Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Being Foreign at Home

Sometimes I confuse even myself when it comes to my culture.

Without a doubt I am a product of Midwestern US culture. However, sometimes it seems not so simple as that. Is it the 10 years I spent in China? Is it the fact that I'm married to a Chinese woman and usually speak Chinese at home? Does it have to do with my church and quite a bit of my social life being conducted in Chinese? I'm not sure but I know there are times when I confuse myself with how I refer to my life and those in it.

Sometimes my students ask questions about China, and I'll respond saying something like, "In China we..." Other times I'll be with other Chinese friends and (without thinking) refer to others in Arkansas as "foreigners (外国人)". Occasionally I refer to "people from the US" as if I'm not one of them.

It's not really a conscious choice that I'm making. Rather, it's just what's coming out of my mouth. I assume it reveals something of my thoughts or at least the way I think about myself. I remember one specific instance in which I apologized to Chinese friends for referring to myself as if I were Chinese, and one said, "Its okay. We already don't really consider you a foreigner." So, what am I?

I know enough of psychology and sociology to know that, as individuals, we're always in a state of flux. Our identities and the ways that we perceive ourselves is constantly being rewritten in our own consciousnesses. Nevertheless, I don't think I ever really imagined not knowing or being sure of what culture I was living in or a part of. Yet, that is what it seems to have happened.

So, anyone for baijiu?


  1. Matthew, I have a Chinese teacher at Washburn University here in Topeka. He is an artist and has painted many beautiful oils of subjects, such as people, buildings, as reflections in plate glass. One of his friends explained the meaning as Ye Wang's experience of being in a foreign culture, and trying to find meaning. It isn't the same as what you have written about yourself, but similar, and interesting to me.

    1. Thank you for the comment, JoAn. I'm glad you find the topic interesting. I wonder what some of the similarities and differences are.