072. International belonging
Is “home abroad” an oxymoron?
Let’s broaden the scope of yesterday’s post and consider what it might mean for an Asian-American fella like me to settle down abroad. What are some benefits?
For one thing, healthcare is such an exhausting topic in the US while it seems to be a non-issue anywhere else in the world.
Many other countries seem more inclined to design cities centered around humans rather than cars. For example, this YouTube creator moved to the Netherlands so his kids wouldn’t grow up in a car-dependent suburb of Canada. And there are plenty of other brave souls who make big moves for the sake of their children. That’s what my parents did after all.
But the question from yesterday still lingers: how important is it to be around people who look like me? Because when it comes to belonging, looks aren’t enough.
I worked in Beijing for a summer during college, and despite being back in my mother’s motherland, there was definitely still a barrier. Some of it was self-inflicted, since I only hung out with other college students working abroad. But there were intrinsic cultural differences too.
I remember a taxi driver in China noticed I spoke Mandarin with an accent. He asked where I was from and then refused to believe I was from America, instead insisting that I must be from Korea. I never even got the benefit of my white classmates who were constantly praised for how well they spoke rudimentary Chinese!
The Farewell (2019) directed by Lulu Wang does a really good job of capturing the tense divides across generations & cultures and that ambiguous feeling of never truly belonging.
Some people seem to have cracked the code: my Chinese-American friend from high school currently lives in Japan. She quickly picked up the language and has local friends, though I wonder if she still feels some level of barrier. Is she thinking about kids? I’ll have to ask.
As I was talking tonight to someone from Colombia about all this, I realized my preferences could actually be decoupled from what the people around me looked like. Ultimately, it came down to two fervent wishes:
For my kids to feel like they belong.
For my kids to be proud of who they are.
One unexpected benefit of theis that it’s exposed me to the first-hand experience of people living around the world. For example:
- in the Netherlands
- in Poland
- in Germany
- in New Zealand
- in Portugal
It’s been a privilege to get a glimpse at their lives across the globe. Every weekday, they remind me of our shared triumphs and struggles as humans. What’s more, they generously give me a sneak peek at what it takes to be a parent and to raise a child.
I imagine if everyone met, their kidswould have fun together!
I’m sure they’d find shared interests while maintaining a strong sense of identity. Regardless of background! Regardless of looks!
So, I don’t know how to say this in a non-sappy way, but I guess ultimately, I should really be figuring out how to surround my family with people like them. With people like you!
If I can do that, it wouldn’t really matter where I lived.
I’d still need at least one Asian supermarket though 😉
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It really stings because Asian-American kids are already starving for praise and approval
And students in João’s case!
Thanks for articulating this!
oh man, this topic definitely hits close to home! i’ve noticed that my sense of belonging is very situational - sometimes i feel out of place among other asians or even taiwanese if i feel like my american upbringing sticks out too much. and of course, here in germany i often feel like an outsider! it definitely helps to know people like you and in this writing challenge who have had similar experiences 💕