Saturday, February 22, 2014

Being and becoming, US style

Baijiu in the US: Is it out of place? Is it just who I am now?

Sociologically, social identity is always in the process of being and becoming. Of course there are times of greater change than others. Early childhood and the teenage years come to mind. Right now, I feel that process has ratcheted up in myself.

My social identity had been fairly fixed and settled for years. I was a foreigner in a foreign land. I taught English and was recognized within my Changsha sphere as a good, knowledgeable, hardworking teacher. I did my extracurricular activity. Yes, things changed. i became a husband. That was a big life adjustment, but the change in social identity was fairly straight forward. The same can be said for becoming a father.

But now that social identity is in flux.

I am not a foreigner, but neither am I a local or even a native. Not really, anyway. I go through my days in a bit of a dreamlike state, in half expectation that I'll wake up or turn around and be back in Changsha.

Right now I'm the guy who just came back from China. But how long can I be that? Six months? Nine months? A year? Eventually, I have to be the guy who used to live in China. Even when I transition into that socially, internally I'll still be the guy who wants to get back to Changsha.

How long can my stories start, "When I was in China..." or "In China..." without annoying people? People cognitively understand that I was gone for a decade, but they don't truly understand waht it means socially. They don't really understand that more than a decade of US stories were lost while I gained those China stories. Aside from my high school and college years, I have no US stories to tell, not yet anyway.

Am I that knowledgeable, hardworking teacher I once was? I'm unemployed. I hope that status changes soon, but it is my present reality. I often feel lacking. My active English vocabulary is ridiculously poor. I blame it on a decade of a simplified English environment. I don't know the terms and protocols used in schools today. Without recent US work experience, I find people sometimes don't want to trouble themselves to find out what I can do; they just see that I don't fit the boxes they want to check off.

What am I here? I'm still a husband, though the needs of that role are in flux. I'm still a father, though I oddly end up spending less quality time with my sons now than I did in China. Odd, given that I was working full-time there and I'm not employed here. I was an independent man (as much as one really is "independent", which Americans tend to overestimate), now living off of the generosity of others, living with my parents, and getting Medicaid for my kids.

From stability to instability. From relative consistency to flux. What is my social self now? I don't really know. What will my social self be? That's even less clear? Will I ever be settled again? That's a good question.

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