Archive for the ‘China’ Category

Day 1 of the Hostage Situation…

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

Or if I wanted to water down the reality, I’d label it “Day 1 of Final Exam Week.”

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 4.37.24 PMToday, is my 一对一课考试 (one-one-one class test). 我的一对一考试关于中非关系的意义方面。(My one-on-one test is in regards to the significance of the China-Africa relationship.)

Since midterms, I’ve focused my one-on-one study on learning vocabulary specific to and how to speak formerly about the China-Africa relationship.  I’ve already turned in my 2, 500 character essay on the significance of the relationship.

My hand was ready to fall off by the end of this!

My hand was ready to fall off by the end of this!

(Again, thank YOU Eddie Murphy for getting me through that!) Every single time, I watch Delirious… I spend some minutes just laughing at what the man is wearing! HAHA!!! eddie-murphy-delirious-80s-outfit As I said Monday night when it was 11 PM and I was still writing: “We all know what we need individually to survive in times of struggle. I need Eddie Murphy.” *NEEDED* him badly!

Tonight, I give a verbal report, in Mandarin, before the firing squad – I mean…a panel of teachers – for my final exam.


6 PM is when I give my report!

I *do* feel less nervous than I was during midterms when I had to do it on the China-U.S. relationship.

Even so, the struggle will be real. O_o


Tomorrow, I have my Chinese newspaper and Chinese Conversation class final exams! On Friday, I have my one-on-two final exam!

And on top of the other things that I must get done before Friday?
The word of the week is:

Gave my report, reviewed it flawlessly with my teacher beforehand…Then three minutes into a smooth report, the director of the program walks in like…随便!

The strug.

The strug. 继续奋斗。。。

Wait, WHAT!?: “White on the Outside…but in My Heart, I am Black”

Saturday, October 18th, 2014

Saturday, October 18, 2014 11: 50 PM

Tonight,  羽莎 [Yu(3) sha(1)] , my roommate, says to me, “I have another American friend! He always says “it’s all good in the hood, yo!” *she added hand movements, pointing in the air in a way that I’ve noticed common to Chinese people when they imitate rappers***


The People’s Eyebrow had NOTHING on how high my eyebrow went up, I’m sure…

My eyebrow hit the skies in shock. She came out of nowhere with this!

Then…she symbolized someone giving someone else “dap” (a handshake). She said that when he would see her, he’d give her dap.

I just stared and nodded slowly. 我明白你。。。 [“I understand you…”]

Then….she threw up some gang signs.

My jaw dropped…and then I started laughing in disbelief!

I said, 真的吗!? [“Really?!”] to give my mind time to recover from the shock!
…and to figure out how I was going to respond to that.

She was grinning and laughing at my laughter and my repeated “真的吗?”s.

I finally recovered – a bit- and said, “你的朋友是美国人马?” [“Is your friend American?”] …even though…I really wanted to ask if this guy was black, but I was not about to confirm stereotypes by assuming he was black – at least NOT to her face. O_O I decided to just ask questions and wait for her to say it.

Nothing could prepare me for what came next.

他是美国人。他是白人 可是。。。”He is American. He is white, but…”

My eyebrows hit the skies again….and I bit back a 什么?!?[”WHAT!?”] response, thinking “he’s white?”

Then I heard the rest…

。。。可是他告诉我他的心是黑人“ [“…but he told me in his heart he is black.”] *she says with the BIGGEST grin on her face and laughing*

I stood there blinking stupidly…. And then I laughed! Unnaturally loud…partly because this was HILARIOUS, partly because I was in shock, partly because she was genuinely amused, partly because I couldn’t believe I never figured out how to say “What the hell!?” all this time I’ve been in and out of China.

…but the shock didn’t end there…I asked her…. 你说他是白人马? 。。。。为什么他告诉你他的心是黑人? [“You said he’s white?….why did he tell you that his heart is black?”]

我们一起看 The Wire. 我不知道 。。。* she threw up the gang signs and pointed around to symbolize rap music *** 可是我们一起 看 The Wire wire-poster然后我看 *pointing around and throwing up the gang signs* * 他告诉我那个意思”

(We watched The Wire. I didn’t know…. * she threw up the gang signs and pointed around to symbolized rap music* saying “It’s all good in the hood!” but we watched it together, then he told me the meaning of the show)

I blinked…Goodness! I wish someone had taken photos of my expressions.

I kept thinking “What the hell!?” in my mind but I felt like it was a GOOD thing that I didn’t know how to say that in Chinese.

I wasn’t angry though…I was just…shocked and amused ALL at the same time! Goodness!!! I could NOT stop laughing… haha. That maniacal laughter when you don’t know what else to do BUT laugh.

I explained to her that not all black people speak that way…and that I would love to meet her friend. In my head I was thinking… “Yes, I would sure love to meet this guy indeed…” Hahaha!!! I was AMUSED at the idea of an introduction…and I could tell him in Chinese that I’ve heard SO much about him…and if I could borrow his seasons of The Wire. HAH!!!!

She said he’s already gone back to the U.S.

“Of course he has….” To be honest, I felt a bit deflated at that news! I was ready to make fun of him a bit, hahaha!!!

BUT can we talk about the REAL issue here!?

Her introduction to black people was The Wire… no…not a good way to INTRODUCE. That show was AMAZING…but not sure if someone who thinks that he is black in his heart can explain to her….wisely…what she was looking at. Yes. That’s a nice way to articulate that bit… -_- O_O!!!

I met Yulia….just last Thursday… but I can tell that we are going to get along EXTREMELY well. …ESPECIALLY after she told me that Marvel and DC are extremely popular in China and that she loves Batman.

I was like “WHAT!?” We excitedly talked about our similar interests in DeathNote and some other Japanese shows and manga. We talked about Collagewhat was popular in the US and in China. We are going to see Guardians of the Galaxy in Chinese soon! We decided that we would go comic book shopping together.

Did I already say that I loved this girl?!

What I do know…is I am going to be sure she doesn’t have a certain view of black people.

I can’t stop laughing in disbelief…The WIRE!?!? He started her off with The Wire. …and the person starting her off is white, from OREGON, teaching her how to say “It’s all good in the hood, yo!”, how to throw up gang signs, and saying that he may be white on the outside but in his heart, he is black??!?

Stop the madness. Goodness!

