to teach Chinese literature at UBC from 1994 until nowadays and planned to retire next year. In addition, professor Z repeatedly touched the issue of how cultural differences due to immigration affect his experiences of aging during the interview which I believe is a worth-discussing topic resulting from his unique backgrounds from both countries. Therefore, this paper aims to explore how cultural and retirement status influence older adults’ feelings, beliefs, and experiences of aging through social role changes.

First of all, human’s aging process is a complicated and individualized experience, which involves biological, psychological, and social aspects. More concretely, the biological sphere of aging is related to our genetic basics of etiological and pathological mechanisms including acute and chronic conditions. While, psychosocial agents focus more on the changes in surroundings and the person (Dziechciaz, 2014, p.835). According to professor Z’s experience of chronic disease, he underwent heart bypass surgery when he was 56 and the doctor’s advice is to strive for ten more years to live, yet, he has lived for over fifteen years, which can be called a miracle. Although limited by medical conditions, he persists in walking after meals every day to be physically active. Also, professor Z shared about how he enjoys painting in leisure time and has the habit to give his artworks to close friends both in Canada and China during special holidays. However, the fact that the majority of his close friends have passed away not only brought him a sense of loneliness and isolation but also raised the awareness of his own aging and death.

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In addition, professor Z mentioned how cultural differences impact his aging experiences through the sense of control or in other words, perceived control, which refers to whether or not an individual believes to have the ability to shape his or her life circumstances (Infurna, 2015, p.1420). Previous research shows that perceived control peaks and stabilizes in midlife and declines as people age (Infurna, 2015, p.1426). And there are many factors contribute to people’s perceived control including physical and mental health as well as social resources (Infurna, 2015, p.1429). In professor Z’s case, the social roles of his adulthood happened under the influence of Chinese culture, whereas, the roles in old age were played within the Canadian culture, which makes comparable differences that constituted his feelings and thoughts about aging. Speaking more detailly, he first played the role as an educated youth who worked in countryside result from China’s Cultural Revolution started from the 1950s. After that, he became a translator for technical documents in an Automobile Company and then turned to be a college professor. These wide ranges of roles he played in adulthood in China were quite clear and definite that not only provided him a lot of space for growth and development but more importantly, gave him a strong sense of control and achievement. Yet, his perceived control decreases after moved to Canada. During his time of being a literature instructor in the university, although he was conscientious for all the school works, he felt a lack of right to speak, not been valued much, and had poor social activities which might due to hard of integration into the Canadian mainstream culture.

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Addition to that, Yun (2006) indicated that Eastern societies such as China and South Korea view aging in a more positive manner and increasingly relate aging with reverence compare to Western cultures, which may likely influence by the Confucian principles that highlight the notion of respect towards the elders and provide them with more esteemed familial and societal roles. By contrast, Western societies empathize more on youth productivity and thus hold more negative attitudes about aging (Yun, 2006, p.56). During the interview, professor Z reinforced this idea by sharing that Chinese culture values titles, positions, seniority and experiences, and if one owns that, then s/he does not need to do much to gain others’ admiration and respect. However, in Canadian society, professionals have to go through a process of peer-review and people are honored only by genuine knowledge, skills, and abilities, which makes a huge difference that affects his social role as a university lecturer in both countries: to be an instructor in a Chinese college is able to be promoted into a professor position by seniority and experiences to gain the society’s admiration, while in a Canadian university, being a lecturer is a job that’s stricter for promotion. Besides, Eastern societies like Koreans demonstrated higher overall anxiety (Yun, 2006, p.63) about the aging process than Americans and elders have a greater fear of losses than young and middle-aged group members (Yun, 2006, p.65). Based on what professor Z talked about, he is quite sensitive about his aging process because of the belief that his life is approaching the end without completing the goals he set up when he was young. On the other hand, he is anxious about how the decline of motor, cognitive, and intellectual capacities would lead to the losses of certain social roles, abilities to seek improvements, and so on.

