As an angsty high schooler, I once listed a few reasons why I hated my international school, and every time I look back on those reasons I can’t help but feel the need to clear the air a bit and reflect on how far I’ve come. Hate is a strong word, and the situations I’d been in before were valid reasons for me to have felt such deep hatred, but now a year out of high school with completely different viewpoints, I want to present some other things I’ve learned.
1. Being able to live in and truly experience as well as appreciate a culture that is inherently so different from my own.
I had always considered myself an ABC, American Born Chinese, and “my culture” was all things American. Moving to China during my high school years meant becoming immersed in a complex and historically rich culture I had only skimmed the surface of prior to that point. I lived in city where the homeless sit beneath shadows cast by some of the tallest buildings in Asia, and beautiful gated compounds gave way to crumbling concrete houses along dirt paths. A first world country and third world country entwined into one. I like to think I grew up alongside the environment I lived in, and at the end of my four years, I knew what it meant to be Chinese. Not Chinese-American, or some other hyphenated version of the word, but just simply, proudly, Chinese.
2. The unique, ever-transient, but always-there community.
If the city offered one culture, school itself offered a completely different one. We were made up of students from America, Canada, Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Germany, Great Britain, and so much more. Some were born in one country, but lived in three others, yet none of those were countries where they could find the heritage of their parents. Our teachers too, taught in just as many countries. And while no one seems to be able to stay grounded in one place for too long, the upside is that there is a community of people in cities across the world who are more than willing to be a host, tour guide, mentor, or just old friend to sit down and chat with.
3. An understanding of other cultures.
With such a crazy diverse community, I’ve also been able to absorb bits and pieces of other cultures. Greetings and swear words in other languages, popular holidays, the correct way to pronounce ethnic dishes, and more than just a greater understanding of other cultures, but a want to experience and appreciate them in their most genuine forms.
4. A fresh perspective of my “home country”.
Everyone perceives differently, but it was interesting to me how moving to a different country opened my eyes to how non-Americans perceived Americans and America. When I lived in a place where everyone grew up together and had similar backgrounds, I didn’t ever think to imagine how people in other countries saw us as individuals, or as a whole. Yet abroad, I began to develop an understanding of the various facets of both myself and the country I grew up in, being able to take on new perspectives.
5. A lesson in geography.
I can now identify *most* countries on this side of the world on a map. I feel like when you aren’t able to ground yourself or another country in a concrete way such as finding it on a map, it feels less real in the world that you live in and more like a far-off fantasyland you hear about sometimes but doesn’t actually exist in the realm of your consciousness. This might not matter to everyone, but I think it’s nice to remember that other drastically different people and places do exist, no matter how foreign and far away they might seem.
Through understanding other countries and their cultures, I also saw the impact of transnational involvement. I wanted to find ways to give back to communities that weren’t my own, that I didn’t understand as well, but still came to understand and care about. Causes that I had access to, whether directly or indirectly.
7. An inability to define home or answer questions of origin.
I was born in one place, raised in another, and attended high school in yet another. The years I spent in these places, 1, 13, 4, are by no means a way of defining how close to my heart each of them are. I’ve learned to instead associate the word “home” with the people and experiences and memories of a certain place. There are stages of my life that have been and always will be part of my memories of home because I was with family, because I met people who became like family to me, and because I feel like there, I grew up and matured, in some way or another.