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By Emily Golden

In your original post, you defined yourself in your own words. Review this post and reflect on your own internal changes. Do you still identify in the same way? Has your time abroad given you new insights into your own identity? Has anything changed? If so, what? What do you think will be the hardest part of leaving your international community? How do you think you will stay connected to this community?

Noticing the changes I’ve gone through since my first post was surprising for me. While I did expect my outlook and perspective on my identity to change, I did not expect it to change in the way that it did. The lack of confidence in my language ability and my fear surrounding my conversational skills is quite evident in the tone of my first post. I remember feeling that anxiety in the beginning but I feel so detached from that now. I think that fear stemmed from me going about my abroad experience trying to trick everyone in China into thinking that I was not Chinese American. Not only did I have the language skills to explain how I’m Chinese, but not really, and how I moved to the US when I was 1 year old, but how I have a single white mother, but I also felt embarrassed and burdened to answer the inevitable question of “where are you from?”

But now, having taken an honest survey of my language abilities and having 3 months of being asked the same thing, I approach the question with a whole new attitude. Instead of dread, I take it as an opportunity to start a dialogue. For many Chinese people I am challenging what that think an American looks like to them and I look at it with this perspective now instead of thinking they’re going to judge me. I also understand that I’m not going to become fluent overnight and it’s ok to not understand when people engage you in conversation but its important to try. While this isn’t a change in identity, the pretty obvious realization has changed the way I carry myself here.

I also thought it was interesting how I identified strongly as an New Yorker in my first post. While I’m still impatient as the next person and dare to cross intersections while others wait, this identity has become less and less important. I’ve heard that identity is all about locality, so when I’m in America I feel the need to call myself a New Yorker but when I’m abroad, especially for a longer period of time, American is the only “marker” that I feel is super important. But I can tell, the moment I step back on American soil that part of my identity will probably change again.

For me, I think the hardest part of leaving my international community is acknowledging that it’s even happening. Just 4 months ago I didn’t know anyone coming into the program, didn’t have any of these amazing people in my life, and didn’t know how fast the semester would fly by. Now, just 4 months wiser it is going to be extremely difficult saying goodbye to the people I just met but who have become family so quickly. You build your community bonds so quickly when you’re abroad, and I can’t believe how many lifelong friends I now have when only 12 weeks ago I didn’t even know who they were.

Beyond the social media that everyone relies on here to stay in touch, I want to visit my classmates at their homes around the country. This journey would take me North, West, and South and I can’t wait to see how our relationships will grow from here on out. Regarding my teachers who I also consider my friends, they’ve shown how they still stay in touch with students from over a decade ago. I hope to be among that group too and stay in touch as the continue to change the lives of study abroad students likes me.

It is truly impossible to put into words the speed in which this semester has flown by and yet how many lessons, activities, and friendships have been fit in at the same time. Having my perspective on identity to guide me has been instrumental in my experience and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.

By Emily Golden

My community and my journey of discovering my identity have been interlocked since the beginning. I was born in Shanghai, China and adopted as an infant by my beautiful mother. I grew up in a white family and attended predominantly white schools from kindergarten through college. The community meant to support my identity was simultaneously the very thing that made me so confused about it in the first place. Growing up and not looking like your mom, or your grandparents, or just about anyone you’re surrounded by is a tough obstacle in accepting and embracing your identity. My family and friends definitely supported me and didn’t box me into an “Chinese-American” identity and raised as just American. My mom also made the topic of adoption very open and easy so I’ve never been uncomfortable talking about my adoption.

I remember in first grade the first time a boy asked me why I didn’t look like my mom. I gave a sassy, first grade response to this poor boy but when I went home I remember wondering why other people didn’t get asked the same question and why they didn’t have to defend their identity like I did.

I love my family and I know my family loves me, but I knew from a very young age that at least physically, I will never full fit in. And on the other side, even though I may be physically Chinese, I can’t relate to many experiences and backgrounds of Chinese Americans with Chinese families. The limbo was and is an interesting place of self discovery where neither community can really help you along your journey. Coming to the realization that just being you is enough, regardless of where you come from or how the world perceives you, was a process that I needed to come to on my own.

Since being abroad, everyone expects that I speak fluent Chinese and are confused when I sit with my other classmates or have an accent when I speak the Chinese I do know. When still deciding whether to do an internship or language pledge, I re-evaluated my intentions for doing the language pledge. I started learning Chinese in 8th grade because I thought it made sense being Chinese, that I learn how to speak Chinese. That intention developed into genuine interest in the language and culture of China, but I also discovered that much of the world would expect me to already speak Chinese. I briefly chose the internship, because I didn’t want to commit to a language just because it is an expectation. But I finally chose to do the month long language pledge because I wasn’t doing it for expectation’s sake, but for my own. I don’t think my time abroad has largely effected the why I identify myself, but has definitely made me reflect on it in new, eye opening ways.

By Emily Golden

Fostering a sense of community has always been at the forefront of my mind. Having a trust worthy support network that you can rely on can make or break an experience entirely. But how do you do such a thing when you’re half way across the world and when there are only 5 other students on your program for an entire semester? This was a pretty big concern for me prior to my departure. However, from the moment you land, there’s no choice but to build a new support network and community from the ground up.

