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Oh, you speak Chinese?

It’s the question everyone asks you here, and it has dramatically raised my awareness as to the relationship race has within my identity. In America, frankly, mostly everyone looks like me, belongs to my culture and speaks English. At Northwestern, this was not the case since it has a wonderfully diverse community full of many cultures. Yet, we all still belong to the Northwestern Culture, and this unites us. Ultimately, here I am an outsider, a foreigner, and this title carries with it both positive and negative aspects. An American and an Outsider, two pieces of a puzzle I’ve been forced to solve.


A Chinese Music Performance at Beijing Normal University

I first became aware of this dual identity during our second week- we went to a music show at Beijing Normal University and it was absolutely amazing. But it wasn’t my culture’s creation, it was new, flamboyant, and worldly. Yet, everyone else and I liked it, so I let the issue simmer. Many people in China are very welcoming to foreigners: they smile, speak a little slower so you can understand, and provide help if needed. I’ve made many friends just by asking how to get around town or asking what I should eat.

People also like when you speak Chinese- just don’t make the mistake I did and try to speak it to a Korean whose English is almost as good as yours. Slip-ups happen, but then again many people made the same mistakes towards me. People on a train in Tianjin thought I was German, and I chuckled because I’m anything but. No matter where you go, everyone is staring. Someone took a picture of me in line at McDonald’s, and honestly I was taken aback because, in my mind, no one does that back home.

“Ahh, but we aren’t home” I remember. I remember too the people back home who feel like this regularly, and I grow a little.

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