Comments Off on 10 Things No-one Tells You About Studying in Australia: The South East Asian Version
Being an international student in Australia is great: quality education, lovely nature and people, and amazing experiences. But there are some things that only international kids will understand about studying in the land down under.
ONE: You never realised how much you would be willing to pay for food from home.
Have I paid $10 for some Hainanese Chicken Rice that costs $2 AUD back home? Yes. Am I proud of it? Debatable.
TWO: You’ll never take one hour travel times to another country for granted again.
Travelling one hour back home could’ve gotten me from Malaysia to Singapore, while the same amount of time here wouldn’t even get me out of the ACT.
THREE: Having to have more than just T-shirts and shorts in your wardrobe.
Seasons back home were pretty much hot and wet, and suddenly now you have to deal with cold? Hello sweaters and cardigans.
FOUR: Trying to talk to Australians and learning their slang.
Oh yeah mate, we’ll just head down to the local maccas and have a squiz, if you’re keen for anything we can grab a bite.
FIVE: Spotting an accent from home in 0.1 seconds
You know how dogs can smell treats from a mile away? Yeah, that’s like you with accents from home. Walao eh, bro.
SIX: Getting unreasonably annoyed at Asian-sounding dishes that aren’t actually real.
Okay but has anyone actually figured out what exactly are ‘Singapore Noodles’?
SEVEN: Having to get used to how big Australian birds are.
Why are magpies and crows so big? They make the sparrows and quails back home look miniature.
EIGHT: Getting homesick not just for your family and friends, but for food too.
Don’t get me wrong, I miss my parents dearly, but also, nasi lemak, roti telur, kolo mee, cendol…
NINE: Meeting people from all around the world.
The people back home are already super diverse, but here you’re meeting people from France, America, Mongolia and so many other countries. And the best part is, you can all bond over that international kid lifestyle.
TEN: Bonding with other international kids about the struggles of missing home and living overseas.
Who else is going to understand the struggle of finding flights home and how much you miss visiting the Kopitiam? Not only do they understand your struggles, they also help make this strange place a little more like home.
Comments Off on An International View of The Bachelor of Western Civilization
A few days ago, I went to a 24/7 convenience store near the City Bus Station. I was strolling around the aisles when my attention was caught by the recent edition of Quadrant in the magazines section. Particularly attention-grabbing was an article written by former prime minister Tony Abbott about the Ramsay Centre of Western Civilization. I was aware of the recent furor surrounding the Centre and its proposed collaboration with the ANU to create a ‘Bachelor of Western Civilization’ degree. Intrigued, I went over and gave it a quick read: Abbott went through the rationale behind the centre and the life of its namesake, Paul Ramsay.
Personally, I find no fault in theoretical foundation and structure of the plan. A degree focused on Western Civilization that would, according to Abbott, be studying how the West coped with the biggest challenges of humanity would certainly have something to offer academically. Abbott said that the pedagogy would be based on the style of teaching of Oxford and Cambridge. This is not a bad idea. Nor did I find it particularly jarring that the Center would provide scholarships for both undergraduate and postgraduate students for the purpose of the study of Western Civilization. This would provide economically disadvantaged individuals with access to higher education, which is almost universally recognized as a good.
However, I find particularly the rationale behind the degree itself puzzling. What I understood from the article was that Western civilization is an intrinsically valuable concept and that many people would love to live in it. But a lot of young people are turning away from this and therefore it needs advocacy if it is to survive. This degree is part of the Center’s efforts to do just that. Now, I agree that Western Civilization and way of life is valuable. Indeed, one of the reasons I chose to study in Australia aside to gain a better education was to gain an understanding of what it is like to live in a Western society. Now, after almost 1.5 years, I am a firm supporter.