Her curiosity is so intense though…I’m going to cleanse her of the nonsense.

*face in palm*

The Wire!? Really???

The Wire!? Really???

Inventing All Sorts of Excuses: “Cultural Differences” and Letting the Lesson – Finally – Marinate

Sunday, September 28th, 2014

Sunday, September 28, 2014 8:11 P.M.

Cultural Differences.

…. must be one of the most overused phrases to excuse bad behavior.

All these random things about what is so different between this foreigner and this native person are used to try and smooth over what is clearly complete nonsense.

It is always important to be mindful of the cultural differences that may factor into the decisions that people make. Yet, those factors shouldn’t prevent you from standing up for yourself when you do not like what is taking place…particularly if it already has and can become even more of an inconvenience.

This is not my first rodeo facing this sort of thing abroad…but even so, there is definitely something I am learning about myself that hasn’t really marinated until that specific thing was called attention to earlier today – by someone who doesn’t even know me at all, at that.

I tend to explain my perspective over and over again.…as though the other person doesn’t understand. But they do. I allow myself to be distracted by the fifty reasons a person might be giving for why they did something and waste my time responding to each one. I recognize the excuses but I have a habit of automatically starting to explain my side with more detail…as if the detail even matters. It takes me a while, after I’ve wasted my breath, to finally reaffirm what I already knew to myself (likely because I don’t feel like talking to the person anymore): “This person knows that they did something wrong. This person is trying to get out of getting into trouble by changing your mind.”

I do know myself and I do know this is a problem that I need to change.

Now. Not later. Right now.

It’s a lesson that I keep noticing as a problem for me AFTER THE FACT…and it’s like, “No. Shirley. Just stop doing it because you already know you’re not supposed to be doing it. Just stop. That’s all. Save your damn breath!”

I know it won’t happen again… know why? Because my first round of making that mistake abroad…was way too much culture shock and so much at once. I remember what it did to me. I remember how I internalized it. While I eventually started making heads roll hard…took way too long, way too much pent up, “how dare …blah blah blah” before I started to handle my business.

This situation right now allows me to recognize what COULD have happened if someone else hadn’t said, “…uh why are you even doing that? Why are you even a, b, and c? Why? You had that conversation for an hour? Why.” This situation allows me to recognize the problem in the fact that I wasn’t able to call myself  out. On my own.

So. Ok.

That forces me to think about it all in a different way. Truly forces me…in a way that will ensure that this lesson MARINATES.

Time to handle my business and move on…so many other things to do than to put up with this nonsense for an extensive period of time.

I don’t have the time.

Going abroad, living in a different culture and wishing to respect it should never ever mean that you disrespect yourself in the process.

I bet it might have taken me a bit longer (another decade…let’s be real) to fully realize this bad habit if I hadn’t been faced with reasons to face it while in unfamiliar surroundings. Under these circumstances, I HAVE to think about what I do automatically that might be detrimental to me within unfamiliar confines. And I HAVE to think about the thoughts that I already have in terms of problem solving that will be extremely useful to me. What you learn while surrounded by the unfamiliar can definitely be a great help when things get really familiar again.

So… I suppose this is not only about other people making excuses to me. It is also about Shirley not making anymore excuses to herself.

哈如宾式:Big Breasts and Pizza

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

Friday, September 19, 2014 10:30 AM

Yes, I know… Pizza in China? A first-generation American, Ghanaian woman…eating Italian food…in China. “What a small world, ” as a friend put it to me. haha! I must say…it is certainly worth discovering how Asian restaurants choose to flavor foods that are very popular at home…

What a small world, indeed! :-)

The family who runs this pizza place  (pic to the right) have been SO, SO warm to me the last two weeks. I love them! Their children are absolutely adorable too! The first time I talked to them, they family was excited to show me photos they’d taken of other foreigners who had come to their restaurant over the years. The husband joked with me that one of the German men really liked one of the Chinese female students and said she never knew though. “Poor guy,” is what he said. Haha! The first time that I went there, they were also so excited when they realized that I could speak Mandarin. Told me that most of the foreigners that come to their restaurant are unable to say much. (Small moments like these, you have to be proud of…it is the interactions with native Chinese that show you if your language is advancing or not. :-)!

The pizza restaurant!

The pizza restaurant!

SO…how do big breasts relate to pizza?

Well. They don’t, but they can. Haha!

I just got back from a pizza place… While I was waiting for my pizza, a Chinese woman walked by and just stared at me, observing me, while eating some sort of tofu soup thing. I glanced away but could still feel her eyes on me. She just stood there and continued to stare, so I glanced back and say “Hello!” in Chinese. Instantly,  the widest grin spread across her face. She scooped a big spoonful of this glob-like pudding stuff(She later told me it was some sort of Russian pudding) and offered it to me. I don’t share a spoon with anyone but my Mama so I politely but readily refused every single time she offered it. Haha!

My hello began a 30 minute conversation entirely in Chinese.  Throughout that 30 minute conversation, she kept giving …very extended ‘glances’ (aka blatant long stares)… at my chest. At first, I thought, “What is she looking at?” Several times, I gave quick glances at my sweater to see if I had a stain down the front of it or something….but there was nothing. As the conversation went on and she asked why I was in Harbin, why I felt Mandarin grammar was much harder than English grammar, she CONTINUED to just STARE at my chest. I began to feel a bit uncomfortable…got to a point where I was thinking, “What the hell does she keep looking at?” I always wanted to just ask her!

Then I began to just tune in to the uncomfortable feeling that I was feeling…she had been staring at my CHEST. O_O Once I accepted what she was staring at, I almost threw my arms opened wide and told her to just grab a handful and alleviate her curiosity. I remembered, in Taiwan, how women had been interested (and even asked) some of the students in my program about our chest sizes because they were not accustomed to see breasts that big… Haha!

At one point, I wondered if this woman was even going to blink. She KEPT staring at my chest for LONG periods of time. The periods of time got even longer.

Gotta love pizza in Asia... you get gloves! When this happened in Taiwan at a hamburger restaurant...I'd never been so amazed at something. Haha!

Gotta love pizza in Asia… you get gloves! When this happened in Taiwan at a hamburger restaurant…I’d never been so amazed at something. Haha!

