Born in a small town in central China, I have been traveling as long as I could remember.
Since my father and my mother came from different parts of China, I always found myself sharing a seat with my mother on trains and buses going to different parts of my extended family.
It was then I started learning cultures from other places. As a kid I learned 5 dialects and I was always interested in learning new behaviors from people around me.
My first overseas trip was coming to United States.
I was 12 back then. On Valentine’s Day of 1997, I stepped into a fresh Boeing Jumbo Jet (747) from Beijing to San Francisco (20 years later I had returned to the exactly same plane, only it was on its last months of service).
I still remember how scared I was when the plane lifted us a couple thousands meters up. Arriving in San Francisco, a sea of Valentine flowers welcomed us at the airport.
What is it like in America? Is everything really going to be better? I remember our clueless looks when my dad picked us up at the Dallas airport, and how I thought that coming to America would answer all the questions I had about the other world that I never knew.
Actually, moving to America was a lot more difficult than I had imagined.
It was a dream no more.
At first, kids were discriminatory towards me – especially those that actually spoke Chinese (ironic, right?). Unfortunately, I only spoke Chinese at the time, so I spent a very lonely first year and half in English As Second Language (ESOL) program.
I complained so much that we thought about moving back to China.
Eventually my parents wrote a note to school and they transferred me out of the “handicap” program and into another school.
This adjustment actually improved my everyday life dramatically. I actually learned English much faster when studying with regular students.
From then, I also started to appreciating the challenges – challenge is opportunity.
Gradually, I enjoyed studying and researching complicated processes and solving long-winded problems. With the help of inspiring teachers and counselors, I made into the honors program in just a year. A few years later, I graduated top 3% from a competitive high school.
Years later mom would ask me if moving to the U.S. is still a good decision for me.
“Yes,” I said, reminiscent of the past, “The world is such a big place. If you don’t take me here, I will eventually find my way here, because learning about other people and places fulfills my life.”