Merging Into Another Culture

When I decided to come to America, I had no idea what I was getting into.

I was fourteen years old, and despite the adversities I endured, naive and unsophisticated. I exceedingly underestimated the cultural difference and overestimated the quality of the social rules my no-often-around parents taught me. When someone told me I should say “can I please use the sink water” instead of “I’m gonna use the water sink”, I was enraged and ashamed.

Since then, I had always been afraid that people will find out something uncouth about me.

When I look back, it’s less about cultural difference and more about social interactions. Spending all of my childhood weekends alone and never really talked to anybody besides my one best friend in the boarding school (spoiler: we broke up), I never learned how to interact with other human beings. The misunderstandings caused by language and the cultural difference just magnified the problem. 

The fear still exists, but I’ve learned a lot about American customs.

There are millions of unspoken social rules in this country, in this area, even in our tiny high school. I observed and analyzed how others behave and imitated them. I made countless mistakes, recovered, and learned from them. I felt a secret accomplishment each time someone asked how long have I been here and dropped their jaws when they heard the answer. Your English is really good, they said, and you seem so American.

I’m proud of my adaptability, but did I lose myself?

In a casual conversation, one of my friends mentioned that they admire people who came to America but kept their own cultural identity. She wasn’t referring me, but the incident made me wonder: did I keep my cultural identity? Off the top of my head, the answer is no. I say “oh my god” and swear like any other American teenager. 

How can you still be yourself when you can’t find a hint about where you come from?

Sure, I have yellow skin and black hair. Stereotypically speaking (by the way, I hate stereotypes), I’m good at math. But I haven’t practiced my native tongue except for the occasional phone calls with my parents. I have wondered if I am cold-blooded by not feeling joy when I see someone with the same heritage. But there is nothing wrong with being indifferent with race, is it? I guess in a foreign place, people who came from the same country are supposed to help each other out. America isn’t a foreign place, it’s my second home. But I admire other transplants and use my experience to help them. 

I haven’t forgotten where I came from.

Since a young age, I was fascinated by the rich, enchanting culture of ancient Asia. How the language evolved in thousands of years, how empire raised and fell, and the food……omg. THE FOOD. It would be a lie if I say I didn’t miss Asian cuisine at least a tiny bit.

Sometimes I think that if I stayed, I’d be a completely different person. This realization terrifies and excites me. I’m content with where I am now and I will stay in America because of the culture, the possibilities, and my friends. Not gonna lie, last time I went back to my native country, I had a culture shock. I didn’t have any culture shock where I came here……

So maybe, this is the place where I’m meant to be? 

Christmas as an international student

Merry Christmas!

I did some last minute Christmas shopping on Sunday before holiday anxiety hit me. Although I’m not religious, Christmas has always been special to me as it brings back the memory of the two host families who opened the door for me and welcomed with such kindness when I was lost. But at the same time, Christmas is scary. Terrifying. The social situation, and the fact that it’s so close to the end of the year. Sure, every ending is a new beginning, but have I accomplished enough this year? 

Christmas means amazing food, family time, and hanging out with the annoying relatives that you don’t want to see. But for me, things are a little different. I will be meeting with a bunch of strangers. To be fair, I’ve seen them on Thanksgiving, but that’s it. As an anxious introvert, socializing for a few hours is already difficult enough, needless to mention there is always one fear in the back of my mind: am I talking too much? Even if I’m being the quietest person in the room? Christmas is the time for family reunites and I want to allow everyone to talk to their extended family. My host family said I am a part of their family, but missing sixteen years of their life, things aren’t the same.

Or maybe I’m just overthinking.

But I’m still so grateful for winter break! The break is late this year so we don’t go back to school until January, 8th. I have lots of time to catch up with reading and writing: between all the eating, chatting, and opening gifts, I’ll find time to work on the second draft of my YA novel which I ultimately failed to put aside during the month of December. I’ll revise the short story I wrote about Christmas and New Year. I’ll read tons of good books that I borrowed from the local library. I’ll take time to reflect, take care of myself, and welcome 2019 with my best ability.

—December 23rd, 2018