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)
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).
We’ve been hearing a lot about how studying abroad changes your definition of home. Olena found it difficult at first to settle back into life in Ukraine. For Sebastian, transitioning between Kansas and Bolivia is easy, but he struggled to accept that Kansas now feels as much like home as his birthplace. Qian too feels she has two homes now, but going back to China is not exactly how she imagined it would be.
Photo by Shai Barzilay
For American college students, time off such as Thanksgiving week, winter break, spring break and summer vacation usually is a time to go home. But for Chinese students in the U.S., myself included, the cost and distance to get home, combined with the requirements of school work and internships, can sometimes keep us away from home for quite a while.
As a result, the home we go back to is not always the same one we left, or that we imagine in our heads.
For example, I have a 9-year-old cousin, once my sweetest little angel, who I watched grow up. This winter when I went back to Chengdu, I bought her several child-size-10 dresses as Christmas gifts. However, as soon as I met her at the airport, I realized those dresses were too small for her; she was already in 5th grade and in the year since I’d seen her had grown to almost five feet tall!
For international students who are studying abroad in the United States, doubtless one challenge is culture clash. However, for Chinese students, me included, there is another crucial one – political clash.
Majoring in international relations, I have taken many courses that are related to Chinese politics. Tibet, Taiwan, human rights, freedom of speech and dictatorship are the top five issues that American students in my politics classes here in the United States tend to put on the table and criticize while talking about China. Sometimes, it can make things uncomfortable for Chinese students, who are extremely sensitive about those issues.