She eventually asked me if I was female. Haha…this is not the first time I’ve been asked since I’ve been to China two months ago.  I am normally asked this when I wear jeans and a t-shirt. I told her that, “Yes, I am female.”  Haha! She asked about my hair and I told her that I cut my hair this way because I like it this way. I threw in a joke about how I can’t stand hot weather and this is the way for me to survive!

She then said my breasts were big. As my eyebrow began to rise…she signaled to my chest and made big round circle motions and told me they were very big, exaggerating her speech to indicate just how humongous she thought they were.

…and simply smiled in my face…while I stood there in silence, eyebrow all the way up my face, and STUNNED…not knowing what the hell to even say.

Well. How desperate was I to change the subject?
(…this is probably THE only time that I would call myself “黑人“ (black person) to anyone in China…because it doesn’t sit well with me when I am pointed at and called “黑人, 黑人”…BUT  I wanted to change that topic. Badly.)

So, I offered my hand to hers and started to compare skin tones. That was the only thing I could come up with. Nosey passerbys stared at us as I ended up having to convince her that I wasn’t black because I drank lots of coffee. Somewhere in there, I miscommunicated a message about the President and now she thinks I know him. More specifically…she thinks President Obama is my boyfriend.



Whatever. As long as the First Lady doesn’t hear about this. *cough*

I must admit… this exchange was entertaining. I an not going to forget this woman for a while. Before I left, I told her that I was excited to meet her. Haha! And I was! She helped me practice my speaking… If anything, she knows a lot about me. I know a lot about her too…though we spent most of the time discussing me. I promise we talked about other things aside fro my ….uh….apparently out of this world humongous set of breasts.

She was astoundingly curious about how I was American if my parents are from Ghana. I find that a lot of Chinese people believe that you are from where your parents are from so the concept of anything different is extremely strange to a good amount of them. It makes me want to talk to people about…what if  I was adopted…by a Canadian Father and a Puerto Rican Mother… how would that be thought of in people’s minds?

If anything, she learned a whole lot that night. I think I delivered a good experience to her. :-) She was especially impressed with my Chinese. Hell, I was too… I only used Pleco…3 times throughout our discussion. Otherwise, my ability to think fast enough to use words around a word that I may not understand in order to understand what is being said has significantly improved!

I have had many moments where I have interacted with curious Chinese people. In this case…a good amount of people in my location are used to foreigners…some are not. Haha!

As hilarious as this whole exchange is…I’m just proud of myself that I am getting out there and talking to people. Some may know that something like that is an incredibly big step for me.  It warmed my heart to have this family see me, a stranger, and after interacting with me for almost an hour tell me that I am family. It is the Chinese people that I need to be able to interact with, to understand, and to be understood by.  It is the Chinese that I need to be able to learn from in many ways that are not only essential to my career, but essential to my personal growth. :-)

Until next time!


Thursday, September 11th, 2014

It is truly a beautiful thing to be able to be in your twenties and to travel.

You’re only obligated to yourself, you’re living out your passions and creating new ones… the world is at your feet and you’re going to learn new things about yourself in the most unsuspecting ways.

It is absolutely beautiful what I am being exposed to here… so much culture, so many people from different walks of life and mindsets. So many endless possibilities if I open myself up to them!

I’m very grateful that I can live this out while being productive in terms of my future career goals at the same time.

Life is Good!

Life is Good!




Thursday, September 11th, 2014

It is truly a beautiful thing to be able to be in your twenties and to travel.

You’re only obligated to yourself, you’re living out your passions and creating new ones… the world is at your feet and you’re going to learn new things about yourself in the most unsuspecting ways.

It is absolutely beautiful what I am being exposed to here… so much culture, so many people from different walks of life and mindsets. So many endless possibilities if I open myself up to them!

I’m very grateful that I can live this out while being productive in terms of my future career goals at the same time.

Life is Good!

Life is Good!



In Harbin!

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

Tuesday, September 2, 2014 10:35 PM

二零一四年。九月。二号。 星期二
In Harbin!

I finally landed in Harbin at 7 PM earlier on tonight.

Before my flight, I was really feeling the feelings… My little brother dropped me off at the airport, helped me bring my things in, restrained me when I started asking the flight attendant how checking out two bags for free on an international flight magically changed as a rule overnight, restrained me again as I bitterly paid the extra $100.00, and wished me well when we finally parted ways.

As I walked away, I admit, I was starting to tear up and was blinking them back feverishly, saying to myself, “This is not the time. This is not the time. This is not the time.” It was even tougher when I had to speak to my Mom over the phone.

-_- 啊呀。。。

Of course, I’d unintentionally run into ways to amuse myself. I enjoyed Face booking from my phone, using every bit of time that I had left before I was going to encounter the Great Firewall of China…aka…China blocks Facebook and you must use…other…means for it to be accessible. VPN power! I made my way to the gate to wait to board my flight from IAD and couldn’t help but notice… that it felt like I was back in China! There were many Chinese people, a sprinkle of white people, and only one black person (myself).

中国式 !哈哈! Felt like home. Haha.

Well. My Gulliver’s Travels began with a 13-hour flight from IAD to Beijing, then a 2-hour flight from Beijing to Harbin. The first 13-hour flight wasn’t bad. I thought I had been permanently spoiled from the last business class treatment but apparently not. This flight was very comfortable. I kept myself very busy and FOR ONCE, I was wearing the right comfort clothes. That last bit made ALL the difference!

The ONLY thing that made me raise my eyebrow over the Beijing to Harbin flight was security… And, yes, you guessed it! It involved my clippers!!! I didn’t have enough space so I put my new clipper set in my book bag. They didn’t have a problem with it in the U.S…but in China? They opened up my brand new clipper box and pulled them out and my eyebrow went UP…

….like…I gave him the People’s Eyebrow. That’s how much attitude was in that eyebrow raise. You ALL should know by now… I was NOT going to let there be a Part 2 of Suzhou without my clippers! The first pair were $80 and the second pair were in the same range. No sir! I was ready to engage in arm-to-arm combat if I had to!

Seriously. The tone that I took … Anyway. I got my clippers…but he took my scissors that came with the clippers. That was truly a 真的吗!? “REALLY!?” moment. He just calmly responded to my questions and attempts to keep my scissors. Finally, I just shut up… he didn’t care about my struggle. Not even a little bit.


All that madness aside…the flights were not bad at all. For the first flight, the entire time, I

Almost done with the first one. Glad I came prepared with a second one!