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Furthermore, professor Z talked about his planned retirement on August 2020 and how he is in such a big transition of prior and post lifestyles of retirement with all the possible changes. This transition moment can be understood by the idea of Retirement Age, which is not just about the chronological, biological, and legal aspects, but also about all the shifts in economic status, social roles as well as psychological functioning (Dziechciaz, 2014, p.835). He had mentally prepared for those upcoming changes of reduced social contacts and activities, the loss of social roles related to previous academics, and even the gradually declined intellectual and cognitive abilities. While at the same time, he will adapt his life and seek for improvements after retirement through playing newly-appeared social roles and doing the leisure events he hasn’t done before. For instance, after completing his role as a university lecturer, he will have more time in familial roles such as to be a caregiver of his grandchildren. Besides, he is going to obtain a brand-new role as a woodcarving practitioner and had already prepared to open a workshop. According to Dziechciaz (2014), everyone in the society has identified roles, which some of them might be continued or adjusted and some of them may be disappeared while with new roles arise from the aging process depending on how people function and the roles they engage (p.837).

Overall, this interview with professor Z not only aids me a deeper understanding of the complex and individualized experiences of aging but also draws an emphasize on how social role changes throughout the aging process under the influence of culture and retirement status. In addition, the course about Adulthood and Aging takes a biopsychosocial perspective in exploring age-related changes in different domains including physiological and mental health, social relationships with others, and etc. Hence, I would like to discuss some of the associated theories that influencing elders’ experiences of aging. First of all, professor Z indicated that on the one hand, while people getting older, there are fewer social roles available for them and the elders are less liked and valued by society. On the other hand, when people aging, they have less energy, curiosity, and motivation to get involved in diverse social activities and roles. This idea supports Disengagement Theory, which proposes a natural evolution of life that elders intentionally loosen their ties with the society and leads to a mutual withdrawal from both the society and the individual (Whitbourne, 2015, p.27). Although, professor Z believes that the society is oftentimes “be fond of the new and tired of the old”, meaning it eliminates older adults in order to open opportunities for younger generations to gain new productivity to further keep the whole system moving ahead, he accepts this issue to be a natural law and looks forward to his colorful life after retirement just like what Continuity Theory suggest: whether activity and disengagement are beneficial to the elders has individual differences and is greatly relying on their personalities.

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Moreover, what professor Z shared about his leisure pursuits after retirement can also be understood by some of the findings from the course. As people moving from adulthood to life after retirement, develop leisure interests become essential for them to gain a focus and meaning of life. Other than that, leisure events can serve to aid older adults’ physical, mental, and social health through physiological activities, intellectual-stimulated practices, and connections with others (Whitbourne, 2015, p.249). According to evidence about how participating in leisure events can result in elders’ improvement in the feeling of well-being and how cognitively challenging events can be beneficial to help their intellectual functioning, professor Z’s interest of woodcarving practices may likely have a positive impact on his overall well-being, especially it’s both a cognitively demanding task and the activity he finds enjoyable (Whitbourne, 2015, p.249). What’s more, Innovation Theory underlines the idea that elders who actively engage in new leisure events will have a variety of psychosocial benefits, which contains heightened well-being, enhanced sense of purpose and life meaning as well as a feeling of self-reinvention (Whitbourne, 2015, p.249-250).

In conclusion, before the interview, I thought aging as a universal and inevitable process that everyone will go through different stages from normal aging to gradual deficits of the body and the mind until reaching the end. However, this interview impacts my views of adulthood and aging through confronting me with all kinds of possibilities and contradictions to make me realize how each old adult’s aging experience is so unique and can be both actively and passively affected by various factors and major life events such as what professor Z demonstrates about how immigration to a different culture and the transition moment of retirement influence his beliefs and experiences about aging, rather than just going through certain definite stages. All in all, this project not only broadens my visions of aging but also highlights the value and meaning of senior’s sharing experiences and I believe that I’m going to hold a more positive and comprehensive view about my own aging by seeing it less as a decline process, but more as a natural challenge for everyone to experience.

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