5. What Does it Mean to “Be American” As a Chinese Student?
The struggle to define yourself, and to decide how much your definition of self is in relation to others, is something everyone goes through in college. But when you’re struggling to define yourself within another culture, as Qian has, it takes on a whole other dimension.
Waking from an alcoholic stupor after a party and walking in 5-inch-heels with my friends in the empty streets of Hong Kong at 3:00 am, I kept asking myself again and again, “Is this the life you want? If yes, why did you feel uncomfortable? If no, why do you have to continue this lifestyle you don’t actually enjoy?”
(Also make sure to take a look at Tara’s thoughts about dating in America, the “relationship talk,” and the fascinating differences in Chinese and American attitudes towards relationships)
4. Apetito and Acai Berries: Beauty and Weight in Zimbabwe and America
When being in America means redefining what it means to be “beautiful” and “healthy.” Senzeni explores the obsession with weight in America, and back home in Zimbabwe.
During my freshman year, I watched with undisguised fascination as my friends would eat not to fill their stomachs, but to ensure that they had just barely met their daily calorie requirement. I also remember, vividly, watching helplessly as my American roommate’s face clouded over when I “complimented” her that she had gained weight (as you may have guessed, in America this is not a compliment).
Simba’s impassioned post (On Being an African in the US: Navigating an Endless Web of Stereotypes) has generated a lot of discussion around the impact of negative stereotypes, and how to begin to change them.
It was clear that Simba wasn’t alone in encountering negative stereotypes while living overseas – and that America isn’t the only country in which they exist. Mada remembered what it was like to go to the U.K on a working holiday visa:
I remember one colleague used to come to me to give me updates on the wars going on in various places in africa and enquired on whether my relatives were ok. I told him several times the country I came from , Malawi had never experienced civil wars but this never got to him, to him africa was one big kingdom where everyone was related. I also remember how people didnt think I knew anything about computers but they later found out that I was more knowledgeable than them…
Commenter river_song (great name!) wrote on Reddit about an African friend in the U.S.:
I asked my best friend once what the most annoying thing that he’d had to deal with. He said what really upset him the most was how, to most people, there was just “Africa” and all the accompanying stereotypes or assumptions that go with it. There’s a huge variety of living experiences, quality of living, social and cultural heritages and political histories that no one considered. He said he hates the fact that to many people here, it’s like Africa was just one big homogenous place with tons of problems. Instead, it’s hundreds of different nations, tribes, cultures, cities, villages, towns, and people.
During my first week in the United States, I went to lunch with a group of American students to whom I had just been introduced. Pleasantries were being exchanged around the room, as was some great food and conversation. Everyone was immersed in those typical introductory conversations that revolve around hometowns, majors, dorm choices and so on.
Someone then brought up the excellent idea that it would be a great thing if we could all share our Facebook usernames so that we could contact each other in the future. With everyone agreeing that this was indeed a brilliant suggestion, a piece of paper was circulated around the room by a girl who we shall refer to as Girl X.
Girl X went around the table and collected everyone’s details, and then just as I was about to append my own username to the list, Girl X snatched up the piece of paper from my grasp and haughtily declared: “Oh wait, you don’t have Facebook in Zimbabwe, right?”
As soon as those words penetrated my body, my appetite evaporated completely. I was stunned and disappointed. Not just by Girl X’s tragic assumption that being African somehow disqualified me from knowing what Facebook was, but also by the emphatic assuredness and certainty in her tone.