"What Are You?" | My Family Travels
Teaching in China

“You’re too dark, and your Chinese sounds too funny for you to be Chinese, you’re not fat enough to be American… what are you?” bluntly inquired the local six-year-old Shanghai boy at the Global Education “World Expo Summer Camp,” where I was teaching English for the summer. When I explained that I was Chinese-American, he replied with incredulity, “You’re only allowed to be one, not both!” But I decisively am both, if not more; I am an American Born Chinese (ABC) who has had the blessing of learning about and appreciating the differences between my cultures through my experience in China last summer, coming to a richer understanding of what it means to be a world citizen.

I wish that everyone would be able to have their eyes opened with my experiences; it would undoubtedly instill in them a newfound sense of respect for others, no matter how different or strange. When I look to the prejudice, hatred, and wars of today, I wish that others could see those conflicts from my perspective and realize we are all the same people, and that we have so much more in common holding us together than differences tearing us apart.

I’ve climbed mountains with teenagers at 2am on a remote Hong Kong island through the Outward Bound Backpacking program, with nothing to guide us on the steep, rocky trail but the moonlight and our own willpower, everyone singing cheesy Chinese pop songs to stay awake and motivated. At the Shanghai Expo summer camp, I’ve clumsily lost my balance and hit my head while leading my class of local middle school students in “head, shoulders, knees and toes” in both Chinese and English; my head still throbbed later, as I gave them a tour of the China exhibit of the World Expo. And while volunteering at the Philip Hayden “Shepherd’s Field” Chinese orphanage for disabled and abandoned children, I befriended Wendy, a girl my age who was orphaned and crippled in a household fire. We’ve compared our favorite Chinese dramas, cartoons, and music artists, laughing lightheartedly. Nothing tangible can capture how much I was touched by her quiet smile as she performed the piano piece I taught her, as the whole orphanage listened in amazement. I’ve been immersed in my heritage: suffering, singing, teaching, laughing, and living with its ambassadors.

After this immersion in my native Chinese culture, I have learned to celebrate my culture at home as well, from honoring the moon festival by giving out moon cakes to my friends and teachers, to learning Tai Chi from my grandmother, who always implores me to move more gracefully. As language is crucial to a deeper understanding of my culture, I challenged myself by enrolling in AP Chinese Language. This way, in my future travels back to my homeland my Chinese will no longer sound “funny” to the natives. Most importantly, I have learned that it is a blessing to be born into two vastly different cultures; I have at times been torn between conflicting traditions and beliefs, but it has made me more aware of each culture’s unique characteristics. Looking past the differences on the surface, I’ve realized that in the end, people of all cultures value the same things – family, love, hard work – fear the same things, suffer the same way, and rejoice at the same successes. I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to see the world from this viewpoint, to realize that no matter how different we are from each other, that we are all citizens of the same world community.

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