Monday, March 17, 2014

i am in love

note: the following post was written about a month ago in the train, but i didn't actually get around to posting it until just now. 

it's very short and also unedited, so just consider it a snapshot of my feelings at the moment.

I'm in the Gotthard Tunnel on a very long train ride, and I'm riding alone so I have plenty to write in my journal and plenty of time to do it. it's the nice thing about trains, the ability to always write and to lose yourself in writing. it's different from a plane or a bus or a car or really anything else. 
and i just realized something-- I am in love with the trains. 
I am in love with German and Italian and French. I am in love with chocolate and cheese and traveling and multilingual greetings and watches and history and snow. I am in love with strong mountains, fields that never end, villages nestled deep in valleys and streams bluer than the sky in summer. 
it's just wonderful, beautiful, and I realize that what I am really in love with is Switzerland. 
I am in love with this country.
and a part of my heart will always be here,
because Switzerland has changed me. 
and I don't want my old life back.

days > 210 -- speaking

piece of advice for exchange students #25:
one day, you will wake up and find 
that you have gained more than simply the ability 
to communicate in another language.
you have gained the ability to make yourself heard.

a couple of instances (all right, more than a couple) in the past couple days have brought me to the realization that I am capable of much more than I think, communication-wise.
this doesn't mean that i am native-fluent-level in the language, as much as i wish :( but i am able to communicate my feelings and my thoughts and my ideas in German and in Swiss German. and while it is still an enormous challenge, i can do it. i can speak my own words in my own voice in another language. i can make myself heard.

things i've done in the past 10-ish days (the past meaning before 20 days... again, i'm still working on updating this blog in a timely fashion):
  • found out that my artwork (a school project) was one of a few nominated for an international comics festival contest. so that was exciting.
  • got published in my school's newspaper! i'm actually super happy about this, although it was rather embarrassing when the paper first came out. my piece was originally written in german literature class when my teacher had to find something for me to do... it describes my life at the beginning of my exchange and my feelings both before and after the first three months. and my german teacher wanted to print it in the paper!
  • went to Neuchatel (french part) and explored a castle with my friend James. also we played chess.
  • and it wasn't actually that bad!
  • survived the week before vacations. it involved a presentation and four tests. oh, and speaking of the presentation...
  • ... I mentioned this briefly in my last update, but I successfully made a presentation with my friend in music class. it involved a demonstration, a powerpoint, several printout sheets, and an oral part of about 10 minutes... not that big of a deal for me in English, but HUGE in German. I'm exceedingly proud of myself for writing it (although really, he did all the editing of my horrible German grammar, so he's the one who should feel truly proud haha.)
  • i also received the compliment of my life when he told me I should stop using the internet to translate because my German was better than Google's. day. made.
  • (okay, so I'm not absolutely sure if that's true or not. but it still made me happy.)
en fin :)

Friday, March 14, 2014

being an asian-american on exchange part II: assumptions, culture, and claiming myself

(the following pictures are from a chocolate factory
and have absolutely nothing to do with this post...)
since my last post, i've come to a realization.
i am dealing with nothing that i don't want, that i am unprepared for, or that i cannot handle.

i'm not.

yes, being asian american does cause problems for me that people don't think about. and yes, i've dealt with rudeness and ignorance and problems. and that sucks.

but guess what? every kid who comes on exchange needs to be prepared for that.

when I signed up for exchange, I didn't do so thinking it would be easy. In fact, I knew that it wouldn't be.
I knew that people would make assumptions about me and my life, simply because I did not belong in their country. I knew I would be answering thought-provoking, funny, and sometimes ignorant questions about how I lived, what I ate, who I was. I knew that I would be representing my culture alone in the middle of foreign life.

I just didn't realize that because of who I am, I would be representing two cultures and not one.

because I am American, people expect me to be American... but they also expect me to be Chinese. They want to ask what I know about America, but they also expect me to know about China and Asia in general and the culture and traditions and current events there.
I have always, always considered myself American and fully American. and I still do think of myself that way. but I've learned some surprising things about myself in the past couple months.

I've learned that I'm painfully un-American when it comes to popular culture, because I fail to recognize all but the most important names and faces. it's rather odd to see that my Swiss friend, who has never been to the USA in her entire life, is familiar with more American television and American movies and American pop stars than I am.
I've also learned that I'm much more Asian than I thought I was. I eat foods that my other American friends don't eat, I've grown up with both New Year celebrations, I even value slightly different things than they do.

I live my life in that strange place between cultures, 
too American to be typically Asian and too Asian to be typically American.

but I am from the USA, and culture mixing is normal.
I am normal. and it is ridiculous for me to be frustrated or upset or apologetic about it, because it is simply who I am and how I have grown up.

So what have I learned?

I have learned to assume the best from people. I have learned to let some things go. I have learned that uneducated people live all over the world, and I have learned not to take them all personally. I have learned that there is a difference between assumptions and genuine curiosity. I have learned to answer graciously. I have learned that laughter builds relationships faster than being offended does.

and all of this has made my exchange richer, it's made me adapt to my host country and my home
country, it's helped me gain a totally different perspective.

in fact, i wouldn't change it for the world.

Friday, March 7, 2014

being an asian-american on exchange: frustration, barriers, and defining me

As a US-American on exchange, I've had the opportunity to challenge a lot of common beliefs about my home country. I don't have a Southern accent, I'm not a cheerleader, I'm (relatively) intelligent. Most importantly, I'm Asian. As in Not White.

