International Perspective: Chinese teaching assistant embraces the freedom to be herself in the U.S.

Photo courtesy of the Grizzly Staff

Kai Jin

Several days ago, my sister sent me a newly-shot video made by one of her friends who is studying in the United States. In the video, a street performer was passionately playing his electric guitar. Apparently attracted by the music, a passerby strode in front of the performer and began to head bang with the beat, making guitar gestures at the same time, as if he were accompanying the latter. My sister commented that it was a little bit awkward and weird.

She has studied in Turkey for several months and Canada for half a year, yet with that international background, she still cannot embrace other people’s enthusiasm. I said to her that in the United States, it would be awkward if you didn’t dance to the music. Then she asked me, “Would you do the same things as Americans in order to not be considered a weirdo?”

I admitted I would rather be thought as a weirdo than dance in public. She replied, “If you really do not mind being called a weirdo, why did you stop using your umbrella to block sunlight in America?” I was like, “Well, yeah… that’s a good question.”

It was a hot summer when I first came to the United States. I went out to the grocery store, holding my umbrella to screen sunshine as many women do in China. It is quite common in my country to see people carrying umbrellas on a hot summer day to provide shade, keep their body cool and block direct sunlight that may damage the skin. Some even use umbrellas when they are riding their bicycles or scooters, although it’s dangerous. But when I walked around using my umbrella in the United States, I found I was the only one to do so and sometimes I would get curious stares. So I decided that when in Rome, do as the Romans do, though that meant I had to endure the scorching heat in summer and get naturally suntanned skin.

But the umbrella is no longer a dilemma for me now, not because fall has arrived driving away summer heat, but because I am no longer afraid to carry my umbrella in the sun and be looked at as a weirdo.

My experience in the past few months has demonstrated how people are constantly pursuing freedom in the U.S. When they are happy and enthusiastic, they show it, naturally, whether it is dancing to the music or standing to applaud the wonderful performances at the end of plays. They are brave enough to be themselves, wear whatever they want and choose whatever classes they are interested in. I think it is a good thing, as long as it does not hurt anyone.

This freedom is also embodied in the classroom. Students feel comfortable asking questions and airing their views in seminar classes. In this free atmosphere, the equal relationship between teacher and students promotes communication and benefits both sides a lot. I have talked with some senior students who are learning Chinese and found that each and every one of them has his or her own life direction. Some want to do business in China; student wants to be a psychologist said she learns Chinese in order to understand Chinese patients better and thus provide them with better help; another student has been dreaming of becoming a doctor since she was very little. They all love learning and love life.

This freedom is also one of the goals of Taoism, a classical Chinese philosophical system founded by philosopher Zhuangzi around the sixth century B.C. The difference lies in that the American freedom tries to break the outside constraints for individuals, while the freedom advocated by Taoism emphasizes an individual’s inner or psychological improvement to be in harmony with the outer environment find more information. Yet both of them have the same goal—to make individuals truly be themselves and find happiness and their own meanings in life. And I have to say that in the free and tolerant environment in America, it is easier to practice Taoism’s psychological adjustment. Next summer, I will not hesitate to carry my umbrella. You are welcome to join me.

Kai Jin is from China and she is now a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant at Ursinus College. She is interested in education, especially language teaching.  

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