January 10, 2008 12:59 AM


It's still vacation for Berkeley, but I'm in the middle of my second trimester here at International Christian University, Japan. Thus far, I've learned about international representations.

When I think about America, I think about immigration. It's a soup bowl of people. It may be a melting pot or a salad, but either way we're a unique culture of combinations. There is truly no uniting force in the USA except that we are ... here by accident or by purpose (whether our own or some other force). Going overseas, we represent this conglomeration of cultures. Yet, because it is a glop of cultures, when we represent, we are unable to represent the entirety. We do not have a common history, ancestors, or thoughts to bind us together. The question of what is an American is a difficult question.

International Christian University is as it name says, quite international. While Berkeley has plenty of international students and support systems for them, it is difficult to interact with internationals, or other people outside of your natural comfort zone, due to the immense size of campus. At ICU, the small size (~2000 students) means that you're pushed together in all conditions (aside from the fact that you're in their territory). Thus far, I've had close contact with professors from the Japan, U.K., Thailand, and Hungary. The teaching styles are different, and learning their ways of interaction is enlightening. More than that, I've learned about their expectations, perceptions and distastes of Americans (and other nationalities). It's been humbling.

1) You're not American if you aren't black or white: This has been a difficult one for me. Having a teacher or person expect me to know about Chinese culture and issues simply because I look Chinese is a difficult issue. Ethnically, I'm Han Chinese. Yet, my family immigrated from China to Taiwan some 200-300 years ago. After colonization by Japan and then being taken over by China's Nationalists, then immigrating to the USA, Chinese culture is not a big part of my life. (Naturally, the immigration and cultural retainment story and degree for each family/person is different. I, in no way, speak for others.) For me, its as much of a curiosity as it is for others...that is, if I was interested in it. When people say to me, " Why don't you go learn your own language first before you learn Japanese," it stings. My language is English. It's not that I do not understand their perspective, but choice > ethnicity. Being American was a choice. When people ask where I'm from, I have to answer America, instead of an Asian country. By growth and development, my thoughts and ideals do not represent, nor have they been nourished by, some Asian country. While people would like me to represent some Asian country, I barely know more about it than them. Why define me by my looks?

2) American audacity. (a. k. a. disrespect) Apparently, at scientific international conferences, some Americans wear cut off jeans, slippers, and bed-hair, when presenting their papers. (On the other hand some "aristocratic Britons wear tuxedos") While I understand how this can happen, some non-Americans interpret it as the most extreme level of disrespect. I prefer to interpret it as simple idiocy. When we go abroad, we are representing our country and the people in it. People do not fail to remember other representatives' mistakes and criticize/discriminate us on it. For some of us, we've taken the route of becoming disheartened and decided to fulfill their expectations of us being louts. Yet I say, "Rally home, Americans!" (hahaha...that just sounds funky.) Being the rebels we are, shall we not break their expectations? Have courage and fight against this onslaught of misunderstandings and miscommunication. Our image overseas should be improved, and it only can if each one of us, when we are abroad or are safe at home, treat each other and others, with curtsy, understanding, and discernment. Arm yourselves with knowledge before you go. Know the cultures and customs before you interact with them. Be as fully prepared as possible so that you will tear down the hardened hearts!

Personally, America and being American is based in freedom, self-sufficiency, and feedback. (More importantly, no taxation without representation. ^^) For others, being American is simply a manner of being able to work in a country with better living standards. When I meet people that desire American citizenship just to be able to work in the USA without the work visa issues, something inside of me becomes incensed. When I meet people that carry dual citizenships, with one being from a country that does not allow dual citizenships, I must say that I do become angry. Placing the responsibility on the government, their retort is that, the countries are not able to check with one another who holds citizenship. If it was something along the lines of, "I love both countries," I would be able to understand. Yet, I am unable to condone it if it is just for convenience. Am I too idealistic?

Well. I guess I typed quite a bit today. Erm. If you read this far, congrats. heh. It's a blog. Maybe it should be better termed "splog" for spam blog. for "vomitog" for vomit(ing everything out of my soul into a) blog.

K. Lee | Permalink | Comment on this article | Comments (2)

Comments (2)

Dear Kristin, I completely agree with all of your observations. I am Caucasian, and my boyfriend is first generation Chinese American. We have traveled abroad several times, and it is fascinating to me that people frequently assume he is from Japan or China, while they assume I am from the U.S. He is fluent in German (and speaks some Cantonese), and I don't speak a word of German. Yet in our travels in Germany and Austria, people frequently assumed I could speak German and he could not. He is also an immigration attorney who deals almost exclusively with work visa cases. And your observation about people wanting citizenship for job opportunities, but not wanting to learn or become a part of American culture or the political process is very true, and I feel equally frustrated when I hear these stories. Of course, Americans could stand to learn a bit more respect for other cultures as well. It sounds like you're doing an excellent job of representing Americans and UC Berkeley. Keep it up! Dana Mathes UC Berkeley Alum '99, currently working for University Relations

Posted by Dana Mathes | 2008-01-10

Never knew you were so patriotic :)

Posted by Matthew | 2008-01-15

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