Coming home to America was not like jumping back on the proverbial bicycle. Personal culture ranges from family to family and person to person and my personal culture has been officially altered in a significant way. China’s culture has enough stark differences that I was able to come closer to understanding what it really meant to be an American or a Chinese.
Even the similarities provided insight, such as living in a country where the children are taught they are “number one” in the world. There are very few places where something like this is taught to the rising generations and China is definitely becoming one of these countries.
Now that I am back in States, I realize I am different from a lot of Americans. It can be lonely at times when the way you understand the world make zero sense to the people around you. For example, trying to understand what the motivating factors are behind the Chinese government’s more despicable actions is a very uncomfortable thought to Americans who would rather just condemn the actions and express their disgust. Many just think you are trying to defend those actions rather than understand them better. Sometimes, my experience has made me less of an expert and more of a person with a questionable character in the eyes of these Americans.
Freedom has become a topic I don’t just associate with America. Chinese citizens in the metro areas are much more free than I ever thought possible (I have no experience outside of the metro areas, so I can’t speak for the rest of the country). They eat where they want to eat, wear what they want to wear, talk bad about their government, spit, drink, smoke, swear, go to church, dance, go clubbing, sing (a lot), excercise, work, quit, divorce, marry, have sex with multiple partners, and so many things that we are free to do as well.
I realized when the government punishes someone for speaking out against them, it is the tip of an iceberg of criticism they have been receiving all over the nation. Every single Chinese person I spoke with about the government, expressed some level of discontent over certain government actions or policies.
In fact, many times they were free to say things I felt culturally bound from saying. My boss asked me how I thought my religion would help me do my job. He asked me to explain my religion to him, which lasted about a half hour. This same boss asked me how old I was, if I put my family first, how many children I have, my weight, what I paid in rent, and many other personal things that really may have had nothing to do with my performance on the job.
In the United States, we have a wonderful constitution that guarantees our rights will stay around, but we have a myriad of laws that keep us from saying or doing a lot of things (and in many cases I would agree with those laws, but sometimes they are a bit cumbersome).
China, on the other hand, is not the same. You have no guarantee that your rights will continue, but you don’t have as many little laws blocking you from practicing that freedom, however long you may have it in your grasp.
So, when I come back home to America and they say welcome back to the land of the free, but don’t say this around me or that around her and don’t talk about these topics because they make me feel bad about my country, it ironically doesn’t feel like you are coming home to the land of the free.
Don’t get me wrong. I still love America and believe it is a great and wonderful country worth defending to the death, but that doesn’t mean we have a corner on freedom. And it doesn’t mean that America’s understanding of the world is the final truth.
I also believe we have come to a realization that freedom many not be the most important factor. For the United States, it is about the constitution protecting the collective’s rights, the politician getting his votes, people casting their votes, and companies lobbying their agendas. For the Chinese, it is about personal relationships, social stability, and power.
I am truly grateful to all of my friends on both sides of the ocean who have willingly shared their lives with me and allowed me to do the same. I now feel more like a global citizen than I ever thought possible. We are more the same than we realize.
Therefore, I recommend everyone find a way to experience another culture if possible.
1. Learn a language.
2. Live abroad.
3. Make friends with people from around the world.
Culture is not like riding a bicycle. It is always growing into something new.
Your thoughts? What analogy would you use?