Archive for the ‘Ghana’ Category

For the Last Two Weeks, Everyone Thought I was Adopted by Canadians

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

Ok, first…I need everyone to acknowledge just how similar Canada and Ghana sounds in Chinese…
Canada: ( 加拿大)GEE YAH NAH DAH
Ghana: ( 加纳) GEE YAH NAH

Remember how I said I was practicing how to explain myself as a Ghanaian American to the Chinese?

Well. It sounds like I just need help doing so with everyone, including the person who  I see in the mirror.

Today, I gave a presentation on my favorite Suzhou restaurant in Chinese. I was telling everyone how my friend had introduced me to 城东菜 and how I absolutely love the fried rice dishes there. Then, of course, I wanted to add more to my presentation so I went into an explanation about how Ghanaian people also consider rice a staple food. I explained how I felt that was a similarity between the two cultures.

The second I mentioned “Ghana,” I am assuming that is when I started to receive confused expressions from my classmates – including my professors. All of my classmates are American except for the Chinese professors there, including my own teacher, 粥老师。Of course…I didn’t notice the looks until halfway through my presentation but I assumed that was because my tones, as usual, were atrocious.

At the end of the presentation, there was a question and answer. Several students seemed more focused on what I said about Ghana than they were about the delicious beef fried rice that I was heavily advocating! They asked me in Chinese about Ghanaian (or so I thought) dishes and if I’d ever been to Ghana (or so I thought). When I was asked about the Canadian dish, I started to feel confused….the question was something about some kind of famous pudding specific to …Ghana?

I was standing up there in front of the class with my 什么? (What!?) face on asking…What pudding?” Thinking… “This guy doesn’t know Ghanaian food…why is he asking me about some kind of African pudding?” After several more questions, I received my applause and sat down…still feeling a bit confused…and in the back of my mind, wondering why 粥老师had started looking at me strangely halfway through my presentation.

粥老师takes her place in front of the class, pulls out the dry erase board and asks me in Chinese where Ghana (or so I thought) is located. I answer but everyone else is like “北边” (North). I am in my seat thinking, “Since when has the African continent been North of North America? What are they all even talking about?”

Then she says to me…加纳还是加拿大?“Ghana or Canada?” The whole class bursts out laughing when they watch the look of realization slowly setting on my face. Complete 真的吗!?”REALLY!?” look had to be on my face at that point.

I was mortified – and laughing, of course. I told my class…These last two weeks, I’ve been telling everyone 我妈妈爸爸都是加拿大人可是我弟弟,妹妹,和我都是美国人。“My parents are from Canada but my brother, sister, and myself are all American.” One student said that he thought I was telling everyone that I’d been adopted by Canadians. Goodness!! Another student asked me if I’d ever been to Canada…haha. Goodness Goodness…. And the golden comment was “Yeah…you were saying Canadian…how could you be in this program from the U.S. Department of State if you’re Canadian?”

This made me reflect on the many situations that people were shocked that I was 美国人(American) and I was standing there telling everyone that I was Canadian!? This entire time!? …That my PARENTS are Canadian!? …but goodness…the lady that I have become good friends with who owns one of the supermarkets thinks my background is CANADIAN!


When I taught English at the rural Chinese school, some asked me if I was African and I told them my parents were Canadian and that my brother, sister, and myself are all American. Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 3.29.54 PM

Somewhere down the line, I began to confuse 加拿大with 加纳。(“Canada” with “Ghana”). I am appalled that I left those school kids THAT confused about life!! Can you imagine… “妈妈爸爸!今天我有英文老师!她是黑人!我觉得她是非洲。。。可是她告诉我们她的妈妈爸爸都是加拿大人可是她的弟弟,妹妹,和她都是美国人!真的吗!?” “Mom, Dad! Today I had an English teacher! She is black! I thought she was African but she told us that both her parents are from Canada but her little sister, little brother, and she are all American! Really?!”

I’m just going to end this blog here. Too. Funny.

I mean, I was talking the World Cup with people…calling Ghana …CANADA…the entire time!

Yes, I can already hear the, “Really, Shirley…?” reactions from anyone reading this.