The very notion that Western civilization in Australia is somehow under threat of abandonment and in a way dying confound me. I certainly do not find it so. Call it an outsider’s perspective or anything you like, but I find that Western civilization permeates almost every fibre of Australia and that it is indeed alive and well. It lives in the political institutions and safeguards of Australia’s democracy. It lives in the academic culture of the university, with its emphasis of rational thought and empirical pedagogy. It lives through the courts, and the principles of rule of law. It lives in the media and the poor, often abused concept of free speech. It lives through civil society actors and the ‘thousand points of light’ that are charities. It lives through the now universal concept of human rights. I haven’t even begun to mention the way it lives through popular culture. Any degree that holds as its basic rationale an advocacy of Western civilization is, I think, superfluous.
There is also a risk that the degree is run according to the same academic standards and enjoy the same academic independence as the rest of the undergraduate offering. If this risk eventuates, the degree could be subpar, not nuanced, and not in good faith. It would also be uncritical. Emphasizing critical thinking was supposed to be one of the West’s strong suit. Any degree which aims to promote Western Civilization by uncritically affirming it is paradoxical.
This is not to say that we should not have the degree at all, mind you. Reasonable minds might differ and I find it a good idea to have an equivalent degree to Bachelor of Asian Studies for any international students who are interested in studying Western Civilization. This is probably not the primary intention of the centre in creating the degree. But I believe if academic quality, independence, nuance are guaranteed and that the degree is conducted in good faith, it can be a force to foster a deeper understanding across cultural lines. It might also increase the option available for international students if they wanted an education in the humanities. The concept of a quality Oxbridge-like degree closer to the region could indeed appeal to future Asian students who may not have the chance to go to the UK.
Comments Off on An Increasing Demand for Cheap and Quality Food at University
As full-time university students, we spend most of our time at university, Monday to Friday, eight to five. Being a student like you and me is not easy. We face formidable challenges with respect to the food in university – especially on its price, quality, variety and so forth.
The Pop-up village was built last year to replace Union Court. Since the establishment of the Pop-up, it has experienced much controversies in particular on the food sector. Google reviews have given the Pop-up village a rather low average rating of 3.6 stars with most of the negative comments centered on food. Most complaints highlight that the food is too pricey, with few options, and of fairly low quality. This issue becomes more logical with a more thorough and careful consideration of the matrix of reasons that have contributed to this problem.
The chief culprit, and biggest contributor to the problem, is the lack of competition. We have to acknowledge that the Pop-up Village is a closed market where new businesses cannot get in and old businesses do not have the incentives to get out. In other words, the Pop-up Village can be considered oligopolistic and specifically designed for students. In this case, Pop-up eateries prefer not to compete with one another because, by doing so, they have a holistic control over the market price. Therefore, in this ‘closed economy’, the direct beneficiaries are the eateries but not us students.
While some may argue that we have the right to choose not eating at the Pop-up, and it is true, in practice the result shows otherwise. Apart from ANU, the area that also serves food is the Canberra Centre. However, to walk between the Canberra Centre and ANU will take around 15 minutes. As a full-time, rational student, we try to make most of our time studying or attending lectures. Consequently, to save both time and hassle, most of us might well eat at university by accepting the incredibly high market price and with very low variety to choose from.
In sum, the food sector at university faces a lack of competition, resulting in high prices and low quality. We have seen an increasing demand for a better, cheaper, and more variety of food. Although some actions have been taken by students to lower the price, such as the uni food options, the payoff is not yet promising. To best tackle this issue, we need to stand together and bring back the competition to the market.
I wonder how many of you will raise your eyebrows at this title. It must be taboo to talk against any culture – you simply don’t do it, right? But I don’t know how else you could name this piece after having the argument “oh, it’s culturally ok!” repeatedly injected to you. Every time I went travelling, I’ve used this argument to justify disturbing acts like sexual harassment. In fact, at this point, I feel almost coerced to believe that everything that is wrong can be justified by some culture out there. Culture is like God, like Mother: “Oh it’s ok to do this because Mom said so,” “God will approve of it.”
