My semester abroad has transformed me to be proud of who I am. I learned more about my cultural assumptions and learned ways to gracefully navigate cultural differences. My personal connections and experiences in London taught me the importance of cultural awareness and ways to be inclusive. These are all essential tools I can keep in my back pocket.
As a first-generation Asian American, I grew up feeling “othered,” but I learned to assimilate to Western culture. This made me want to be part of the popular culture more than anything, so I shut out learning about other cultures; sad but true. Through college and study abroad, I observed how people embraced their culture and heritage without fear. I learned that I can be part of any culture, identify in any way, and still find people I can relate to. I can still find the sense of belonging I yearned for as a child even if I embrace who I truly am.
London has taught me to celebrate my culture, just like the Windrush generation and the Indian/Bengali communities did when they migrated here. They stuck to their roots and some even learned the balance of hybridity even when facing racism. The immigration history and stories I learned while abroad reminded me of my family’s story when they left Vietnam to move to the United States. That could explain why my mother is the way she is. Although I thought she was “too Asian” to live in the United States and should assimilate their culture, I realized she was holding on to her culture and did not allow Western culture to “whitewash” her. I learned the importance of celebrating and being proud of my Vietnamese heritage.
Through my internship, I learned to ask questions about other people’s cultures; having these conversations is the best way to learn. At a team lunch with my colleagues, we had a discussion on culture, and each person identified with a different ethnicity. I learned about Jenny’s Scottish culture when she shared the connection to her tartan pants, and I also listened to stories of Spanish and Danish culture. However, it is also important to keep in mind that one person’s cultural experiences do not represent an entire group of people.
My friend, Hannah, and I also had a riveting conversation about diversity and inclusivity in London compared to the environment back on campus. We shared stories of our ignorant pasts and how we did not realize the oppression that minorities face. Then, we shared how we transformed as we got older. We felt the need to learn more in order to promote inclusivity everywhere we go. We mentioned how important it is to have an open mind when learning about different cultures. We also discussed how we need to approach people from different cultures with open arms instead of waiting for them to come to us. This was our way of promoting communication between other cultures.
I am excited to bring back with me all that I learned in order to create a sense of community in my hometown, on campus, and in my future workplace. I am also ready to share my experiences to encourage others to want to learn more just as well. Study abroad has been everything I wished for and more. My one wish is that the United States one day becomes more inclusive in spite of political and social divides.