The Ultimate Challenge – Explaining Myself To People

Saturday, May 31st, 2014

是,我是加纳 人可是我也是美国人。“I am Ghanaian, but I am also American.” ghana-us-flags

When I was in Taiwan, I found that this was the most complicated thing to explain to people. In the beginning, I would always say that I am American because I did not know how to say “Ghanaian.” Also, I didn’t think it was too pressing to learn how to say it. I figured, “I’ll just say I’m American, no big deal.”

Ha! That became a joke real quick.

I remember the very first time that I told a taxi cab driver that I was American. He asked me where I was from. The absolute look of confusion that he gave me in the rearview mirror was something! Heck, even more ‘something’ was the confused look that I gave him right back… In that moment, I had completely forgotten that there are perceptions of what it means to be American that are very different than what I was used to. On another occasion, I was with some of my American and Taiwanese friends. The taxi cab driver asked my Taiwanese friend if I was from Africa. By this time, I was long used to being perceived as African.

I remember asking Wei Shen, my Chinese language tutor, how to say that I am Ghanaian so that I could start explaining myself better to people. From the taxi driver to the unexpected conversations that I would have on the street on several of my “get lost in Taiwan” moments…the question would always come up about where I came from. When I told most people that I was American, I received many confused looks. Practically EVERYONE thought I was from Africa and that I had nothing to do with America. Period!

I remember, at the mango stand in Taiwan, (because that was practically my home – haha! 我爱芒果!”I love mango!” Ah…don’t get me started on that, this blog will never end)… a woman there who I got to know… For about a month, she very quiet but very kind towards me. I would say 早!你好!(“Good Morning! How are you!”) She would nod or reply back with a “hello!” After about a month of seeing me at the mango stand every single evening to stock up on several packages of sliced mango, she finally asked me if there is no mango where I am from. I remember that made me laugh because I was soon becoming known as the mango addict among my classmates at the university. I said to her “我是美國人. 美國的芒果太貴了! 還台灣的芒果比美國的芒果很好吃! 台灣的芒果比中國的芒果很便宜。在美國我不喜歡吃芒果可是在台灣我常常愛吃芒果.” (“I’m from America. Mango in America is extremely expensive! Taiwan’s mango compared to American mango is extremely delicious. Mango in Taiwan compared to mango in America is very cheap! In America, I do not like to eat mango but in Taiwan, I love to eat it often.”)

As you can see…there is a lot to ‘remember’…and these situations are really just a few of the many instances that I found myself in. There is a perception that Americans are only white and not everyone is truly aware of how much of a melting pot America really is. I found that the best conversations with locals came from that question of where I am from and what I am in Taiwan to do. Many of the people were really just extremely curious and were interested in hearing about America and the types of people there.

I got better at explaining. In the beginning, I struggled… not because I didn’t know what to say it, but because I struggled with HOW to say it and learning to listen to people speak at a certain speed. Just because I understand how something works doesn’t mean I can articulate that to someone else…and in a different language at that!

“我妈妈,爸爸都是 加纳人。我弟弟,妹妹,和我都是美国人。。。可是因为我的妈妈爸爸都是 加纳人,他们听说我们也是加纳 和美国人.” (My mother and father are both from Ghana. My little brother, sister, and myself are both American…but because my parents are both Ghanaian, they told us we are also Ghanaian and American.”

I found that that explanation worked the best. The “ohhhhh!!!” look crossed some faces. I was so proud of myself, haha! Anything is better than the look of confusion.

Anyway, it’s going to be fun to be in this position again. A good amount of people spoke English in Taiwan but China will be significantly different. I will have to be 100% reliant on speaking the language so it should be an experience to remember, that’s for sure.

There are other people who face my same situation… Indian American, Korean American etc etc. The good thing about going to study Chinese language is that I can get better and better at throwing out more details about the complexities of identifying as both Ghanaian and American. Whew! Can’t wait to figure out how to say “first- generation American.”

It’s a great situation to be in. Although I am there to develop long-term linguistic and cultural competencies, people are also going to learn from me JUST by talking to me. When I really think about that fact, it’s fascinating!

At the end of the day, I feel that I should always keep in mind … I will likely never become perfect at explaining myself to people. It’s always going to be complex and challenging to try and bridge that gap between two different cultures to understand one another. The reality that I find, though, is that even though many people are different, we connect because we have similarities. This perspective helps me to think about the challenge of explaining myself to people in a more open way rather than to focus on how different I would be to other people and likewise.