Almost done with the first one. Glad I came prepared with a second one!

was journaling. So much happened in the last three weeks while I was at home… very important things that I didn’t want to lose track of. Both the good and bad had become very fond memories for me because of the realizations that I had about myself from both angles.

On the flight, several Chinese people came up to me and said that I had 漂亮 handwriting. Ha! I was flattered…but I couldn’t help but wonder if they could read what I was writing. O_O I proceeded to cover my writing for the rest of the flight…I noticed my seatmate glancing over at my writing more than once. Heck, I wrote more than twenty pages. I think the whole plane had noticed that all I had done for 13 hours was write, write, and write some more. (It was funny seeing the aisles crowded with elderly Chinese people, stretching their legs out and either ignoring or not understanding the flight attendant ladies howling that they needed to stop blocking the aisle and get back to their seats.)

When my hand was tired, I went back to read some of my old entries… and realized how much I had matured in some aspects. Just seeing those changes in myself encourages me to keep writing. Many have advised me to maintain a journal and I definitely intend to continue writing.

Ever since Taiwan, I’ve been writing a lot in my journal. When I first got it, I went a whole two years barely writing in it… going abroad has certainly given me a lot to think about and reflect on….even when I’ve come back to the U.S. for a bit. With every new challenge, with every galling and good experience, with every unexpected surprise that I never even could consider I’d ever experience personally, I’ve matured and changed in some way.

If you know me well enough, I pride myself on being mindful and being meaningful. I don’t want to just go through life…even if I’m bitching and complaining, Even that, I want to be something that I can be mindful of in the moment or reflect on later. It all matters because there hasn’t been even one time where I haven’t reflected on an action I’d taken – good or bad – that didn’t serve to inform me in some way.   I always appreciate that – even if, at times, it takes some time for me to be able to appreciate it.

So. Goodness! Right now…here I am… ready to start living a different life. This feels like Part 2… and in many ways it is exactly that. I wasn’t prepared for a lot of what went on in Suzhou. Not at all…the only preparation that I had was the ability to be perceptive, the ability to seek out perspective, and the ability to stand up for myself. Though…at the time, it felt mostly like the ability to be angry and emotionally and physically exhausted all of the time. (And, rightfully so, in my opinion).

I would be in big trouble if I was never able to recognize when I needed perspective. I appreciated the time and space that familiar surroundings provided in order for me to attain that perspective. Now I’ve got all the perspective that I can handle…and I am determined…no matter the highs and lows, to make this year a year where I come out attaining my goals to significantly improve my Chinese and to enjoy learning about Chinese culture.

Heck, I’ve added some other goals to the pot….before I ever came to China, my goals were those of someone who’d never been to China before : “I want to learn Chinese and attain an advanced level of proficiency and want to experience the diversity of China.” While those are great goals, those goals become much more meaningful when you’ve got some experience under your belt…the goals become more specific and you recognize what areas you want to specifically develop more than others…rather than just having a general idea.

Now, I want to learn about China because I want it to become like home. Before I came to China, I didn’t understand what that meant, thinking that I did. Now I do. It is this ability to be specific about my goals in terms of career advancement and my goals in terms of personal advancement that will help me to make China home and encourage me to maintain perspective no matter the challenge that I face. I am interested in seeing how I grow in terms of handling conflict under good and bad pressure that I wasn’t born and bred to understand.

Harbin is certainly different…but I have not yet seen Harbin in the daytime so I look forward to that. The night is nice with a nice cool breeze. America can keep the heatstroke. Barely got to IAD alive! So far, I’ve met my Resident Assistant (RA). He picked me up from the Harbin airport once I had landed. Franklin, is first generation Nigerian American.

On the cab ride over to On the way over, Franklin told me that there are students of different ages here…the oldest are PhD students who are here for a month crash course in language training for to conduct research in China with the Fulbright grant. He asked me if I had studied Mandarin before and that started a discussion about my success in attaining the CLS, Fulbright, and Boren Awards.

As most people are, he was shocked that I turned down a Fulbright and asked why I wanted to study in Harbin? I told him that in the long run, using my time to attain language proficiency will help me to be able to conduct my own research once I reapply for a research grant with the Fulbright. Like Mr. Craig Allen said at the CLS orientation…you cannot rely on a translator. Translators can have their own agenda and intentionally miscommunicate your message during important negotiations. Because you don’t understand how to navigate the cultural streams of China, you are not mindful of the cultural nuances in order to truly function in the environment that you’re trying to research. To what extent are you truly conducting research under those circumstances? Not by much. On top of that, you don’t have the respect of the people that you’re trying to get answers from. In some cultures, more than others…proving that you can communicate is paramount!

Now is the time, while I have no wrinkles around my eyes, to live in dorms, backpack for hours until I can’t feel my legs, hang out in bars, and just travel without out any obligation to anyone but myself…and to do it all while speaking Mandarin. There is no better time than now to learn another language…everything else will have to wait for now. J (Including my Mom’s claims that I should be married by everyone else.) Haha!

Franklin asked me, “Why Harbin?” Well. Everyone goes to Shanghai, Nanjing, Beijing. Everyone! There is something to be said to be a Ghanaian American woman learning to function in an area that most people do not think of when they think of China. Combined with my attentiveness to cultural sensitivity, I have the opportunity to develop solid cross cultural communication skills. Learning Mandarin is never JUST about speaking the language…you speak the language in order to inform yourself so that you can get below the surface in ways that you would never had been able to if you had a translator next to you.

As we neared the dorm building, he then told me, 现在你开始说中文。大家说中文。Me: 好的。每天我说继续斗。。。可是 真的。。。学中文太难了!

I’ve met my roommate… her English… MAN. LOL If I can speak Chinese as well as she speaks English after the first semester, I’ll be happy. Haha! I really like her though… she is dead serious about keeping to the language pledge and I appreciate that. Tonight, I’ve had nothing but conversations with her in Mandarin. She’s been patient with me and said that I was weird for knowing how to read and write significantly better than my listening and speaking. She said it is usually the other way around…not the first time I‘ve heard that one. I appreciate that she is excited to help me adjust here.

Ok. Here’s an “all in my feelings moment.”

