Defining Me This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

January 27, 2008
Three months before I left the U.S. for a one-year visit in China, I thought about leaving my friends, my house, my pet, my team – my everything. I thought about being in a country where people would call me by my real name, Yiwen, the name I was embarrassed to be called in the U.S. (I would quickly say, “I go by Rena”). But, despite my fears, I looked forward to this adventure.

Three months later, sitting in the classroom of a school in Shenzhen, I realized my biggest challenge was not getting over the grief of leaving, but adjusting to this country – my native country. I had not wondered whether I would fit in here; I had grown up speaking Chinese with my parents and was always exposed to the traditions of our culture. But as I sat amidst Chinese students, I was overcome by a strange emotion that I did not recognize at first. It was cloaked by my high expectations. I felt that I didn’t belong.

I spoke the language fluently and celebrated most Chinese holidays. But as I tried to think of something clever to say to my classmates, I could not help but feel a barrier. I spent lonely weeks feeling I lacked an iden­tity. I touched my Chinese passport for support, like it would somehow give me a sense of belonging. I felt like Tom Hanks’ character in “The Terminal,” without a homeland and without a definition of “me.” Am I American or am I Chinese? Or am I both? As I looked into the mirror, searching for myself, I realized that the only person who can find and identify me is me.

So I started with the most basic element of Chinese culture: pop culture. I listened to Chinese music, watched Chinese TV shows, read magazines, and rented movies. Then I moved on to the politics and important aspects of the economy. And I realized that many elements of the culture are woven together just like in other countries. The politics ­influence the economy, the economy influences pop culture, and so on.

Slowly, I got the hang of it. It became easier to approach others. When I communicated with my peers, I understood more about the culture I was trying to grasp. Through this process, I made some strong friendships. But most importantly, I learned that I do not need a country to define who I am. I am not just Chinese or American: I am a bit of both – and more.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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This article has 6 comments. Post your own now!

Asianflowers said...
Jun. 2, 2010 at 1:21 am
Wow! It's really cool you got to do that! I'm the exact same way!! This was an Amazing article!!
jamaicanprincess said...
Feb. 12, 2010 at 1:58 pm
i like it and can relate to it
my parents are Jamaican and when I'm around Americans I'm 'Jamaican' or if hang with Jamaicans I'm labeled 'American'
its really good to know your identity as a 1st generation American
Lana R. said...
Jul. 7, 2009 at 4:30 am
wonderfully written and perfectly concise.
pinksage33 said...
Jul. 3, 2009 at 4:45 am
This is AMAZING!!!
Kim N. said...
Jun. 5, 2009 at 4:20 am
I love it I can relate to this on so many different levels.
Maxine R. said...
May 31, 2009 at 7:08 pm
Love it! Your article is right on point. I can relate to this.
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