I don’t like the cultural shock; I like the cultural awe.
The following is an interview that I did with my friend Natalie, who is an international student (class of 2018).
Where are you from?
I’m from Hong Kong. Born and raised there.
What is the most offensive thing that someone has said to you?
A girl…walked by and she was like, “so you and your friends are the ‘Asian gang’?”
It’s not offensive, and it’s the truth, but the way that she put it, it was very stereotypical.
As an international student, do you think it’s better to adapt to a new environment or keep what you’ve got?
I would say that the only option is to keep a little bit of both because it’s impossible to do either one. ‘Cause you’re from Hong Kong and you go to America, but it’s impossible to keep all of your Hong Kong traditions. You can’t just have sausage buns every morning, you can’t speak Cantonese every single day. So in little ways, big and small, you have to adapt.
If you keep what you’ve got, it kind of shapes who you are. It sounds really cliche, but it’s true. If you completely whitewash yourself and become really Americanized, first of all, I think you won’t be happy, ’cause you’ll be like, ‘why am I fooling myself and being someone else I’m not?’ At the same time it just makes you more special, more unique.
Do you miss home?
I don’t miss home physically. I don’t miss my house, or the food, or the people, but I feel like being in my comfort zone, in my element. In Hong Kong, I feel like I’m the boss.
I’ve been homesick once. It was really weird…I came to America in my junior year of high school, so as a new junior, I missed home at first.
I didn’t cry at all, I just felt this pang of this, this horrible feeling inside of me, like, ‘Oh my god, I am homesick.’ But then I just got over it after a week or something. It comes and goes; it’s really sporadic.
Do you still consider Hong Kong or your boarding school your home?
Definitely Hong Kong. I felt like I developed a stronger sense of home once I left Hong Kong. You treasure what you’ve lost, or what you’re not close to anymore, once you’ve left the place.
It’s weird, because I never considered Exeter my home. For me, it was a temporary place. I never told anyone in my old school, because I love them, but they just feel such a strong sense of community, but for me, it was just a transition. It was a transition to the next stage of my life.
Hong Kong will forever be in my heart.
After college, do you see yourself living in the States, or back home?
My ideal is to have a house in California and have a place in Hong Kong. And I can go whenever I want, I can switch back and forth.
Yeah, California, because I like the weather.
What kind of friends have you made so far?
I’ve made friends from where I’m from. People from Hong Kong and the international student orientation, also you, a lot of Asian Americans.
It actually bothers me a little bit, because I feel like being here is me trying to be out of my comfort zone, but I feel like I’m making similar friends here again; I’m falling back into the comfort zone again, especially with people I’m familiar with, who know what I think about.
It’s more like, should I be myself, or should I break out of my comfort zone? I feel like these two are very hard to balance.
What is your favorite thing about being an international student?
Being trilingual. People always get so impressed by it. It’s a common thing in Hong Kong, you speak Mandarin, Cantonese, and English. Period. But here, people are like, ‘Woah, you speak three languages? And you speak semi french?’
[me] Anything else?
I don’t like the cultural shock; I like the cultural awe. I like how people here are less reserved…they just wear flip flops anywhere, it’s okay to just take off your flip flops and sit on your couch with your bare feet…I like the food, I like people eating junk food, because in Hong Kong you don’t get to eat a lot of that.
I also like cafes alot, because in Hong Kong it’s not that common. You literally go there for a cup of coffee; you don’t chill there. I like it when we do it here…I like how people like going outdoors.
In Hong Kong, people hate it, because it’s really humid, it’s really crowded, people like staying indoors, they are very indoorsy. Here, people are really outdoorsy, so yeah, I like that.
What is your least favorite thing?
You feel out of place sometimes…It depends on different people. I know some people who are very international but they adapt right away. But for me, I struggle for not feeling in place, and it takes a while to feel in your element.
Sometimes, I feel self-conscious. But it’s only once in a while. I think it’s normal, because it’s a part of being away from home. Most of the time I feel pretty happy being here; I’ve learned a lot from being uncomfortable.
What do you wish non-international students knew about you?
I wish they knew how foreign I am. You have the whole spectrum, with different levels of foreignness. People can be completely international; they are very accustomed to American culture, some are strictly very local.
I’m somewhere in between, because my parents are very reserved, very traditional Asian parents. I came from a local school. Although I’ve been here for two years, I still feel pretty new to a lot of things, so I wish people knew about me and don’t judge me for being impassive or very oblivious or ignorant.
I don’t think people think of me like that, but I wish that they knew that I am very open, that they will introduce me to a lot of things, like music, concerts, sports gatherings.
I wish people would know that I’m very open to try a lot of things. I really want to immerse myself in the culture here, and I wish they would actively include me into that part.