It has been months since I flew all the way from a city with a population of 11 million, where I felt completely anonymous, to tiny Claremont for a high-quality college
education. To be accurate, it has been eight months
and four days.
My friend Samy recently told me how he felt
about time passing in college: as if he had never met us, but instead had known us for all his life.
Indeed, time flies so fast that it seems unreal that almost a year has passed since we first met. The
memory from one year ago has started to blur, and what was once exciting and new has now
become ordinary and mundane, giving us an illusion that such a life is going to
Every time I get such a feeling, the images of international
student orientation and time spent with my Chinese friends back home flash
back. I have begun to associate different periods of my life with different colors.
The international student
orientation is reddish in color, nervous and exciting. During that red time, I looked forward
to the good things that were going to happen, but I was frightened about any number of terrible possibilities.
My time back in China seems yellow, just like the color that
papers get when they are exposed to the elements for a long time. That is the
color of days that have passed and can never come back. No, that part of my life will never come back.
These are the two worlds in which I live. I do
not want to make generalizations about the experiences of others, but I think there are a number of international
students who have the same feeling.
By going to parties, working on essays,
getting Ubers, eating junk food or going to concerts with friends, we fit in by doing typical American activities that we do not do
back in our home countries. As a result, the difference between ‘us’ (international students) and ‘them’ (Americans) sometimes
You start to think in an ‘American way,’ as if you have lived here for a long time. It might be just your own
illusion, while all your friends around you can tell that you are still a ‘foreigner,’ with the same cultural heritage and way of thinking
that you had in your past life. However, you are undeniably changed: Americanized.
On the other hand, traces of our home cultures remain. Every time I pass through
the seasoning corner in Scripps dining hall, I cannot help adding the spices
that we usually use in China to any cuisine that I get. Every spring and winter break, I manage to meet the old friends with whom I grew up.
check if anyone messages me on Facebook, I will not forget to check if someone
sent me something through Wechat (the Chinese version of Whatsapp). At night, I open Renren (the Chinese version of Facebook) pages of my friends who are still
in China and chat with them about what has happened in their lives recently.
Concerned about the
outcomes of college applications of seniors in my high school, I ask my
friends at UCLA about their experiences there and how one of them has been
doing with his biology major. There is a long list of things that I plan to
finish once I get back to China this summer, if I get the chance.
These two parts of my life rarely intersect, except when I get a chance to see my friends who came to the States at the same time as I did.
However, we see our friends who stayed in China more often than we see each other.
When I speak to my friends who stayed in China, our conversations start exuberantly with, “How are you doing,” “How is [insert mutual friend]?” and “Let’s meet up after your summer vacation starts and I get back to China!” before falling into awkward silences. What can you chat about, when your worlds have diverged so widely?
Your daily activities? Or their activities? How can it be fun to listen to what life is like in a university
across the sea, when it has no connection to your life? There are some really
good friends who care about me and whom I care about that I am willing to listen to, but how can that be true for every friend I had?
Can we chat about our experiences with our
old friends to our new friends we made here? We can only convey the interesting or important
parts that are easy to understand. How can you be interested in listening to
things beyond fun anecdotes? In addition,
with the effort of trying to ‘fit
in,’ how can you keep
talking about things that probably only you understand and care about, and which might scare people away?
How can two different worlds become a stable one
for me, or for you, if you feel the same way? Hopefully, we will be able to figure this out in the few years we have left in Claremont.