Not that I don’t always take notice of this, but I have been realizing just how deeply people believe in me. I always say that I appreciate that but I can’t begin to say just how much. I know that I don’t talk to a lot of people too often, but I appreciate that they know – like I know – that there is a mutual appreciation between us. It is truly a beautiful thing when people believe in you and are interested in your growth. Sometimes you don’t always believe in yourself and it is good to have people remind you of what you already know of yourself: that you are resilient, that you are strong, and that you’ve got this no matter what challenge gets in your face. For someone like me, believing in myself is damn important because I had to learn the hard way that attitude is everything long before I stepped foot in China.

So, I will continue to do everything that I need to do to ensure that Shirley remains confident, resilient, and ready to get shit done. And with a newfound view of ‘failure’ in mind, I can do it! J

All I know is that I tend to learn best when I am dropped in the middle of something… the whole “sink or swim”/ “Are you choosing to survive or die on the side of the street” mindset tends to work on me.

Always trying to inflict pain on myself. Haha!


I have to talk about one last hilarious thing. I think I’ve already got a bit of exposure to Harbin already. Hahaha!! On my flight from Beijing to Harbin, I sat next to an elderly Russian couple. The husband had, literally, no filter. He told the attendant that he didn’t want the dinner she was handing out because. He said, “you know your food is bad.” And he repeated himself to ensure that she heard him…then called her back to collect his wife’s tray. She says, “I don’t need this”, and he’s like, “What kind of food is this?” THEN when we get off of the flight, he starts scolding this Chinese man who cut in front of me… “She was there first, you need to back up.” The Chinese man ignores him… the Russian man keeps talking, even after I get my stuff. Then another Chinese man …says something messed up judging from how red his face was. The Chinese man was, literally, in the Russian man’s face, pointing his finger in his face, telling him to… who knows. Likely telling him to ‘shove it’.

I beat it like Michael Jackson. O_o It was time for me to go.

Finally Forced to View Failure Differently: “Fail at a Higher Level”

Sunday, June 29th, 2014

Last week was a defining moment for me in my Chinese learning…and in my mindset about what it means to fail.

I was just speaking to my resident director, 李老师,last week about continuing to find something that connects me to China. I’d bought Case Closed comic books, have clicked through Chinese television channels, would go out near my campus to interact with Chinese people…but everything felt really forced. I was feeling as though I were desperately grasping for something that would make me feel like China could one day be home, that I could adjust here, that I would make some progress in my abilities to speak and listen to Chinese.

…that I could finally finish more than just less than half of my homework after 10 hours of working on it per day and get some damn sleep. My mood was taking a hit. I’d fallen out of habits that I knew kept me focused. As I have been known to say, “I am too through with this nonsense!”


One of the constructive criticisms that 李老师was giving me consistently is that I was expecting perfection. I could definitely agree with him on that. I was thinking, “well…shouldn’t I be aiming to do well in my classes? I have not been able to finish more than half of my homework the whole first two weeks I’ve been here!”

Over time, my mindset had become, “Why shouldn’t I expect perfection. I should aim to perform perfectly…anything else is unacceptable.” My mom raised me to believe that there are people who do well and then there are people who do well. I still believe that…but the mindset that I was raised with in how to reach that latter level wasn’t going to help me in China.

The end and period.

He also asked me if I was one of the top students at my school. Yup. He asked me what did I like about Chinese culture. I joked that I would say something other than, “I really like the food.” Everyone and their mother says that when asked about a culture. I told him that when I was younger, my Father and I used to watch a lot of kung fu movies in black and white on VHS tapes. At the time, I was much too young to understand what I was looking at. It just looked cool – how else do interests start for children? Haha…

I told him that as I got older, I continued to watch these Chinese films…I began to venture into traditional themes and ones about gangs as I really admired the spirit and perseverance of the fighter. The themes of family, loyalty, and brotherhood were emphasized so heavily in those films. I thought the cultural aspect of how these themes were emphasized was very admirable. Of course, even at that time, I never thought I would want to actually LEARN Chinese language…I just never thought about it. I saw those squiggly lines and never even entertained the idea that I would be sitting abroad writing those squiggly lines out to form sentences. Haha!

I told him that I had first learned about China’s role in the world during my sophomore year of college in my East Asia in World Affairs class. I told him that I had learned about the China-Africa relationship and about my surprise that there was actually a power forcing us into a multipolar world (arguably bi-polar) and away from a unipolar one. I told him about the introduction to the movies A Better Tomorrow and The Killer in my Chinese History in Film class! Chow Yun-fat became my husband in my mind, at that point. I told him that I have always thought the characters, in particular, are beautiful and that reading and writing characters are my strong points because of my long background in art.

No. I certainly didn’t tell 李老师about Chow Yun-fat becoming my husband! Definitely left that part out! I couldn’t take the embarrassment if that slipped out… -_-

ALL that to feed to my main point… “Fail at a higher level.”

I was sitting at a café with my friend and 预拌, struggling once again through Chinese homework. Another day of starting the day out thinking, “I’m going to finish this homework today,” and of the inevitable sinking feeling that I probably wasn’t…but it would be a cold day in Hell before I wouldn’t keep trying to somehow get better in this language. Those were my thoughts every day and they were E.X.H.A.U.S.T.I.N.G.!!!

I had been waiting for something to click and it just wasn’t clicking – matter how mindful I thought I was being.

I expressed to my friend that I sometimes felt that I couldn’t do any of this but knew that I would keep trying…but felt that I was trying blindly. I was doing my job…asking for insight from my teachers and listening to advice from students who seemed to be managing the work better. Some of my classmates would tell me, “you’re not supposed to be able to finish the work.” Admittedly, my thought in response to that was, “What kind of nonsense is that…the classes are solely based on our preparation. I’ve been roasted enough times – in front of everyone - for not being prepared.”

I continued to be unsure why my mindset was not changing in my attempts to apply the tips that I felt, at the time, would be useful to me. I didn’t understand.

“Fail at a higher level.”

Then my friend said this to me…and explained the logic when my eyebrow began to rise. He said that I should be failing, but I have to be mindful of what I am failing at and work to know why I have failed at that thing once I’ve failed it.

I shouldn’t say that “everything” clicked, but something began to click. I started to become very thoughtful about what I was being told in that moment and what I had been told by everyone in the last two weeks…then things started to click and settle…especially by the next morning. The perspective about the stress, frustration, and sense of deflation that I had been feeling about this intensive program for the last two weeks began to change.

