2011. 6. 16
March 18th, 2012
Shortly after arriving in China, as I am taking a taxi back to school, the driver curiously asks me, “Where are you from?” I answer, “I am American,” but he doesn’t believe me. I stand my ground and repeat again that I really am from America, but he continues to tell me this is impossible. Rather than listening to what I was saying, he solely relied on my external Chinese appearance to determine that I must be Chinese. It is not everyday that strangers tell you who you are. This event gave me a lot to think about. I began to ask myself that very same question, “Where am I from?”
I was born in Wuhan, China. I was adopted at the age of one and have spent my whole life growing up in America. Therefore, upon arriving in China for a 10-month study abroad program in Beijing, I felt very American. My habits, customs, hobbies, even the way I walked were all American. However, ever since I was little I was very interested in China. I could never forget the country of my ancestors. When I was four years old, I went with my mother to China to adopt my younger sister. Since I was so young, the memories from that first trip back to China have mostly faded, but I still have photos to help me remember. Each time I flipped through those photo albums, I became even more interested in learning about China. Fortunately, my high school offered Chinese classes. Once I started taking Chinese classes, I longed even more to study abroad in China. Upon finding out the offer from NSLI-y for a full scholarship to study in Beijing for a whole school year, I was excited beyond belief. Before arriving in China, I pondered what sort of problems I might come across due to my ambiguous nationality. Over the course of the year, I found that looking Chinese did not cause too many issues. It caused confusion, no doubt, but once I told people I was not a native, it was all right. I noticed that when my American looking classmates said anything in Chinese, even something as simple as “thank you,” Chinese people would be thoroughly impressed, complimenting them with, “You’re Chinese is so good!” Whereas when I spoke Chinese, the reaction would usually be a confused expression because of my unexpected accent. While in China, I hoped to attain perfect Chinese speaking ability, to the point where I could go out and talk to Chinese people without them knowing I wasn’t a native. When I didn’t achieve this goal, I used to always tell myself to just “try harder”. However, now I realize that this was a very high expectation, not to mention a largely unattainable goal for myself. I have also come to realize that if you always strive for perfection, you will just end up being disappointed. Because I look Chinese, I wanted to become as fluent as the natives, but at the end of the 10 months in China, I still had not reached that level. Thus, I have discovered that when it comes to learning a new language, you can’t be in a hurry. Instead, you must be persistent and not let self-doubt keep you from succeeding.
This year, I have learned how to solve problems on my own. I have become more independent. But more importantly, I have learned a lot about myself. The Chinese have different views about my background. Some think that the Chinese blood running through my veins, the color of my skin, and my outward Chinese appearance prove that I am Chinese. Others think that the influence of my American upbringing, American education, and American way of thinking prove that I am American.
There were times in China when I just felt an overwhelming sense of belonging. I will always have a deep connection with China, Chinese culture, and the Chinese people. However, due to the influence of my American education and adoptive family, my thoughts, values and morals align much more with American standards. Therefore, I will never be completely American, or completely Chinese; I am neither just from Wuhan, or just from McLean, Virginia. My identity will always fall somewhere in the middle.
From my experience of going back to China, the experience of searching for the footprints of my ancestors, my life as been transformed in ways I would have never imagined. I am so grateful for this once in a lifetime opportunity.
Translated from 八十中学毕业论文:寻根，written June 16th, 2011