Friday, March 28, 2008

Cross-Cultural Experience

Cross-Cultural Experience

In July 1998, at age 11, I waved goodbye to my family and all familiarities of life. I grew up in Taiwan where children fantasized over an idealized America: Disney cartoons, life without uniforms and a low-pressured school system. Due to family reasons, I was the “guinea pig” in the immigration process and was sent to live with my aunt and American uncle for two years. As I boarded the aircraft, several drops of tears fell as I saw my parents waving at the gate. However, excitements for the bright, yet unknown future drowned out the sadness in an instant. At that very moment, my life changed forever – I was on my way to becoming an American.

Moving to a stereotypical suburb of St. Louis was quite a shock since I came from a bustling pedestrian city of Taiwan. While driving through the suburb, I asked in confusion “Where is everyone?” The concept of driving everywhere was difficult to grasp. The first day of school in America marked an interesting event. I was both nervous and excited in hopes of getting along with my peers. However, a few shock elements took place. At an orientation assembly for all 6th graders, I was the only one who didn’t raise my hand to the question, “Is this school much larger from the ones you came from?” Coming from an elementary school in Taiwan that had a campus the size of some small colleges in the U.S., a middle school that contained in one building paled in comparison. Another shock element was that I couldn’t understand people. While I attended an after school English program in Taiwan for some time, facing real life Americans and carrying on conversations still proved to be challenging. In addition, as the only Asian face at the school, kids asked an overwhelming number of questions out of pure curiosity. Not knowing how to manage the excess attention, I desperately wanted to be “normal.”

Many years later, I have assimilated very well and couldn’t be more of a “normal” American. In July 2005, at the end of my first year in college, I had the opportunity to participate in a study abroad program in Angers, France. There I had the chance to interact with people of many nationalities and understand the concept of an international community. I found myself using that much-rusted Mandarin to order Chinese food in France when the waitress couldn’t understand my broken French. For the first time since immigrating to the US, I began evaluating my role as an American and my heritage as a Taiwanese.

Since France, I have spent approximately seven months in total, living and working in the U.K. Throughout my experiences abroad, I have truly enjoyed living, learning and integrating myself into a new culture. The process unavoidably involves some frustration and discouragement, but I always manage to walk away a stronger person and eager to seek similarly challenging, yet new and exciting experiences.

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