How Did It Feel to Grow Up in Different Cultures?
I spent the lion’s share of my child- and teenage-hood on a university campus in mainland China, where I grew up memorizing ancient poems dating back to the Tang Dynasty, dreaming of adventuring with the Monkey King, and licking off sugary residue off my cupid’s bow from the remnants of the half-ice bubble tea I had consumed in mere minutes. Like any typical Chinese kid, I would have grown up without much exposure to and even less understanding of western culture, had it not been a trip to the United States when I was eight years old that broadened my horizons forever.
My father was sent to the U.S. as a visiting scholar to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the spring of 2010. After joining him in Pittsburgh in September of the same year, I stayed there with him until the summer of 2011. Within those 10 months, I picked up the English language swiftly and returned to my life in China bearing a new understanding of the world.
Yet, accompanying the acquisition of a whole new dimension came new challenges. In one world, I discussed Taylor Swift’s dress choices at the Grammy Awards and argued whether Tristan was the right man for Rory Gilmore with my American friends, while in my second world, I complained about the brutality of memorizing verses of ancient Chinese poetry with my Chinese peers. I connected with both worlds at ease; however, these connections were held separately. I conducted completely different conversations while holding back the ‘other half of me when I conversed with either. This led to neither party getting nor appreciating a wholesome picture of me.
Further, I was bombarded with questions such as ‘so you have experienced both cultures, which one do you prefer?’ and ‘which language are you more fluent in?’ throughout my childhood, and I suffered the burden of having to choose a ‘better’ side. I felt like I had to pick a ‘winner’ between the two ‘worlds’ I lived in, just like the media always picked a ‘victim’ after each cutthroat political debate. It took me a long time to reconcile with the fact that the two different cultures I had learned and loved and which had become twin pillars of my judgment were not meant to be parallels that precluded one another if I proactively chose to cherish them both.
I have often been asked how I walked out of my dilemma. As I matured, I became less prone to scrambling for a concrete answer to a question asked by others and more inclined to ask questions of my own. I had asked myself whether my life would be more fulfilling had I eventually chosen a ‘winner’ with success; when I decided against it, I simply stopped dwelling on it and let go. Ultimately, the conclusion I reached was that we are the main drivers of our lives, so the ‘point’ in some characteristics we possess and whether or not some of them are ‘superior’ regardless of how others define them.