A simple Google search pulls out a definition “culture is the social behavior and norms found in human societies.” For all you researcher-types, an academic source will give you something similar with the keywords society, behaviour and norms. Justifications of any behaviour based on culture, implicitly accepts it as a norm. Simply put, culture is occasionally misused as and perverted into a justification – even to justify sexual harassment. Unfortunately, this is grossly prevalent in various societies, which embarrassingly extends to even the highly developed ones.
Now, what is sexual harassment to me? The police in Italy asked me the same question when I tried complaining about a gondolier (Venetian boatman) who inappropriately touched my ankle. Adopting the definition under the Australian Human Rights Commission, I said “sexual harassment is any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour, which makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.” I even pulled out an Italian legal paper, which more or less read the same. I felt all these uncomfortable emotions from an unwelcome interaction in a foreign land. Sadly, all I got was a blatant “So what?” He suggested that it’s ok because the perpetrator didn’t touch my ”sexual parts.”
Similarly, the police in South Korea gave me a confused look when my friend and I approached them for help because a man was following us. They simply asked us “What can WE do about this?” and suggested that this was an everyday phenomenon, which does not require their assistance. These were points in life when I questioned my own personal understanding of sexual harassment. Probably that is how you feel when people in power repeatedly brush off your feelings and nullify your emotions of fear and anxiety. They urge you to believe that you are wrong.
And then there are those people who stop you from acting because you must respect a foreign culture and not act against those – let’s say – tolerable actions. I have had people I unconditionally love tell me, “take it as a compliment!”, “forget it, it’s a cultural thing” and “you are just overreacting.” This is the point where you almost believe that YOU are wrong. But, no one teaches me how to not be anxious when someone catcalls. No one teaches me how to take that as a compliment. How do I forgive and forget sexual harassment only because it is culturally justified? Sometimes it feels like an unwinnable war against culture.
This is not a normative piece. I don’t know what prescription can prevent the misuse of culture or the encouragement of such distressing gendered norms. I stress that this problem is not exclusive to the above-mentioned countries. The more I travel, and the more I get out of my safe bubble, the more I realise that this is a global phenomenon. No matter how many elites are signing treaties or running campaigns, these words still can’t shape the reality that at a grassroot level – sexual harassment remains ‘OK’ in significant parts of this world. Culture is still used as a veil to justify belittling and disrespectful acts of harassment.
There are perks to being a frequent traveller – you gain experience, knowledge and exposure. But you also face these situations where your opinions, thoughts and emotions zero down to insignificance. Yet, you are advised, if not told outright not to act because it’s not your own turf.
Today I am mustering up the courage to advise and speak against this. Respect and celebrate the variety in cultures as long as you are not disrespected in the process. Don’t let anyone misuse culture to authorize wrongdoings. Don’t keep quiet only because there is no chance of bringing the perpetrator to justice. You have no idea how many people you are giving voice to when you decide to speak out.
Comments Off on Studying China’s Air Pollution from Australia
I am a Chinese student doing a Bachelor of Environment and Sustainability at ANU. I have a great passion for exploring environmental issues as well as formulating possible solutions. Over the past two years, I have gained the multidisciplinary perspectives, skills and knowledge I need to engage with complex environmental problems through investigating the situations in China and Australia. Here is a brief of China’s air-related problems with critical analysis and recommendations.
Air pollution has been increasingly recognised as one of the major global environmental threats to sustainable development, particularly in urban areas of developing countries. China is experiencing the fastest rate of economic growth, as well as more severe air pollution than ever before. According to the Air Quality Index computed by government agencies (based on concentration of PM2.5, PM10 and other harmful molecules), some northern cities show a frequent unhealthy or hazardous air quality over the past ten years, especially during winters. As a typical non-point source pollution, China’s air pollution is driven by a variety of contributors. Local sources of air pollutants are mainly from transportation, coal burning, urban dust pollution and industrial emissions. Additionally, there are sands and dusts transported from surrounding provinces by prevailing winds. Air pollution has destructive impacts on the entire society in terms of threats to human’s physical and mental health, reduction in agricultural output, economic loss, and environmental costs. Therefore, an advanced policy framework is urgently required featuring multifaceted strategies and sustainable patterns of development.
