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Going back and forth

Erin's picture

“Wow, Time Square looks different from what I’ve seen on TV!” I overheard some familiar Chinese talking among crowds of tourists in Time Square as I was running to Penn station to catch a train. Finally, I found my seat. I wondered why that sentence was still stuck in my head. Right, I said exactly same thing three years ago when I finally arrived at that symbolic site.

In just four years, I am doing everything I could never think of before by myself, travelling, dealing with complicated visa issues, negotiating with different people and so on. All the excitement of discovering new things on this continent seems to decline over time because I just have tons of other things to deal with and worried about. I become indifferent for many things which sound so exciting and tempting before. During the time I spend here, I acquire all kinds of new skills not because I am smart but because I have to learn to survive.

So much has changed and so much is about to. I made the decision to come here purely to have opportunities to receive the best high education in the world. At least, that’s my initial attention at that time. The moment I stepped in this continent, the journey full of mixtures of conflicts between of two cultures and assimilations of the two has begun. Some of the conflicts were expected before while some just went beyond my imaginations. Going back and forth between here and home, I am constantly trying to find a spot where I belong.

Growing up as an obedient student, I realize remain silent will only jeopardize my rightful presence and compromise my ability to reach my goals. When I spent the ten-month in Stafford, Virginia as an exchange student, I, for the first time in my life, spoke up for myself. Every week, when I called my parents using Skype, my mom always told me to be tolerant, think for others, don’t complains and bear unfortunate things to your best extend. All the above solutions are typical Chinese ways of dealing with problems. Therefore, the first couple of weeks were miserable for me and I had no one to talk to.

Shortly, I realize the tensions between others and I came directly from my silence. I realized that here people would not take time to make assumptions or guess what you are thinking or worrying. If you have a problem, just say it. If I want to find a solution, I need to take the initiative and reach out for resources and people who might have solutions. Waiting at the starting point quietly will never get me anywhere better. I start to appreciate the phrase people here say all the time: “If you want to change something, don’t wait there but be the change” I gradually start to voice my presence in the crowd.

Even though, I am still one of the students who talk the least and still blush speaking in front of the public, I have changed and made my way to be at least close to what’s expected here. It’s a different story though going back to where I belong.

 I realize that remain silent in some occasions might be the only way to maintain the relationships with people I am familiar with. Even though the technology has made the virtual distance between people closer than ever, some friendships just cannot stay the way they were. I remembered the awkwardness I felt in the high school reunion. All my friends were happily sharing their stories freshmen years in different cities that I was not familiar with. They envied my travels across east coast which were really normal for college student here. “Oh, stop showing off and what do you have to worry about, you are in America. We don’t even have enough money to go there” What can I respond? It’s true but I do have worries they can’t understand and I ‘d better not emphasize the differences in our lives any more. I quitted following my friends updates on Chinese social networks and became that person just kept smile and listening in all the reunions quietly in the corner. I cherish all the moments we spent together and memories we shared. However, our lives are parting further and further since the graduation. I don’t know what to do but just watching it happens silently.

I can’t remember exactly when was the first time I decided to not telling my parents some proportions of my life. I remained silent about that part of my life to them because I did anything shameful that I am trying hiding but because the distinctive environments we situated and it would took forever to tell them just the backgrounds for ever single event. Everything here is functioning base on a different set of rules and sometimes it’s just too complicated to reason. Also, I just don’t want them to worry about me. It hurts every time when they apologized to me, their only daughter, for the fact that they couldn’t help me solve the problems, they don’t have connections here to help me even a little bit and they wished they could do more when they were young so that they would be here with me and take care of everything the way their friends do for their children who are still in China. I hate the distances we are having but I don’t just have the time and strength to filling in the blank or catching up with expanding gap.

Until today, I am not sure whether I made a good decision back then. Sometimes, I blame myself why did I choose the hard path. If I hadn’t come, I would have enjoyed the fun college life in a familiar place, I would be able to go home whenever I want and my parents would be there whenever I need or not. On the other hand, I have grown up so much in just a short time. All the education I have received and the visions I gain, passion about social justice and more will never be obtained otherwise. Although all the changes are beneficial form in long term, I still wish that I could live an easy life and all the obstacles would not be necessary in the first place.

Anyway, when I made a decision, I probably hadn’t thought of all the consequences and prices I have to pay in exchange for the changes I was hoping for. And at this point, I am not able to go back and choose again.

Life is such ambivalent journey that you gain something and lose others at the same time. Maybe I haven’t changed at all. Inside, I am still that girl who always wants to be a better person. Or maybe I have changed permanently. I learn to be flexible in order to live in a new environment. I learn to swallow pain and save complaints that will not change the situations. I try blend with the surrounding by change my presence in adjusting my voice and silence. 



Anne Dalke's picture

A third state?

you've gotten a couple of shout-outs before I even got to read your paper. You go girl! There's a poignancy to your story that I, like your classmates, am moved by and responding to.

Have you seen the other stories, posted by other members of this class, who, like you, need to "remain silent in some occasions," as "the only way to maintain the relationships with people I am familiar with"? See, for example, the stories published by Chandrea and Uninhibited, and the recent private post by Hummingbird....each story is distinctive, and yet there is a shared dimension of chosing silence, in order to stay in relationship with family.... Sometimes because they would not agree with decisions you have made; or sometimes, as you say, because it would just take "forever to tell them just the background for every single’s just too complicated to explain." Like you, many of your classmates see themselves unable "to go back and choose again." And so, caught, as you are, "adjusting your voice and silence."

Reading this, I'm wondering how this silence in your family fits in the two extremes of silence you described in your first web event, and/or in the re-thought silence of your second one: it's surely not (I think?) the first state, the silence that "provides a blank state of mind to see yourself clearly"; but nor is it quite the second, the "choice of being silent" that is a "strategy to hide your vulnerabilities"? Are you describing here a third, distinct (more layered, more fraught) state?

HSBurke's picture

wow. thank you for

wow. thank you for this. 

"Life is such ambivalent journey that you gain something and lose others at the same time"

this post is perfection. seriously. 

ishin's picture

I'd prefer

to talk to you in person about how much I appreciated this post.  It was wonderful.  Really.

I'm glad to be working on the final project with you.