At first, a dynamic of only 6 students was a little hard especially because we all came from different backgrounds with varying levels of travel experience and language ability. In addition, because Kunming is a relatively small city and there are very few Americans or foreigners, our group can feel even more isolated. But after simply being around each other and experiencing similar things, I’ve come to truly care for everyone and know that they will have my back in return. It’s also become clear that our love for adventure is something we can all relate to and is something that profoundly bonds us together. A defining moment was when I was still deciding between doing an internship or an intensive language study for the last month of the program. I knew I had found my people when everyone sat down and helped me write an extensive pro and con list for each option. Everyone gave thoughtful advice and genuine support when they didn’t have to. I knew then and there what a special group of humans I had the privilege of befriending. When people told me that your study abroad friends would become you lifelong friends, I had my reservations. But only a month in, I know for sure that we will stay friends long after this semester ends.

In Chinese culture, the relationship between teachers and students is quite different from the US. Here, we can text our teachers on WeChat casually and form deep relationships. Both of my Chinese language teachers are parents and it definitely comes across in their patient, compassionate treatment of us. Having a quasi-parent figure has also aided in my adjustment to life in Kunming. Similarly, even though we call them “teacher,” the other staff members are viewed more as friends and helpful resources instead of formal authoritative figures. Also, all the staff members and teachers are genuinely good friends so it’s so refreshing to see the kind of community that SIT as a program fosters here.

To complete my sense of community, movement and (manicured) nature are both critical components. I’m my happiest when I’m dancing or incorporating some sort of artistic movement into my daily life. Our daily Taiji lesson definitely satisfies this aspect for me. Our Taiji master is 64 and moves with such grace and agility it’s beautiful to observe. Beyond keeping us physically fit, it really helps me clear my mind and appreciate a new form of cultural movement. In addition, going for a walk in a park always helps me maintain a peaceful mind whether it be in Central Park at home or the national mall back at GW. Luckily, our apartment complex is right next to a beautiful park called 莲花池公园 or Lotus Pond Park. You can see elderly people practicing Taiji in the morning, or kids and their families spending time together after school. I found this park by chance our very first morning in Kunming and I frequent it when I need to think or when I want to just appreciate the scenery.

Adjusting to life in Kunming has been incredibly challenging and rewarding at the same time. Finding your people happens quicker and easier than you might expect. What may take months back at school can happen almost instantaneously when you’re abroad. And establishing your nooks and happy places in a new place is critical for mental health and makes you feel like a local. The Chinese language has a particularly saying, 入乡随俗 (ruxiangsuisu) which means when you’re in a new environment you should do as the locals do. While this is extremely important in acclimating, it is just as valuable to bring your own sense of community into the new environment with you.

Photo #1: Group photo
This was our very first day of orientation in Beijing when we were all still just getting to know each other. It’s funny to look back at only a month ago and see how much we’ve grown together and how important they’ve become in terms of my new community.

Photo #2: Lotus Pond Park
This is the park that is directly across the street from our apartment. They have an all you can eat buffet (my kind of meal) with outdoor seating where I do my homework sometimes. My mind becomes as tranquil as this photo when I’m here.

Photo #3: My Taiji master and me
This is me and our Taiji master, Zhu师傅 practicing one of the Taiji combinations. Taiji is always a highlight, especially because of the crazy tangents and random noises he makes during class. I’ve come to respect him as a teacher, an artist, and a friend.

By Emily Golden

Hiya and welcome! If you’re curious as to what it’s like being a Chinese-American traveling in China, then you’ve come to the right blog.  It’s hard to believe I arrived in China only two weeks ago when feels like a lifetime. We had orientation in Beijing for five days before flying to our host city, Kunming in Yunnan province. Having just completed our first week of class and slowly adjusting to life in China, I’ve definitely had some eye opening experiences.

From the moment I landed in Beijing, I was taken aback by how familiar being in China felt. In addition to having traveled here before, it was still an incredibly immersive experience right away. Because I blend so seamlessly with everyone else, no one has any reason to think I’m a foreigner. With lots of nodding, “谢谢”-ing (saying thank you), and looking confident, I made it to my hotel without any trouble. However, the cat’s let out of the bag when I try to speak coherent sentences or when people try to talk to me in coherent sentences. I feel like a secret agent with a hidden identity but there’s is a definite sense of anxiety and shame about being “found out”. When I don’t understand what someone is saying and reply with a blank face, I feel both their confusion and my own disappointment. However, the little wins when I do understand or reply correctly help me through the tougher times.

Another experience I think is unique to my journey in China, is the way foreign looking foreigners are treated. When one of my classmates says something Chinese, there is instant praise and encouragement. But when I do something similar or even something better, I feel like I’m just barely measuring up. I’ve also reflected a lot on my desire to become fluent in Mandarin and came to an interesting conclusion. While having an undeniable interest in the Chinese language and culture, I felt my desire to learn came more from a societal pressure and obligation to know my “mother tongue.” Being a Chinese American adopted into a white family is an ambiguous position for understanding one’s identity. The criticism of “not being Asian enough” from both society and myself shaped my intentions more than I previously thought. ...continue reading "My Yunnan Exploraration Project"