Personal Narrative: My Cultural Bubble

I grew up in Kaiping, Guangdong where I spend my childhood chasing grasshoppers and catching fireflies. I lived my life freely within my cultural bubble. I remember moving around a lot when I was a child, going from home to home. My grandmother in the countryside raised me while my parents work in a small city not too far away. I remember staying with my uncle’s family from time to time in the big city. It was not until I grew older that I finally started living with my parents in a small city. Our most drastic move was coming to the United States when I was around the age of 8.

As a child, not knowing anything, I just went with the flow. I was curious and excited about this new environment we were placed in. However, reality kicked in. Growing up as a Chinese immigrant, I faced a lot of prejudice and cultural barriers. I had just finished the 1st grade prior to migrating to the United States. Immediately, I was forced to learn English. It was hard to adjust to a new environment and learn a whole new language. Every free time I had was spent studying English. I had lost the freedom I had when I was in China.

I spent some time in a Chinese Education Center in San Francisco Chinatown, which was fun until I had to leave to attend an American Elementary school. I was made fun of and bullied because of my accent and cultural background. Eventually, I became more reclusive and afraid to speak. I spoke less to my parents as well because I was ashamed and afraid to tell them what happened in school. I knew it would only hurt them. I sought refuge in comic books and spent a majority of my time in libraries surrounded by books. The situation got better as I moved on to middle school.

I made friends from the same cultural background. Then I made connections with people from different cultural backgrounds. This opened me up to new perspectives and I grew to appreciate the cultural diversity among my circle. As I gain awareness of the various cultures surrounding us, I wanted to go and explore the diversity this world has to offer. Since then, traveling has always been a dream of mine. Coming from a low-income family, traveling was a luxury that I gave up on until the opportunity arrived when I was studying at Portland Community College.

My friend told me about this scholarship program called Carpe Mundi who helps low income, first generation students travel at a low cost. It was hard to believe and I did not have high expectations at the time but I took a chance. I got accepted and the whole process, from orientation to boarding a plane, did not seem real until my 2nd day in Quito, Ecuador. The feeling of a dream turning into reality just happened so fast and felt surreal. Through Carpe Mundi, I was able to complete a 3 month service learning abroad in Ecuador and Peru.

During my time abroad, we volunteered at a banana farm, did reforestation work, taught English, and painted an orphanage. These were all meaningful experiences that cultivated a sense of achievement. My service learning abroad allowed me to gain an awareness of who I am and how my actions impact the community, in a less selfish way. I was afraid to wander by myself at first but overtime, I grew comfortable with being a solo explorer and I gained more self-confidence. It allowed me to step out of my comfort zones and embrace my fears. It further deepened my love for traveling and experiential education.

My experience abroad inspired me to work in an international-related field. Therefore, I chose International Studies as my major because I like the broad concept and the classes available. It seemed like the right fit. I want to develop myself to be a more cultured individual. My post grad plan is to teach English in a foreign country and apply to the Peace Corps. I am considering the Foreign services as well. Prior to transferring to Portland State University, I was learning Korean. I wanted to learn a new language while I am still young so it will be more beneficial in my future career goals.

I debated between Korean and Japanese because they bear similarities to the Chinese language. I went with Korean because I was a little overwhelmed by the 3 different types of handwriting in the Japanese language. Korean has its roots in the Chinese language. They used to use Chinese characters in their language so a majority of the older generation can read Chinese characters as well. I thought this was really interesting when I first learned about it. Korea has an interesting history and I am interested in learning more it, especially the relations between China and Korea.

I am seeking to improve my Korean through this program. After all, the best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself into the culture. While I am in Korea, I intend to find a volunteer or internship opportunity to further expand my experience outside of school. I want to get more involved with the community during my time there. I am currently a senior and I can finish my Bachelor’s degree this summer but I decided to extend it to pursue a minor in business and psychology, which are both an interest of mine. I am not sure when I will be able to travel again so I want to take advantage of this opportunity while I can.

I chose the exchange program because it was the cheaper route. I pay the same as I would at Portland State University and there is free housing. I chose Hanyang because i wanted to continue my Korean language study. I decided to do the full academic year because a week is too short to fully absorb the culture. Despite being a small country, South Korea is growing in economic power. It is becoming more developed especially in a technological sense. Aside from the cultural aspect, I am interested in learning how South Korea has progressed and will progress in the future.

I think the biggest challenge in my decision to study abroad is finance. My father passed away due to a stroke when I was in middle school so my mother had to work two jobs to support my brother and I. I recently had a house fire around December 2016 so this may not be the best time to study abroad but I figure, if not now, then when? My mother did not support me in this decision at first. It took me awhile to convince her to let me go. Ultimately, she wants me to pursue what makes me happy. While I am pursuing my passions, I am sure this decision will hit me financially when I get back to the States.

A whole academic year is a long time but it is necessary. You are not really experiencing and learning about a culture unless you stay there for an extended period of time. This is what I have decided to do and I will make up for it by working more jobs upon my return to the States. I am sure that I will not have any regrets on this decision to study abroad. My first study abroad experience did put me on a financial crisis but I regretted nothing from that decision. It was also a low cost to pay at the time in exchange for the experience.