The Ministry of Environmental Protection of China has made many relevant laws since the 1980s which regulate quantitative emission standards and provide specific targets and methods. Some desired outcomes have been achieved; however, they had limitations in tackling evolving environmental problems. Thus, they have been amended after 2012 when PM2.5 crisis emerged across major northern cities. One of the key policies applied currently is the establishment of an air-quality forecasting and assessing system that is open to the public. For instance, a ‘Red Alarm’ indicates the need for dust masks and less outdoor activities. Nowadays there are many effective policies for air pollution control in central cities with emphasis on vehicle and industrial emissions. For instance, private car use is limited by an odd-even license plate rule, trucks with diesel engines are prohibited in urban district, and an advanced metro system has been built to provide better public transport service. Moreover, upper limit on emission of toxic particulates is set with penalty on excessive emission.
Internal capabilities can be seen in this problem solving process. Public behaviour change becomes more feasible in China as it has an increasing number of educated population and it implements various incentives to make people change. However, there are also vulnerabilities and limitations. Tough policy instruments can lead to unintended consequences in terms of economic recession, unemployment and disaffection among stakeholders. Moreover, this issue is complex and requires collaborative action over a widespread area. Nevertheless, the current policy framework focuses more on jurisdiction-based management but lacks regional coordination. Additionally, external circumstances exploited show opportunities for further actions. There is a wave of economic transformation across developing countries where traditional industries are encouraged to apply clean technology to their production. Long-range air pollution has also become a global concern and more international cooperation via regional forum and agreements is emerging.
One policy recommendation for mitigating this problem is enhancing credibility and on-ground enforcement of law to be made. Firstly, formulate an interdepartmental committee across relevant provincial agencies aiming to establish a live air information database that works in tracking sources of pollutants, quantifying cross-border transport of pollutants, and providing statistics for decision making. Then form a combination of administrative and societal supervision and broaden means of stakeholder engagement through new platforms. Another recommendation is creating incentives for main stakeholders to change their attitude and behaviour. Government should provide industries with monetary and technological support for traditional industries to enable structural transformation, phase out high-emission plants operating in major cities, and subsidise development of clean energy techniques. For transportation sector, government should increase vehicle purchase tax on buying fuel-inefficient cars, deliver cheaper public transport service, and lower market access threshold for emerging energy-efficient transport industries such as car sharing and ride sourcing. In addition, educating the whole society on the importance and urgency of air pollution control and what could be done for that as citizens is also important. Government should initiate more regular meetings of affected stakeholders and in particular those with expertise to investigate further into this issue and find sustainable pathway for the country.
When I was 16 years old, I knew that I wanted to be a student at ANU. A year later, I was fortunate enough to visit the campus and I was reassured that I did want to be part of the ANU community. After two years, my dreams came true and I was accepted into ANU.
I told myself to not hold back from any opportunity that came my way when I first moved to Canberra. I was unsure whether I had enrolled in the right course or if moving away from home was the best idea. Despite my insecurities, I kept my head held high and continuously reassured myself that I would be alright. Before attending university, I was always told the cliché that I would be able to find myself by experiencing new things throughout my university years. Being a person that likes to prove others wrong, that cliché couldn’t have been more right. I can definitely attest that I have been able to find my passions and my true self, through my journey at ANU.
Being a Politics and International Affairs student, I have been educated on many human rights issues and the inner workings of politics in various countries. Attending lectures and discussing various atrocities that take place in different countries has made me acutely aware of the lack of opportunities many individuals around the world face.
In addition to studying, I have participated in various clubs and societies at ANU, including AIESEC and the International Relations Society. Through AIESEC, I was given the opportunity to develop purposeful leadership and volunteered to educate in Mexico. There, I taught English to university students and young working adults. With the International Relations Society, I learned about how inclusive ANU is with its international community.
