I decided to come to the United States for high school by myself at the age of 14. Little did I know how much impact that seemingly exciting decision would have on me, and more importantly, my Chinese identity.
Being proud of having yellow skin, black hair and eyes, honoring the efforts of those who defended our home country and founded the great republic, celebrating the traditional holidays - these are the things that I remembered about being Chinese, or let’s say how I was taught to be Chinese through my eight years of formal Chinese education. Yet for the past six years, I live most of my days without feeling any of the pride that I was supposed to have.
Looking at my days in my elite boarding school in New England, I realized that I was intentionally and unintentionally re-constructing myself. I would always introduce myself as Hans rather than Yuxin, my legal Chinese first name. It was partially to spare the troubles for people to pronounce a name that they have never seen but it was also to make myself feel more American. I felt so self-conscious about my English at the beginning of high school so I would even avoid speaking Chinese for days. And for the holidays that I was always excited to celebrate, I would just forget about them because they often occurred in the midst of the American academic calendar.
What I struggled the most with was talking about Chinese politics with my peers. At home, politics was not something that you would discuss with your family and friends over dinner table. However, as China has developed fast in the past few years, U.S. mainstream media started antagonizing China more. I often get questions like: “what’s the smog like there?” “what do you think of Tibet?” Overwhelmed, I started feeling more and more disappointed at China, and even ashamed of being Chinese. All the sudden, my nationality and ethnicity became censorship, communism, and authoritarianism. I started to question if all I learned about my country was false. How do I feel proud about being Chinese when I learned so much about what I did not have access to?
I turned to my family and my friends back home for some comforting. My mother would be understanding when I shared with her about my questions regarding Chinese policies, such as the ethnic minority policies in Inner Mongolia in relation to the efforts there to prevent further grassland degradation. However, I’ve also faced hardship in these conversations back home. When I was trying to bring up what happened in Tiananmen Square in 1989, my family friend instantly started yelling at me for “forgetting my roots.” But where are my roots when I cannot even have discussions about my country’s government?
Recently, I’ve found to a way to cope with my uncertainties; I started to break down my baggages of being Chinese into culture and politics, and I started embracing my Chinese identities with speaking my language more often, celebrating more of the traditional holidays, and drinking more tea from home. Regarding Chinese politics, I would be critical of them while also acknowledging the limitations of ruling such a huge population with only one political party. I began to gain that sense of pride again for having come from a culture that had such long history and traditions. More importantly, I have found my space at Pomona, ISMP, to share my struggles and to continue to construct my identity.
-Hans Yuxin Zhou '20
-Ji Min's dog
Cw: depression/anxiety, leave of absence
On an average day in November, 2017, I laid in bed, thinking about how I was feeling, and realized I needed to address my crippling depression and anxiety. I’d always noticed that both disabilities had gotten more intense since I’d entered Pomona, but it was on this particular day that I knew I’d reached my breaking point. I needed to take time to heal, and I needed to do that now.
But for me to heal, I’d have to return home without finishing the semester. That meant all my work, tears and pain up until that point would have been for nothing.
I was filled with doubt and fear, and questions of that nature consumed me for days. Should I really go back home without finishing the semester? Would taking this leave really fix anything? What if everything returned to the way it was after my leave? And once I returned, all my Pomona friends would be juniors while I would be a sophomore, and they’d even graduate earlier than me. Would I be OK with being without my closest friends once they graduated?
Ultimately, I decided that I needed to prioritize my health above everything else, and thus, began the process to take a leave of absence. Once I completed the necessary documents, I returned home to Korea.
It was strange to be back in my home country with absolutely nothing planned for the entirety of my leave, other than to heal. Even with the goal “to heal,” I was lost, especially because the idea of “healing” was foreign to me. I’d always thought that time would “heal” or “fix” all of my problems, including depression and anxiety. But clearly, that had not worked
I felt awkward spending free time I’d never had before doing nothing. I was overwhelmed by the amount of time that I had on my hands, and often felt like I was wasting my life doing nothing “of importance” or “of significance.” But over time, I started to do things I enjoyed more periodically. Every morning, I woke up without a set plan for the rest of the day. After breakfast, I’d workout for a couple hours. On most weekdays, I’d take my dog out for walks in the chilly fall afternoons. Twice a week, I’d meet with my therapist for an hour. I’d cook for myself. I’d read books that had collected dust over the years, books that I’d promised I’d finish but never did. I wrote more than I ever did my entire high school career. I started a new hobby: post crossing.
