At a young age I started to feel as if I was standing with one foot on both sides of a cultural line. I was both too Chinese and too American to personally feel that I held claim to either. Some days this played to my advantage. I could switch languages on whim to talk in secrecy with my brother while we ran our daily errands, and I could help my elder family members with grammar in their emails and texts. On other days I felt very strange, almost like the world moved while I was frozen in space. I did not belong anywhere and in that sense, I could not fully hold on to my cultural background as a part of my identity.
The older I became, the more I realized that the U.S. is filled with many people like me that represent multiple cultures. It is also a place that offers opportunity to its citizens, focuses on individual rights, and promotes participation in community, social, and political life. I began to appreciate both my Chinese cultural background and my American cultural life as two very different things with both their respective pros and cons. I like to think that I do my best to take away the best things from both. As an American I have learned to value my individual voice and to actively participate in being civically engaged. I have treasured my public education which led me to many different opportunities that I never dreamed of including my coming experience to study abroad.
I can see someone outside of U.S. culture viewing some of the values as free spirited, idealistic, and self-seeking. I’ve heard some of these criticisms and perspectives before. Americans may be characterized or seen as unreserved, bold, relentless, and ambitious. Many people expected me to exhibit some of these characteristics, but I struggled with them because I was also taught another set of cultural values. I’m curious to see what other perspectives people have about Americans when I go abroad and meet Londoners and other study abroad students. I have also heard many things about how London is and how Londoners are and I am curious to see if those things are true.
I think that being a multi-cultural individual allows me to find balance for myself but also practice seeing from different perspectives. Thinking about my growth as individual has reminded me that when I go abroad, I should view the difference in culture as a positive thing and something I can grow from. It has also reminded me that there is always something to learn from differences in culture even if that is uncomfortable. I’m excited to be going to London soon because it is a place filled with people from many different places. I am excited to explore the culture there but also meet other people who have navigated being on two sides of different cultures or come from even more complex cultural backgrounds than my own.