The amalgamation of being educated by world-renowned lecturers and the non-academic opportunities available at ANU has allowed me to develop a passion for helping individuals who are not given the same opportunities as I am. This inspired the creation of my company. It aims to develop and aid young adults wanting to develop confidence in speaking English. The emphasis on confident communication in my business allows me to concentrate on individuals who do not feel like they are able to be confident English speakers in a social and professional environment.
ANU gave me the confidence to start something of my own, as I am exposed to an institution that not only provides me, but students from all around the world to further pursue our dreams and passions. I will forever be proud to say that I am a part of the ANU community.
Comments Off on My Reflections on Cross-Cultural Communication
Ever since I stepped foot into the ANU, the phrase “cross-culture communication” has been thrown around so often that it’s easy not to pause and think about what it means to us personally. Studying in Australia has made me become aware of the way people communicate their thoughts, opinions and ideas. Inadvertently, it has also made me reflect on the way I express myself to others.
As an international student, translation and interpretation is a major part of my life. I have to constantly process the information I’m receiving, and then translate it into my second language. Being able to accurately use my words is important because it helps me to precisely express myself. I have found myself in various interesting scenarios due to a mistranslation between languages. For instance, one day I was trying to explain to a group of friends that I play the Nintendo game ‘Super Mario’. In Mandarin,, however, the words translate into ‘Super Mary’. As you might expect, my friends roared with laughter upon my apparent ‘mistake’ of Mario’s gender. Another instance was my mistranslation of Hegel’s “All that is real is rational; and all that is rational is real”. In China it is often mistranslated as “Existence is reasonable” and one day I used the mistranslated phrase with a friend. My friend, however, was kind enough to correct me on my mistake. Mistranslation may lead to inaccurate expressions, which in turn create possibilities for misunderstanding. It is important to have clarity when it comes to communicating with others. t is important to be respectful, patient, inquisitive and reflective. Learning and improving a second language is never easy, but being open-minded about it can help deepen mutual understanding across cultures.
Besides improving the language, it is also crucial to understand culture and how it influences and spreads values within an environment. While I was reading a brief introduction on a showcase of the Battle of the Somme at the War Memorial, a group of young people were being rowdy and disruptive. I do not know how much they knew about the War, or its impact on Australia. The point is, it is important to be respectful towards the foundations of a country. When you deepen your knowledge of a country’s history, it is easier to understand cultural differences. Actively meeting people and their cultures halfway opens the door to better communication.
In general, it is important to be open-minded and to never rely on assumptions when communicating. You may believe you’re knowledgeable enough about something, but there’s always more room. Reflecting upon this should make cross-cultural communication easier and more comfortable.
“There will be plenty of bad, but what you need right now is distance”.
That’s what my therapist said, four days before I left for Canberra for the first time. She and my psychologist had just agreed to take me off antidepressants for a trial run. I laughed a bit, but my knees were shaking.
Coming to Australia was a spur-of-the-moment decision. I had not expected the ANU to accept my haphazard application, much less for a course as niche as ‘Digital Humanities and Public Culture’. I had not expected my parents to agree to the exorbitant costs of an international education. Most of all, I had not expected that a humanities course would sate people’s expectations of an honours graduate in communications, who could have gone to law school, or to work in some multinational.
It was Canberra – an unexpected fringe-like city in the middle of nowhere, that allowed me to breath. Touching ground, it was like nowhere I had ever seen – there was the suggestion of metropolis, and yet the sparsity was deafening.
It was that exact emptiness that called to me. Here, in the middle of nowhere, I was not a high-performing former student leader who dropped off the face of the earth because she became depressed “for no reason”. I was not one of many siblings who each possessed accolades in academics and sports and were the children of two extremely successful lawyers whose footsteps seemed impossible to follow. I was not someone who had to be extremely successful and whose every action had to bring some kind of honour to the places I graduated from and the country I lived in.