It is now the end of the week and a lot of my approach and performance in my classes show my choice to adjust my mindset. Heck, the changes started the very next day. I’ve been able to target the specific parts of my work that I need to focus on more than others… and learn to finish those areas, rather than think I have to emphasize a,b,c, d,e…z.

All of the advice that I had been receiving from my teachers and some students began to appropriately fall into place in my mind. I could sense that it was happening that way. Learning this language and succeeding at it will always be one of the GREATEST challenges that I will remember for the rest of my life. I am very sure of this. Of course… I said that about the Fulbright, Boren, and several other things…but the acute difference here is that I am being hit with a WHOLE lot of change all at once and I have long decided to swim, not sink, and now I have to be steadfast in learning how to navigate.

I think this is the first time that I am really accepting that the concept of “failure” is not entirely negative. That should not be confused with thinking that I never knew and understood that failure is a part of a process… I know this, but I am learning to understand this fact in a way that forces me to change an approach to success that I have only made minor adjustments to with each new challenge that I have faced up to this point.

I have had to go through some extreme struggles to become a solid student or to be good at something. Dealing with struggles are never easy. With that said, when you become good at something and conquer more and more challenges successfully…sometimes you have to remind yourself that you will always face some kind of struggle. You have to remind yourself that you might have to change your perspective to something completely different to even have a chance at overcoming the new obstacle that you now face.

Sometimes I apply my determination using the wrong technique and when I have to change tracks, it feels like I am dragging myself over scorching hot coals to make that transition. That’s exactly how it feels in that moment…

But…nothing will compare to THIS situation, I am sure of it. I was raised to believe that one should avoid failure at all cost. So, any time that I have failed, I have worked myself to the bone to turn that failure into a success. I never saw any reason to broadcast that I am failing at something until I have conquered that failure. Hell…even at that point, I called it ‘struggling’. Haha!

From failure, I have learned more than I would have if I hadn’t failed in the first place…. Sometimes I’ve had to work for weeks, months, years to see that success come to fruition. Didn’t always know how, didn’t always know when, but it was going to change and that is what I knew 100%.

…but…the only reason why anything changed was because I was mindful of the process. Failing without being conscious of moving towards improvement is not improvement but a continued inability to progress.

I think in this new context…this “failing at a higher level” thing…failure, as I’ve learned it in my upbringing, can only mean the conscious decision to give up on something that needs to be done – in your mind. For me, I need to learn Chinese…but I also need to apply the concept of failure in terms of learning…not to just an inability to learn…

It’s strange realizing that being fully prepared for my classes is not…possible…but you have to keep failing to actually come out of this program prepared for that future next level challenge in learning Chinese.

That’s definitely different to me. …or maybe not. Maybe I’ve applied this concept to a variety of struggles that I have faced but hadn’t ever consciously realized this?

This will not be my first time learning how to be exceptional at something, but I am learning what it means to be exceptional at something with the use of a very different kind of roadmap that pose both an extreme mental and emotional challenge to me.

I will say this…one of my classmates told me that my professor, 王老师, had told her that she has been very impressed with my work ethic. She said that I am not the best at listening and speaking but she has been extremely impressed by my “diligence and work ethic despite my hardships to learn” and that she is impressed with my abilities to read and write Chinese so well. I mean, YES, that flattered me…greatly and really put the biggest smile on my face.

This blog was particularly difficult to write for a lot of reasons. I am proud of myself for choosing to write it. Sometimes it is ok for people to know you’re struggling with something. Sometimes. Haha!  The stories of perseverance should not only be for  me to know. It is more important that I know that I am going to keep to my determination. I always keep to it…no matter how deflated I feel. This sort of challenge…learning Chinese…really reminds me of that fact.

In a lot of ways, some bits of familiarity have brought me a lot of balance this past week. :-)

Thank you for reading!


学很多中文 , 教学生怎么说英文,演出 莎莎舞, 在中国电视我看 Conan the Detective 和 Tom and Jerry Kids 了

Saturday, June 21st, 2014

So, what does that title say?: “Learned a lot of Chinese, Taught English to Students, Performed a Salsa Dance, and Watched Conan the Detective and Tom and Jerry Kids on Chinese Television!

It is early Saturday morning and I have a chance to reflect on my Friday – that I enjoyed thoroughly…now that I have been able to begin Operation: Make Up for Two Weeks of No Sleep, of course! Friday must be broken down into four parts.
Part 1: Four hours of class – as usual! Part 2: Teaching English at a rural school! Part 3: Salsa/Zumba dancing for the Welcome Ceremony! Part Four: Watching Conan the Detective and Tom and Jerry Kids

So…Part 1:
Friday, as usual, was four hours of Spoken Application, Spoken Development, Reading, and Composition. These four hours are always unbelievably tiring! I was using my last bit of strength to get through the day. My Composition course was interesting today… 老师had a lot to say about the Chinese government. She expressed embarrassment that she had gone on a tangent. I, specifically, was surprised that she told a bunch of Americans all of that. 很有意思。。。”very interesting…”. I think we were all wide eyed over that one.

Part 2:
Right after that, the CLS (Critical Language Scholarship) Program students went to teach English in a rural Chinese school. Goodness! The children were around…10 -12 years old. EVERYONE was staring at the pack of Americans just walking through the plaza. I love children! It’s those combined looks of confusion, intense curiosity, and nervousness that make children prime for learning …particularly since, more often than not, the intense curiosity overcomes the nervousness/fear. Something as simple as asking 你叫什么名字?”What is your name?”and introducing yourself in their language just diminishes so much of the nervousness…and then these curious young minds start slowly taking steps towards these smiling foreigners…wondering (I’m sure)…”are these the 美国人 (Americans) they told us about? They don’t look it.” Haha!

On the playground, we (my fellow English teacher, Hiram Rios, and myself) were soon surrounded by a large mass of kids speaking all at once. There was one young man and young woman, in particular, who were both overflowing with questions. The young boy asked if I was African. Haha! In Chinese, I told him that my parents are from Ghana but my younger siblings and myself were born in America. Hiram helped me to explain in more detail. As I’ve said…it’s definitely a process learning how to explain more about who I am as an American. Based on the thoughtful expressions on their faces after the explanation, I have some room for improvement. Haha! But they were absolutely fascinated by the answer.