This has been really great in a lot of ways. Since Europeans know a lot about American culture but very little about Asian culture, it makes me feel foreign and interesting to explain Chinese New Year or to describe lion dancing. It's an extra bonus to be able to pretend I don't speak English, just so that the street vendors will go away and stop bothering me.

At the same time, though, I've gotten the most racist and ignorant questions and assumptions ever. Most of them make me laugh. Some of them make me sad. A few make me angry.

It was funny at the beginning to see people double-take at the news that I'm an American, and funnier still if they ended up complimenting my English. It was funny to explain that I don't speak fluent Chinese, neither do my parents, and yes, I am indeed an American citizen. It was funny to get questions about whether I was adopted or whether I'd be allowed to marry someone who wasn't Chinese.

But to be honest? Right now, I'm sick of it.

I'm sorry to put that out there, but it's true. I am sick of people constantly assuming I am from Japan or China or Korea (by the way, people, there ARE other Asian countries). I am sick of people insisting I tell them where I'm REALLY from. I'm sick of people who ask me if I want to go "back" to China, who ask me if I can see out of my eyes or if I can read Japanese and Korean and Thai or how I can tell Asians apart.

I just want to be treated like a real person.
Is that too much to ask?

And it bothers me, that I cannot simply float into Europe and fit in. That whenever I walk into a room, people immediately know that I am not originally Swiss, or German, or Italian, or French. That I have to try doubly hard to adapt and to fit in. That simply by right of birth, I have more cultural barriers to climb than most of the other American exchangers do.

But at the same time, I'm realizing how much I am defined by my heritage. My heritage, both Chinese and American.

The way I look tells people that I am Chinese. The way I speak tells people that I am American.
And I wish that people could see that it's not mutually exclusive. It is not that my family is Chinese and I am American, it is not that my language is English and my heritage Chinese, it is not that I am a twinkie or an egg or anything divided by color or race or country.

it is that I am Asian AND American, and I am still a person.

It is simply that I am who I am. 
and I wish that people could see that.

days > 200 -- comparing

piece of advice for future exchange students #24:
you'll come at some point to the realization
that your host country is not perfect.
in fact, it's pretty flawed.
but guess what?
that's okay.

so another of the things that i've been realizing in the past two months:
swiss culture can really bother me.

american culture can really bother me, too.

and you know what?
that's fine.

there are things that i can appreciate about both cultures, and there are things that i don't. and being open-minded does not mean i have to agree with everyone... it simply means that i can learn to learn from both.

things i've done in the past 10 days:

  • took a french test and got a 2,9 (basically the equivalent of a D?) on it. i am ridiculously proud of myself haha.*
  • went to the Cailler chocolate factory. Yay for chocolate. And friends. And Sarah's mom (okay, sorry, that was a really random inside joke). But definitely for chocolate.
  • successfully wrote a presentation in GERMAN about the European crossflute. It was less of a flop than I thought it would be (probably due to the helpful editing of my project partner...) and I was extremely surprised to find that I can write a lot more in German than I thought I could.
  • took a german literature test with my class and scored above a C ... better than the average! i'm actually super proud of this too. (and yes, my standards may have slipped a bit... but it's in GERMAN okay?)
  • found that my swiss mum has more rules than i am used to. they're not bad, they're just different, and it's taken me a while to get used to the swiss cultural part of this.
  • ignored about a dozen people who keep asking me where i'm from, no matter how many times i say the USA. YESIKNOWILOOKASIANBUTIAMALSOAMERICANNOWLEAVEMEALONEPLEASE.
  • Luzerner Fasnacht! It's known for having parades and being louder and less organized than Basler Fasnacht, plus it's pretty fun.
  • came to the realization that my chocolate tolerance is extremely high. i'm not going to tell you how much chocolate i bought and ate in a period of six hours, but i will say that it's probably not extremely healthy. ooops.
  • spent some time getting to know the people on exchange who I DON'T hang out with very often. I'd love to talk to them more, it's just that we don't see each other very much. but I crashed at Evan's house in Luzern, and I had some fun/deep talks, and it was just pleasant to be free for a bit.
  • saw Fribourg with Ryan. it was my first time ever in Fribourg and it was beautiful.
  • went to a Heimatabend [traditional celebration in middleswitzerland, with singing and dancing and a play in Swiss German] and spent the night at my friend Maddie's house. that was also lovely :)
the end!

*that's because my french class is 5th-7th year french, plus is being taught in french, and i've had absolutely no french whatsoever before coming here. so it makes me proud :P

Monday, March 3, 2014

days > 190 -- enjoying

piece of advice for future exchange students #23:
sometimes, life turns out to be pretty amazing.
love it to the utmost.

(also, sleeping is mostly optional.)

things that i've done in the last 10ish days:
  • oh, okay. Tessin/Ticino is the Italian part of Switzerland. it is the most beautiful part ever. and my friend Sarah's host family has a vacation house there and they invited me to stay with them for three days!!! and basically it was wonderful and beautiful and I am in love with Italian.
  • deep talks till 2am = happiness. (yes. that is indeed what we did every night. it was good.)
  • met all the newbies at Engelberg weekend! that was fun. I love aussies. and kiwis. and our newbie latinos. 
  • Engelberg weekend. smiles for days. 
  • ...and probably one of the best weekends I've had this far, simply because by this time we're all friends. No, by this time we're basically family. a sometimes-difficult, sometimes-confusing, full-of-differences family... but a family nonetheless.