I believe that when life presents you with choices, you are not limited to only one decision.
I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, thinking that I would live there for the rest of my life. I went to a public elementary school where I learned about Nebraska’s history and what it meant to be “a proud American.” I expected to finish elementary school there and then go to the middle school right across the playground with the rest of my friends. My friends and I had our whole lives planned out by the time we were seven.
My plans were interrupted when my parents told me we were moving to Shanghai, China. At this time I was eleven years old and didn’t believe what they were saying. I didn’t want to leave my friends or that stable future we had planned for ourselves.
I was never actually sure how being Chinese worked. I didn’t understand the culture or even speak the language that well. To me, I wasn’t raised very Chinese. All I could think of was how I wouldn’t fit in there. Yes, my DNA says I’m Chinese. But, I didn’t feel Chinese. None of my friends were Asian. In my mind, I was an all-American girl…even if I didn’t look like one.
So this was my mentality when I arrived in Shanghai. At my new international school, everybody was from a different country. When I told all my new friends that I was from the United States, they were very excited. I was the only American in my class. Seeing that everybody here had their own unique country to belong to made me embrace being the only one who came from America.
When I was fourteen, we moved back to the United States. At that time, I started to realize that while I was in China, I ignored most of the rich culture that surrounded me while I was there. When I was in China, I clung onto everything that reminded me of American culture: from Hollywood movies to take-out from Pizza Hut. For too long I felt that I could only make one decision between the two choices life presented me: to be American or not to fit in. I never fully appreciated what I had experienced in China until I had time to think about what my whole journey really meant and how it affected who I am today. Looking back, my experience in Asia showed me the other side of my life that I had no idea existed. My life after China helped me discover what it means to be proud of my culture. Now back in America, and coming full circle from around the globe, I finally feel comfortable saying that I am a Chinese-American. I am grateful that I was fortunate enough to be able to step back and see the choices that life gave to me…and that I could choose them both.
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