I learned what I liked and what I didn’t like.
And I learned more about myself in those nine months than I did in the last four years in high school.
That was when I started to question what exactly I thought was “of importance” and “of significance,” because it very much was not my mental health, nor was it my happiness. With the help of my therapist, I came to realize that I had always prioritized my academic success over everything, including my mental and physical health.
But now I wanted to prioritize myself. I’d finally had a taste of happiness that stemmed from within, and I wanted to continue being happy. So (again) with the help of my therapist and much effort on my part, I learned how to love myself a little more than I had in the past.
After nine months, I began to want to return to Pomona College.
And that’s how I’ve ended up here again. And though the semester has started with as much difficulty as I’d predicted, I find it so much easier to manage than before. I have a loving group of friends who are always ready to support me. I enjoy all of the classes I’m taking; I look forward to every single one of my classes. I’m happy to be back. I’m excited for what is to come.
And I’m glad I took that leave of absence.
-Ji Min Hwang '21
Having attended international school in Germany, where summer vacations were significantly longer than the ones at German schools, I was always used to the idea that summer break was a time period that was long enough for me to pursue projects wholeheartedly that I otherwise could not have done. Therefore, as soon as I found out that summer break as a college student is even longer (basically 3 months!!!) I started to consider all the possible ways I could spend the summer productively.
A part of me felt extremely pressured to look into internship positions that will transform my resume and prove to my future employers that I am a legitimate and work centered individual, because this is what seemed to be the “usual” and “normal” thing to do. Due to this, I forcefully looked into any available internship positions for finance firms and investment firms to validate my Economics major and be one step closer to owning a resume that will help me excel after I graduate college. Of course, while doing this I ran into the “typical” hurdles that international students tend to face of deciding whether or not to stay in America or find something in my home country or where my family resides.
In the beginning of the second semester I was determined to find something in America, because it seemed, on first glance, easier as I feel more comfortable working in an English-speaking environment. Additionally, I felt that the college itself prepared myself more for internship positions in America by making resources available that were US centric.
While all of this seemed pretty straight forward, as I continued the process of searching for ways to spend the summer, I stumbled upon questions such as “Where will I’ll be staying during my internship?” “Who can I contact in a case of emergency considering none of my family members or close family friends live in America?”. While logistical questions like these arose I also was faced with restrictions due to my visa status and was unable to even apply for a handful of internship positions that I thought were intriguing, because I don’t have US citizenship.
As the second semester progressed, I started to realize that I was beginning to become homesick and was unsure about the idea of spending the entire summer apart from my family, taking into consideration that this would mean that I will not see them for an additional half year. I was missing home and my family immensely and made the decision to prioritize my mental and emotional well-being and looked into any positions in Tokyo where my family lives. Sadly, most of the positions were no longer accepting applications and the choices were extremely limited considering my lack of work experience in Japan.
While I was actively searching for any opportunities and ways in which I could spend the summer, in the last week of classes I received an email from the German language resident offering a research assistant position for a Professor at CMC for which I would translate texts from German to English. Her email highlighted that she planned the position to be roughly 8 weeks and she also strongly emphasized flexibility in location and time because she was willing to send me the texts per email and requested translations to be sent back in a document. I immediately reached out to the Professor and expressed my interest in working with her. After conducting a short informal interview, I was offered the position.
Even though, I never fully considered or even could have imagined spending my summer as a research assistant, dedicating my time to something outside of Economics, I still learnt more than I had to offer. Not only was I able to work on my translation skills, but I was also able to discover my personal strengths and accordingly my weaknesses, because of the frequent feedback that I received.
Reflecting back on my first summer, I feel that I spent it efficiently and effectively, paying close attention to my emotional well-being. Even though I find myself thinking that I didn’t do anything as “impressive” as my peers, I try to acknowledge the personal and emotional growth that occurred during my 3 months break.
- Tami Sacre PO '21,
ISMP community members will be posting blogs and other media regularly!