Quite honestly, I felt a bit nervous too… it is NOT easy to use Chinese in an immersive setting…but you realize that that is really your ONLY option. There is a completely different connection that you, as a foreigner, can make with people all around the world when you can speak THEIR language. Another blog will explain the hard time I’ve been having with the speaking and listening…they aren’t my strongest skills, but I love talking to the people. The reality is that both ARE getting better…slowly…but they are because I am not supposed to speak English because of the language pledge. Our resident director is very particular about that – and that is an understatement. I have to be mindful at all times and catch myself when I automatically want to respond in English.

At the school, I had to remind myself of what an ambassador told me once… signs of greeting are universal. So I SMILED to death! It doesn’t matter if your black, blue, purple, yellow, green…and all of the colors of the rainbow combined…EVERYONE recognizes a smile and a laugh and a welcoming demeanor, particularly children. I smiled when I approached them and they backed away from me. Smiled when I stopped and just stood there smiling and then asked them their names in Chinese. Smiled as they creeped closer to me, letting their curiosities get the best of them. Goodness…can you tell I love kids?! My smile quickly became more natural.

Before we knew it, the kids were just packed tightly around us talking all at once. Some would run up to me and say “hi” and then run away, then come back and keep talking. Before we knew it, we were all taking photos, throwing our arms around each other liked we’d known each other for more than 30 minutes. Later, Hiram and I were waiting in the hallway outside of our assigned classroom and all of these students are looking at us standing there, waving at us. We waved back at every one of them. Two young ladies came up to us and gave us extra ice cream that they had. We melted completely! These kids are not middle class but they were willing to give us the extra ice cream that they had just to make us feel welcome.

You know…it is amazing how the status of the teacher in China (and in many parts of the world) is much more highly revered compared to teachers in America. This is a sad, but true, reality. Here, in China, you never WALK by your professor in the hallway without addressing them. You NEVER address them by last name, as we tend to do in America. I remember, in Dr. Lester’s Politics and Religions course, we discussed how American students address their professors compared to students in other parts of the world. Often we hear students calling to their professors, “Hey, Lester!” Instead of “Hello, Dr. Lester.”

It’s very true…coming from a Ghanaian background, a sign of respect is to always refer to your elder as ‘Uncle’. I remember a professor invited me to refer to him in a very casual way and my first reaction was “no, no…”. It was very non-negotiable to me to refer to a professor as anything other than “Dr.____” etc etc. I have learned something quite interesting though… I believe, in some cases, when you have formed a solid foundation with a professor and really have a friendship with that professor, you can refer to one another on a less formal basis …but there is still that mentor/mentee relationship. You continue to respect that person as someone who can provide you advice and they have a mutual respect for you as someone coming into their own and ready for the trials and errors that it takes to grow. It is a bit more complex in America….but you know when it feels right to do so or to decide against it.

That aside, in other countries…you never blend the friendship/teacher relationship. For example, in Taiwan… my tutor was younger than I – but she was my tutor. She was very serious about keeping that line between friendship and teacher completely separate! Told me that directly when I had a moment of ignorance and asked her out to lunch if she wasn’t busy. Haha! I might have been raised with Ghanaian values but I have still been cultured a certain way in balancing being Ghanaian and American. From that interaction, I found that I have to routinely remind myself that “ok…some things are non-negotiable in this setting.” We became good friends AFTER the program was over and speak to each other less formally…but I still feel like she is my tutor when she tells me that my Chinese is not as good as it was before. Haha!

In China, you ALWAYS greet and thank your professor. Our resident director, 李老师 (Professor Li) is sure to ingrain that in our heads. A few of us messed that up one morning…and that afternoon he said, “I was thinking, “Do I look like a student to them?” I’m sure no one forgot after that! You never pass a professor in the hall… you MUST say 老师好 Laoshi hao! “Hello teacher” and早 “Good Morning”. Also, when your professor enters the classroom, you say 老师好 again. You do NOT just sit there and not greet the professor. Period. Also, Chinese teachers give criticism of your performance in front of everyone…there is no, “we’ll talk after class so that I can give you an overview of your performance.” You have to acknowledge that you are thankful for the information when you are being criticized…you don’t debate it, you accept it, and show thanks.

I will never forget my first day of class… I performed terribly. TERRIBLY! 王老师 (Professor Wang), in front of everyone, told me that I had received zero points for the day because I could not recite the dialogue. I remember my face BURNING in absolute terror and embarrassment. I was already struggling with the fact that I hadn’t been in a Chinese class for a year and now I was being criticized in front of everyone. I am going to be 100% honest about how I was thinking about this…I’d just graduated with more than several honor societies cords around my neck. I’d received a Fulbright, the Boren, and more than 15-20 other scholarships, I had great work ethic, diligence, and perseverance…and I was being told that I was receiving zero points.

Quite honestly…that tore my pride TO SHREDS. The rest of that week, I felt a stress to make up for that in a way that I cannot even begin to describe. That story is for another blog. Either way, I had to take a step back and think about a different perspective…the reality is ( and I have always known this), that my achievements in college are not going to guarantee that I master Chinese…a foreign language is a foreign language… none of them are easy to learn. The end and period. I had to keep telling myself that…because as someone who is always organized and prepared… that thrashing scarred me for life. I had to keep the straightest face possible when I said 谢谢老师 “Thank you, laoshi.” I just don’t believe in making  a first bad impression…and that’s what happened.

Different than it is in America, huh? Yes…very much so. This new way of teaching puts on the pressure to be prepared in class, that’s for sure! I will say…by last Friday, 王老师was very impressed by my improvement. She knew I was working to death to do better. One night, I remember 李老师 told me to stop being “so fragile,” that I needed to accept that I was going to make a lot of mistakes and that making mistakes is exactly what I am here to do. I keep telling myself that I did not expect perfection, but to an extent…I likely did. I am a perfectionist…I have struggled to be where I am now but I have forgotten that there are fifty million more hills for me to climb in my future. The show never stops when it comes to that… it will always be about how I decide to approach the challenge that will determine my success in the future. I entirely believe that…and so I have been reminding myself of that fact.