Distance, it turned out, was not just a function of space. It did not just mean being an ocean away from my family, friends, and the Philippines. Where there was overwhelming expectation and the busyness of everyday life and the impulse to overinvest in the political environment in the former, there was now just the wide streets of Canberra. Zero night life and too much room to breathe here, some would argue. But being so desperate to end my life for so long, I had forgotten just how nice air could taste. It was not about being away from home – my friends and family were always just a skype call away. It was about being the farthest as I had ever been from my past self as I or anyone else had ever known her.
There were still bad times – the undignified desperation of hunting down part-times to feel self-sufficient, eating less to save more, losing sleep over ghosts of past conflicts and relationships, pushing myself to the physical brink to succeed academically even though every phone call with my mother ended with “…and stop worrying about your grades.” Let’s not forget all those classic depressive haunts that I had borne for years and years: “Is it worth it? Am I worth it?” Sometimes, the cold embrace of self-harm and suicidal thoughts made violent comebacks I couldn’t suppress.
But that distance saved me time and time again. Questions of worth withered under the unexpectedly bright potential of everyday. In a ‘boring’ city that had ‘nothing’, I could start from nothing and knew no one. I could be anything. I fell into dance-classes, even if no one had ever told me in my life that I danced well. I willingly assumed being the baby of my friend group of fellow Filipinos, even if I had always played the leader or the big sister in any clique I’d ever been in. I jogged weekly along Lake Ginninderra, even though I used to hate the very thought of cardio. I would sleep in every day for a week and abuse the privilege of being new, small, and anonymous in the massive ANU, even if my past student-leader self tsk-tsked at this behaviour.
My therapist had once said, “we aren’t trying to turn you into the person you were. We’re trying to make you understand that it is okay to be the person that you are now.” I am now reminded of this every time I pick up my phone to the screeching of magpies outside my window. Opening my Facebook messages or emails used to be a difficult, anxiety-inducing task, because it was always either demands for work I did not want to do, or socialising with people who liked versions of me I hated being. Four semesters later at ANU, I can tell you proudly that I can open all my notifications and not even think about it.
I am glad that 25 weird years and infinite nights of suffering from an overwhelming of self-hatred wondering “what the hell is the point?” has led me to this oft-joked about spit of land in the middle of the bush. ANU and Canberra allowed me to reinvent myself – academically, socially, personally. I know a lot of people dislike or even outright hate Canberra, and I don’t blame them. But I love this place. It is cheesy, but it is only cheesy because it is true: it helped me to love myself.
If you need support, here are some support services that can help:
(02) 6125 2442
This is the phone number to book an appointment with ANU Counselling. You can book a standard appointment (50 mins) anytime. To book an on the day appointment for urgent help (25 mins) call at 9am or go into the Counselling Centre just before 9am, as these appointments are first in best dressed. You can receive 6 free sessions per semester.
13 11 14
Lifeline is a crisis support service available 24-hours a day, seven days a week, for over-the-phone support. They also have an online chat service that is available 7pm till midnight, seven days a week.
1800 737 732
This is over the phone counselling and it is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They can also refer you to local services. It is free of charge. 1800 RESPECT has a triage system, so the first person you speak to is not a counsellor. We recommend that you request to be put through to a counsellor straight away.
1300 22 4636
Beyondblue provides information and support to help everyone in Australia achieve their best possible mental health, whatever their age and wherever they live. It has an over-the-phone service, and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can call, chat online, or email.
1800 184 527
QLife is a nationally-oriented counselling and referral service for queer* identifying students, and is available for over-the-phone support from 3pm till midnight seven days a week.
I had a crush on my economics teacher
I asked him to write me a university recommendation
He asked me, “are you a feminist?”
“I don’t know”, I replied. Cheeks red,
happy to talk to him, laughing as my friend calls a classmate feminazi
Walking home. My backpack, my trumpet
Too heavy for me to run as a man
masturbates, leisurely on his bike,
face covered by a helmet.
