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Life in America:
Perspectives of a Teenage Chinese Girl
Ni hao. My name is Angela Tianjiao Solomon. I was born in China and lived in China until I moved to America when I was fifteen years old. It was two years before I returned to China, and when I returned to China, it was as a visitor. I even had to get a visa in order to return to China, because I have an American passport now. This felt very strange to me, because China was always my home. I love China and missed China very much while I was away, but I learned a lot while living in America for two years.
One thing I learned is that people are people, no matter where they live. By that I mean that there are happy people and unhappy people, beautiful people and not so beautiful people, nice people and rude people, whether one is living in China or in America.
The city where I live in America is one of the most culturally diverse cities in America, so I have studied with classmates who came to America from other countries such as Korea, Vietnam, and Mexico. In my entire high school, though, there are currently no other students from China, or at least none who speak Chinese.
In my freshman year in high school, there was a Chinese girl in my school who was a senior, but she graduated and went to another city in America to attend college. In my sophomore year, a Chinese girl began attending my school, but she doesn’t speak Chinese, so we have little in common even though we each have a Chinese heritage.
If you think it would be strange to live all your life with Chinese people, speaking the Chinese language, and suddenly find yourself living with people from all over the world and speaking only English in school, you are correct. It was very strange for me, and it took some time for me to adjust to my new life in America.
It was bewildering and even a little bit terrifying for me when I first started attending school in America. The school that I attend has no ESL, or English as a second language, classes. This means that I had to study everything in English every day. It was very difficult for me at the beginning, but I learned more quickly than I had expected. They say that math and music are universal languages, and that may be true, but when a math problem is given in words rather than in numbers, I quickly learned that an English vocabulary is a necessity.
The same is true for studying music, especially in a marching band. Every Friday night in the fall, I went with the marching band to play music at my high school’s football games. I knew nothing about American football when I arrived in America, and I still know little about it, except I know that in the city where I live, all of the high school’s have a football team and the students seem to enjoy the games very much.
In my high school I was also required to take a class called physical education. In this class I had to learn to play sports like basketball and volleyball. This was a frustrating experience for me because I didn’t know the rules of the games and I didn’t know how to play them. My classmates seemed to know all about these games because they grew up watching them or playing them. Sometimes I felt like my classmates didn’t understand why I didn’t know how to play sports.
At first I felt like I knew less than anyone in my school about everything. Before long, though, some pretty amazing things happened. I discovered, and my teacher discovered, that I was better in algebra than my classmates. Because I worked hard every day, always doing my assigned homework and projects, my teachers began to respect my work ethic. I made excellent grades despite the language difference, and by the end of my freshman year I was ranked high in my class.
This pattern continued in my sophomore year, where I took honors classes in courses that are considered to be difficult. This included algebra II, geometry, and chemistry, and I was once again able to score higher than almost all of my classmates. What I learned was that I seemed to study harder than most of my classmates, and therefore I learned the subject matter very quickly. I also learned, though, that classes I had taken in China prepared me exceptionally well for studying in America.
I want to tell you a secret about one of the reasons I learned things so quickly in English. I had an advantage that my American classmates didn’t have, and my classmates from other countries also didn’t have my secret advantage. This advantage was my American father. My father is a lawyer, and he earned exceptionally good grades in college and law school. He knows how to study, and every night he helped me with my homework.
When I got discouraged, my father was there for me. When I was tired, he tried to give me energy. When I felt lost in some of my classes, he always tried to find a way to help me understand the subject matter. He became my tutor. He praised me when I did well and supported me when I didn’t do so well. I think if you come to America to study, you would be smart to also have a tutor until you become comfortable studying in English.
But there is more to think about than just learning subjects in school. There are many cultural differences between China and America, and that is what I want to talk about next. I am lucky because my family lives very near a large Chinatown. We are able to eat Chinese food in restaurants just like we could eat in China, and we are also able to buy all of our favorite Chinese vegetables and spices and other foods in Asian food markets. This helped me not to feel so homesick for China.
he state where I live in America is one of the largest states in the entire country. Most everyone has a car, and most everyone drives their car everywhere they want to go. There are large, nice, air conditioned busses, but very few people ride in them. In my city in America, people don’t walk outdoors very much the way we do in China. One reason for this is that everything is very spread out. Because there is a lot of land, most of the houses are just one or two story houses. There are many stores and many shopping centers, but they are very spread out around the city.
So people drive everywhere. When they arrive at their destination, many times they don’t get out of their cars. There are windows on the side of bank buildings where people can handle their banking needs while sitting in their car. They can also pick up their food from restaurants, or buy medicine from drug stores and pharmacies, while sitting in their car. They can even drop off and pick up their clothes at laundries or dry cleaners while sitting in their car.
When eating in restaurants in America, it isn’t necessary to sterilize or clean the dishes the way we did in China before eating from them. There are strict laws that require the dishes to be cleaned in very hot water each time they are used so that there is no concern about contamination or disease when using them. The water is also safe to drink wherever you go.
My home in America isn’t large by American standards, but it feels large to my mother and me because we are accustomed to living in China. We have a large refrigerator where we can store a lot of food. Our family has two cars, and we park them in a garage that is attached to our home. We open and close our garage door using a remote control, so we don’t have to get out of the car in the cold or the rain to open and close the door.
Sopping for clothes in America is interesting because almost everything is made in China. The same is true of many other things that are sold in America. Clothing is much more expensive in America than it is in China, but many things are less expensive than they are in China. This would include things like cars and electronics and designer bags and shoes.
Speaking of clothing, when I lived in China we washed our clothes in a machine. Then I hung them outside to dry the way others in our city dried their clothing. It was funny to see, because wherever you looked, all of the tall buildings where people lived would have clothing hanging off the balconies and out the windows. In America, we use a machine to dry our clothes. I quickly learned that if I wasn’t careful, the clothes would shrink because they would get too hot. Sometimes I still hang some of our clothes outside so that the sunshine can make them fresh again.
Living in America is also different because the people have access to information about everything. They can find anything they want to read about on the internet, and can watch anything on television. The newspapers and television stations and radio stations report everything in the news. People are free to express their opinions and views about everything without fear of repression or retaliation from the government.
I know there is another big difference in my life now, though I haven’t yet taken advantage of it. I am talking about my new American passport. I know from what my father has told me and from what I have read that I can travel pretty much anywhere in the world with my American passport. I couldn’t do that with my Chinese passport. My American passport gives me a great sense of freedom, as does living in America.
Today I have former classmates from China living in other countries from Canada to Australia, and of course some of them also live in the United States. As far as I know, though, I am the only one who has become an American citizen. There is a law that my father knows about, and he knew that the instant he adopted me that I would become an American citizen. I didn’t have to go through the naturalization process to become a citizen, he told me, because of the Child Citizenship Act of 2000. All that he had to do was send in proof of my adoption, and I was issued a Certificate of Citizenship and a U.S. Passport. Thanks Dad!
I am working hard in high school because I want to go to a good college in America. What I hope to do is earn a degree in accounting and then go to law school. This way I believe I will always be able to have a good career and live a comfortable life. I may even be able to study abroad for a year at the University of Beijing, which is the best college in China. I bet that will feel really strange, returning to what was my home country as an international student.
This paper is part of the cross-cultural promotion that I am developing for the summer of 2010. I will use it in meetings with my former classmates and friends in China as I tell them about my life in America. I hope it will help build good will between the people in two countries that I love: The United States of America and The Peoples Republic of China.
©2010 Angela Tianjiao Solomon Published on this site with permission of the author.