Now…in our class, Hiram and I introduced ourselves to our students in Chinese. Then we reintroduced ourselves in English. We instructed our students to refer to me as Miss 马 (Miss Martey) or 马老师 (Teacher Martey) and Hiram as  刘 老师 (Teacher Rios). We told them that we are here to be their English teachers and asked them how long they’d been learning English. Four years! This makes me reflect back to Mr. Craig Allen’s comments during the CLS orientation. Mr. Allen conducts direct trade negotiations with top leaders in China. He was very frank about the fact that America is at a severe disadvantage for not having language training at a younger age compared to other countries. These kids are the children of migrant workers and they are not middle class, yet already know a good amount of English. English isn’t even their first language.

To review English with them, we decided to draw fruits on the board and ask them what the English words are. What is absolutely universal about children is that they ALL have a sweet tooth. So, we encouraged their participation and work ethic by bribing them with 糖 “candy”! It was a fun class and the children definitely knew their English words! Afterward, we played “Simon Says”. To teach them the rules of the game, Hiram explained the instructions while I sat in one of the seats with the children and demonstrated. I think our willingness to stand at the front of the class and walk down the aisles and directly speak to the children in English encouraged them to be less shy about using their English.

We also ensured everyone participated by directly going to some students who seemed a bit shy. After each student gave a correct answer, we led the class in applause after every answer was given so that all classmates felt that they were in this TOGETHER.

Soon…we had to leave! * tear * We took final pictures and thanked them in English for having us. We passed out the candy to all of them. Each of them said “thank you” to us in English and I would respond with a “You’re welcome.” Goodness, they were all so adorable! It was such a great time and the students literally look up to their teachers. It was definitely a different feeling… I remember I taught diversity to students in Taiwan and it was the same exact feeling. They look up to their teachers and have so much respect for them. That is just magnificent!

Part 3 of the day…
Last night, Suzhou University put together a Welcome Ceremony for the CLS, Hong Kong, and Ohio state exchange to China programs. We were asked to prepare performances that emphasized cultures in our countries. Well! At the beginning of this week, Hiram asked me if I would like to be his dancing partner for one of the performances. I snatched up the chance! I just LOVE dancing and thought a performance would be fun. Also, I have been looking for ways to enjoy dancing in China… (Another blog will outline the, uh, trials and errors that I went through trying to find a dancing place. Yes…I will refer to those bumps in the road as “trials and errors” and leave it at that for now.)

I have always wanted to learn how to do salsa/zumba dance. Hiram is Puerto Rican so he knew how to dance to Latin music. He had two days to teach and and practice with me. Three hours per day. It helped – significantly – that I have always enjoyed dance because I was able to catch on to the moves quickly. Helped that I already knew how to feel music. Below is the performance! I am looking for better footage and a recording of the ENTIRE dance…once I find it, I will switch out the videos. This video doesn’t do that dance justice! I think we hit the Chinese members in the audience with a WHOLE lot of culture at once. We did a Latin dance but I’m obviously not Latino. The looks of absolute surprise were amusing but after the performance, many of the Chinese students and directors congratulated us heartily on such a great performance. It was a good time!

Most of the CLS students immediately went to Shanghai so only a few of us were heading back to the hotel. Most of us just needed the sleep – including myself. These first two weeks have been truly a piece of work in terms of adjusting and just figuring out what works for me, in general.

Now, Part 4:
Some of you may be familiar with the Japanese show, Conan the Detective? Also, remember the Tom and Jerry Kids? I ended up staying up and watching late night episodes of both on Chinese television! How cool is that!? I was just sitting in my room laughing because I haven’t seen the Tom and Jerry kids since…since I was a kid!  You never forget that theme song though… All of this Chinese I have been hearing has helped me to improve my ability to listen. I am really good at character reading so the shows had captions and I was able to read what was being said in the shows. Last week, I bought Conan the Detective comics translated in Chinese.

All of that aside…A lot of people have been asking me, “How are you liking China?” I’m adjusting…and that is certainly a process. I keep thinking that my former professor, Dr. Singh, was not kidding about the value of being able to show that you can live in different environments. As I am not heavily traveled, this is definitely not easy for me.

I have up and down days. Sometimes the constant staring is exhausting. Other times, I don’t mind them. (Yes, I know that this is a largely homogenous society…knowing that doesn’t make the hyperawareness any less tiring.) Sometimes I do not know entirely how to deal with just being here in general…but I know that I will not be home until May 2015 – possibly longer considering how things move along in that time.

So, with that said, I need to figure out what makes me feel connected here…also a process, it seems. This program requires the sacrifice of personal time…depending on what you seek to take from it. Four hours of class a day and 4 to 6 hours of preparation for classes. Also, you have to go out into the community and practice your Chinese…about 50 hours a week in all. What I have learned in these two weeks? Don’t sacrifice sleep for anything…that is a rule that I implemented in college and it certainly applies here. As 李老师 told me, “Don’t be so fragile” and “Sleep is essential to memory to learn Chinese.” Sounds like 101 info but it sure isn’t when you’ve been taken right out of your element and are just standing there wide-eyed.

Right now, more than ever, I appreciate being able to connect with my friends and family when I need it. Makes me very grateful that I took the time to get to know all of the wise people that I did while in college. They’ve been my backbone! :-) Haven’t contacted everyone but it is a great feeling knowing that I can any time that I needed to. The only people I need to talk to are those who understand how Shirley operates…haha, I know some of them are thinking, “Yup…she’s definitely going to learn some patience.” Haha! Yeah…so I see… I seem to learn the best when things are forced on me. 加油!My goal at the end of the day…is to recognize that I need to be patient but to make it a mindful adjustment to China’s culture so that I am not wasting valuable time.

Some people might advise… “There is no way that you can finish everything…” etc etc. I am not too concerned with what it makes me look like that I 100% believe that I NEED to figure out a way to balance intensive amounts of work. Every bit of this is supposed to improve my Chinese…I will work the entire two months to figure that out if I have to. I will continue to ask questions to gain as much understanding of what I need to specifically focus on to use my time wisely SO THAT my Chinese improves.

I’m here because I knew I was going to have to make some sacrifices…I don’t believe success comes with a foundation of half assing  (to put it bluntly) your work….of kinda sorta getting what is kinda sorta going on in class. I am going to an extremely intensive program after this… I better figure out how to balance this workload. I intentionally put myself through the shredder in order to learn this language. As I was told…there are people who know Chinese and then there are those who master Chinese. I intend to be in the latter category.

So let the struggle continue.

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.