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Embracing Diversity

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Five moves, four countries, three continents, two states, but one culture. There you have it 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. I am constantly being pushed outside of my comfort zone, and forced to experience the world around me. The summer of my third birthday, I moved away from my home state of Michigan. The first decade of my life sped by with two years of British prep school, two years of German festivities, and three years of country music in Tennessee. When I was ten years old I tackled my first big city. Shanghai, China: population of approximately 20 million, economic super power, home to 45 thousand taxis (including their crazy drivers),

and the city where I grew up. While many westerners in Shanghai shield themselves from the different, and often times strange culture, I learned to embrace it. Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t eat dog or feng shui my room, but I combined my lifestyle with the local customs around me to create a specific culture of my own that made me feel content.

My mother and I squeezed out of a taxi and maneuvered our way to the door of the department store. It was my second week living in China. My glasses fogged up as I stepped into the typical steamy summer day. As I glanced around the streets, the hectic city was in constant motion. My mother grabbed my hand and dragged me through the crowd. I could feel the stares. People gaped at my long blonde hair and blue eyes. I clung tightly my mother’s arm and felt threatened as if someone were invading my space. As we stepped into the store, a woman tugged my hair and began stroking it. I promptly turned my head around and let out a high pitched squeal. Alarmed, the lady began laughing. I was uptight and judgmental of the new culture I was experiencing. Five years later, an almost identical experience happened, but I was no longer the victim. My friends and I had just arrived in a rural area of northern China for a school trip. We were outside enjoying our bubble tea when we noticed an adorable Chinese toddler. She couldn’t have been more than three years old. Her jet black hair was tied into two buns on the sides of her round head. As we approached the child, her eyes widened with fear. She looked over at her father and burst into tears. It became immediately apparent that this was her first encounter with a Caucasian. Between breaths she told her father how strange I looked, all in Mandarin, which I could now completely understand. Although slightly surprised, I held back my laughs, apologized for frightening her and walked away.

Learning to respect other countries’ traditions and culture is crucial to truly understanding their way of life. My ignorance as a ten year old during the first summer I lived in Shanghai is evident. I was not prepared to be such an obvious outsider due to my race and nationality. Unlike Europe, where I was able to physically blend in, I could no longer hide my nationality in China. As I grew older, I learned the importance of recognizing cultural barriers and breaking them through intermingling ideas and lifestyles. Through learning the language, eating the food, meeting new people and being open to foreign beliefs, I developed my own unique culture. I realize the significance diversity has played in my life, and what I have to offer the world is far more than the culture of my home country. England taught me to respect my elders and not to whine about the small things. Germany exposed me to an international community. Tennessee taught me the importance of good faith and strong morals. China taught me the most important lesson of all, how to be a minority.





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