Postcards from China Blog #5: China Study Abroad Bridges the Gap Between Cultures – Asbury University
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Postcards from China Blog #5: China Study Abroad Bridges the Gap Between Cultures

September 20, 2018

by Grace Carlson (visiting student from Wheaton College)

Did you know — students from other colleges and universities are invited to apply for Asbury University’s study abroad programs? Learn more.

Since arriving in China with Asbury University’s China Study Abroad program, I’ve gotten a lot of questions. When I sit around a crowded table of curious Chinese English learners at a local coffee shop, many are surprised to learn that I am American. “Why do you look Chinese?” is the first question I am usually greeted with, quickly followed by the question, “are you an American-born Chinese?” I quickly pull out my phone to show them a picture of my American parents and explain for the umpteenth time that I was adopted from Anhui, China at the young age of one.

Being here with Asbury has allowed me the unique opportunity to confront these questions myself and grow stronger in my identity in Christ.

I have always felt tension in America being adopted from China, but not raised in an Asian home. My parents were very supportive of my curiosity regarding my Chinese origin, but they could never supplement the nuances and experiences of the Asian American family. I struggled with not falling into one category: Chinese or American. I was either too Chinese to be American or too American to be Chinese. I was the friendly neighborhood “banana,” a term I do not hold dear to my heart. In coming to China, I was hoping to bridge the gap between two very different cultures.

Since the beginning of our Chinese culture lectures with our extremely wise and knowledgeable teacher, Anne, I’ve begun to understand so much more about Chinese culture than I thought possible. Some of our lectures have covered collective thought, the idea of “saving face” and complex Confucian societal structures – all which heavily influence Chinese culture.

Knowing about both cultures is one thing, but how do you live between them?

Some of my biggest anxieties about coming to China are realized every day, but I’m glad for the chance to confront them head on. I fear having to explain my own existence, a common situation I experience in the States. I just want to feel “normal” for once. While I am in America, I am seen as a Chinese person but understood to be American. Here in Xi’an I live in the comfort of blending in with the majority. However, the second I open my mouth, I’m exposed as a foreigner. So, what culture do I try to “fit in to” here in China? Do I conform or cling to the security of my American peers?

Can I not be both?

In trying to find a healthy balance between my two worlds, I’ve had to face my inability to be both fully Asian and fully American. The fear of making mistakes in either culture has left me constantly second guessing myself. Feeling lost with the few people who could ever speak into the experiences I’ve had, I relied on my own strength and understanding to navigate the world.

Now, I am relieving my burden to God and learning from the experiences and teachings I am receiving here in Xi’an. But, the most important lesson I’ve been learning in China is how to be more confident in who I am right now. Knowing that I am the beloved of God and perfectly made in His image, has been the hardest thing for me to accept since a young age. But now, through my experiences in Xi’an, He has been helping me see myself through His eyes.

Straddling two very different worlds is still new to me, but I am more determined than ever to marry the two into one loud, powerful, glorious Asian American: me. I’m thankful for the opportunity to take part in Asbury’s China Study Abroad program and to have the space and time to merge these two identities into one.