I moved to… Chicago, IL, United States.
Before that I lived in… Beijing, China.
The reason for moving here was… This might sound a little silly but while I was born and raised in China, I grew up breathing the Disney fantasies. When I was thirteen years old, I was lucky enough to have gone to Disney World and became a huge fan of High School Musical. I was amazed how drastically different high school experiences in the United States will be different from the rigid school structure and pressured education system in China, so I asked my parents the possibility of going to the States for high school.
So on my thirteenth birthday, when other Chinese girls wished for good grades, a new cell phone, a happy family, or even a boyfriend, I wished to go to high school in America. While the country is on the completely opposite side of the world, somehow I thought it was my second home. Before I knew it, I was in a boarding school in the suburb of Chicago.
If I were to describe my current city in one word, that would be… Diverse
The first thing a new expat needs to know when moving here is…Chicago is cold cold cold. It doesn’t matter if you are from the North-Est of China where everything practically freezes all year long or a typical four-season city like Beijing, the windy city never disappoints in bringing up the heavy snow and super strong wind. Good thing there’s always Hunter boots, fleeced leggings to help you still look pretty in the coldness.
The language issue (Do you speak the language? How long it took you learn it?)… I was required to learn English as a second language in China but the things they teach in the textbooks were very different from the day to day language I had to pick up in the States. Especially as a teenager, in order to communicate with the peers fluently, it was all about the slangs and references to pop culture. I was also a big fan of theater, so in order to get into school plays, I had to spend hours correcting my accent.
Since I moved here I stopped… Watching TV as much. I felt while understanding the language was challenging at first, understanding pop culture was a huge barrier between expats and local students especially when I came to the States as a teenager. How can you jump in a conversation about “Teen Moms” or “Jersey Shore” when you have no idea what teen pregnancy means or where Jersey is? While I was so used to laughing it off at jokes and references that I could not understand during conversations. It was really difficult to sit through a lunch conversation about Eminem and his music when I had absolutely no idea who he was.
Since I moved here the new thing I started doing is… Drinking milk, cold water and eating CHEESE. The minimum of diary product in Chinese food compared to American food was shocking to me. I used to be very against milk and cheese growing up, but they are everywhere in American foods and they eventually grew on me. Now drink milk at least once a day.
Some weird habits at the locals… Hair shaving. As weird, gross, and stupid it may sound to many Americans, Chinese girls do not shave their body hair as often or some of them NOT AT ALL. Many Chinese girls growing up don’t know that this is something that should be taken care of for beauty and comfort purposes, so being a teenage girl in high school, learning about these personal hygiene habits was fascinating to me.
My biggest cultural shock was… How certain people of my age view China and other parts of the world. I was surprised and shocked to learn that many of my American friends wondered if Chinese people still can only ride bikes to work or whether baby girls are murdered when they were born, etc.. It was very hard and sometimes sad for me to have to explain to them how Beijing is just as big and developed a city as Chicago is.
What I miss the most from home is… Definitely the food and the proximity of things. As an expat girl, I’m ALWAYS craving any type of Chinese cuisine, especially my grandma’s homemade recipes and any street small eats. I also missed the days when I could get to anywhere by subway and by feet even. Lastly, as weird as it sounds, I miss having a huge crowd of people around me all the time. The States can get a little too quiet sometimes.
I go home as often as… Twice a year on Christmas and summer breaks.
I keep in contact with my friends and family… Skype, phone (iMessage).
My favorite dish/local food is… Any Mexican food or breakfast food! I love skillet eggs haha.
My favorite places in town are… Evanston—a small college town with some of the most delicious restaurants.
I get around the city by… CTA train
Street fashion? Northface, Canada Goose, long black coat, skinny jeans/leggings, combat boots, scarves, ray ban sunglasses.
My view on people: Chicagoians are pretty down to earth, always willing to help, a lot more conservative and traditional compared to the people on the coasts. They always love to talk about their sports teams, the weather, and politics.
Being an expat (Have you ever felt that you are different just because you are an expatriate? If case, how so?): Less and less due to the large amount of international college students I am surrounded by, but yes sometimes being an expat in a big city can be scary since it can be dangerous when people can tell you are not from around the area in some neighborhoods.
The overlooked “culture shocks”: Well, reality hit me in the face as soon as I came to Chicago. Not only was the small boarding school in the suburb of Chicago nothing like High School Musical where everyone sings and dances and live happily ever after, I was overwhelmed with some of the biggest challenges being alone in a foreign country as a teenager.
Like every single high school student, I soon find myself dying to fit into the community. While the common culture shocks and barriers such as language and lifestyles can be hard to adopt, some other things might be just as difficult to adjust.
1. Popular Culture
When I first arrived in the States, I find interacting with students of my age a little more difficult than I thought since we shared a very different understanding and experience with popular culture. I find it difficult to jump into conversations about music, popular artists, movies, TV shows, and books that people have read, when my music, TV, and movies background is so different from the local kids. It took me a while to realize the fastest way to connect with young adults in the States is in fact talking about music and TV shows, gossiping about celebrities and making movie critics helped me to get closer with my friends. It was interesting to see how similar young adults in the U.S. and China are in the sense we both love talking about celebrities, reality TV shows, and referencing to popular novels, but it was difficult for me to adjust when I did not know about “Jersey Shores”, “American Next Top Models”, Eminem, Jay-Z, LMFAO, etc.
2. Sports’ obsession
Before coming to the States, I have heard about how excited people get about sports teams and how heated and spirited football games and baseball games can get among Americans, but I never understood that sports is a culture and a lifestyle.
As an extremely weak and petite medium height Chinese girl, I was terrified when I learned I had to participate in at least one team sport a year in order to graduate. When teachers told me students spend one to two hours a day to practice their sports instead of doing homework or watching TV, all I could think of was the deadly 800 meter time trial I had to do once a year for gym class in Beijing. I simply could not imagine having to exercise for longer than an hour except for grades.
3. Dating in high school
The dating culture among teenagers was also a big culture shock for me. As much as I have heard about how open parents and students are about being in relationships in high school or even middle school, I was still surprised to see teachers and parents being really casual about having young couples hanging around on campus, showing their affections kissing, and holding hands in public. I was so surprised when my history teacher walked into class and started asking and gossiping about the couples that are forming on campus, and it was super interesting to see faculties and adults participating in homecoming asking or helping students deliver gifts to their loved ones on Valentine’s Day. Whereas in China, dating is seen as a distraction to students and their schoolwork. While nowadays things are much more open in China, being in a relationship at a young age is still viewed as scandalous by many parents and adults. I was also surprised to see how open of a sex topic was brought up at school and in daily conversation. In China, talking about sex is somewhat less common and acceptable.
In 5 years, I see myself living in…United States.