Today I want to briefly talk about my not so ordinary way of growing up.
Due to globalization, more and more teenagers are leaving home and studying abroad, not just your one semester or one year abroad, some teens study far away from their parents and home for a long extended period of time (we are talking five-plus years). And I am one of the later cases. Asia is known for its strong emphasis on schooling and the competitive education atmosphere (or excelling in exams, if I may). It’s been a trend during the past decades for Asian parents to send their children as young as 10 years old to the Western world to study under the belief that the education system in the West is simply “better”, and will give their children better opportunities and career choices in the future. Depending on the parents, some only feel confident to send their kids off to American/Western university at a legal appropriate age (18 years old) and some parents worried that their kids will fall behind so they sent their kids abroad right before they hit puberty. This most likely explained why my parents decided to send me away from home to Denver, Colorado at the age of 12 years old to live with a family I’ve never met before for the sole purpose of education.
I remembered crying nonstop on the way to the airport, on the plane, when we landed, and even when standing by the carousel, my tears just wouldn’t stop filling eyes and rolling down my cheeks. My mom chaperoned me the first time around and yet I was threatened to death. Looking back, I had no idea why I was crying so much, perhaps it was the fear of the unknown world, the strong nauseating fact that I wouldn’t see my parents for another six months.
Prior to moving to America by myself, I’ve always been super attached to my parents as a child and I would always made a scene when I get dropped off for summer camp or at the babysitter’s place. I MADE SURE people knew how much I dislike new surrounding, new things, and new faces. So the fact that my parents now wanted to send me super far away to a foreign country for a long extended period of time was just unacceptable. It was too much for my 12-year-old mind to understand, and I was crying out of anger and frustration. After all this decision was made mutually. My parents did have multiple discussions with me before making the decision of sending me away. My mom visited the Middle School and High school I will be entering a couple of summers ago to make sure (needless to say she loved it). I was thrown into an environment which was completely unfamiliar to me. The language barrier was brutal, but puberty was perhaps even worse. The first semester in an American middle school I gained a solid 10kg just from eating American lunch food by myself because I didn’t know how to speak to the other kids. I went from head to toe pink outfits with classic thick Asian bangs to a punk rock 2009 Avril Lavigne inspired princess. When I went back to Taiwan two summers later, my parents were in shock with the heavy smokey eyeliners and a transformative all-black wardrobe. But they let it slipped because she is American now and they do things differently there. And from that point on, my life is changed forever.
After a good four years of studying in the States, I’ve made multiple friends, my English definitely improved and I was able to gain more insight into what is it like to be a proper American teen. However, the feeling of insecurity and not having a sense of belonging was starting to eat me alive. I started to constantly disagree with my parents on a fundamental basis, I refused to oblige to the cultural expectations they tried to impose on me when I was back home for break. It was becoming a lot more difficult to live with my own family members in Taiwan because I am not used to all the house rules and how they functioned as a household. I was gradually feeling distant from my own family because they all knew the ins-and-outs, where things are but I was utterly clueless. The hardest part was they assumed I know EVERYTHING because I am biologically related to them, but I genuinely question if I belonged at all. When I finally adjusted myself to adapt to my own family, it’s time to say goodbye again – on to living with the family friends who I spent more time with during my teenage years than my own family members.
Over the years, I’ve stayed with so many families to a point where I’ve lost count. I’ve gone to a Greek Orthodox church, had multiple Russian dinners, attended graduation parties and fashion shows, tried Australian cuisine and of course, cheered on football games, all the while being the only Asian person in the room. I did it all before the age of 17 years old. Some people looked at my upbringing confused, and I just saw it as a form of training. I want to believe that there is a bigger picture in this journey: that ultimately my parents wanted to train me to become an independent, well-rounded, worldly woman who can handle herself in any situation. Although I don’t think I exactly turned out to be the person they wanted me to become, pretty confident to say that I have grown up to become a person with a global view.
Studying away from home has definitely broadened my worldview and expanded my capacity to absorb and adapt to new culture regardless of where I go in the world. I am currently studying in Europe (this is probably going to be yet another post I will write about in the future) and I did find myself more at ease the second time around. Nothing comes easy when you first go to a foreign country and live there. But we shouldn’t be afraid of the unknown, instead, we should embrace our fear and make the most out of it.