Next to me
engine running, riding, rubbing at my walking pace.
Cheeks red, my heart pales. I pretend not to see.
I could never tell my parents.
Until finally, I could.
An internship, a Linkedin profile.
I serve tea
I serve tea for three months
A woman tells me, there are jobs for men and there are jobs for women
“Who are you to be ungrateful for the opportunities you get?”
I take the train to the Australian consulate. I’m picking up my visa!
It’s far away, I’m using Google Maps.
A man in a suit takes
pictures of me.
His gaze is unashamed, scouring my body
Prematurely, I get off at the next stop,
I push myself into a crowd
he’s lost me.
I get on the next train, stand in the women’s only carriage.
I look behind my shoulder,
same man behind me, swaying to the same lurching on the same train.
My life feels like a video game.
Driving school. We learn CPR.
“Right, girls aren’t really getting it. Girls only. More rounds of practise”
One, Two, One, Two. We push away
on a plastic corpse.
Bend down, latch our mouths to the dummy’s and exhale
His face pressed to mine,
“let me watch you do it, let me help you learn.”
Clammy and sweaty, red-faced from CPR and his body heat next to mine
ANU. I see strong women.
I hear people talking
about things I only thought
I don’t blush anymore.
It feels good.
“Are you a feminist?”
I think I know the answer to that now.
My name is Daniel Kang, I’m a Singaporean currently trying to wrap up my fourth semester of Law and International Relations here at the ANU.
I was initially planning on writing out advices for international students, but after careful consideration, I think I’d like to share my struggles – something I’ve finally found strength to put into words.
I share this today as penance for the terrible job I did an international representative of my college; for all the slip-ups I’ve inexcusably committed, but most importantly – as an honest account of my life that assertively recognises the ostensibly incessant struggles that my life has been, but equally testifies to the immeasurable goodness and blessings.
I initially found it incredibly hard to talk to people about my problems – not because I held privacy as scared, but because of my brokenness. I have had people through various seasons of my life become privy to almost every intimate detail about me – only for our paths to diverge especially when I desperately needed support. Each mentioning of an event in my private life is an extension of trust to me, and a cry out for emotional support. Understand, please, that it is unpleasant, undesirable and terribly unintuitive for me to be expected to sit with a stranger, and be expected to present the broken pieces of a season – may I just ask to sit and speak with someone I can trust, to whom I don’t have to curate my life with exceeding care or shield from worry, or with whom I can shield myself from judgment?
I do want to be involved in the community; to get involved in the multitude of amazing social activities both college and on campus. But how can I not be miserly with my time, when my mother is squirreling away every cent she can to ensure that I can graduate? How can I forsake my studies and throw myself away from learning when I realize that my mother has essentially discarded her ability to buy her dream house, to go on a lavish excursion overseas, to flex an infinite amount of freedom in spending? How can I express this when I was essentially scolded by a countryman for being stupid for not being more social? How may I say – my education here will cost half a million – if this number is perceived not as my chains but merely an excuse? When I say – look, I’d really love to come tonight: but I can’t, I’m really bogged down in work, I have to study – I am pleading for understanding – I fully understand that grades aren’t everything. But with so much at stake in my success here, with the spectres of failure, a word spelt with just everything that can’t form success: I can’t swallow the ‘what ifs’ that I will face when I’m rejected for a job because I can’t impress. Inadequacy is a cast iron prod straight out of the furnace, ready to sear shame and scar regret into my skin.
I lament at the stereotype that I have become – the studious Asian student: crammed up in rooms so stuffy, so sterile, a wonderfully apt representation of how I occasionally feel stripped of all my qualities. May I please stress that I am not humble-bragging or being modest when I say that I devote myself to such studious efforts because I lack intelligence – I can’t. I am not the brightest pupil, and I’m not incredibly well-spoken, there are just too many inadequacies I hold for me to resist trying to possess myself with diligence and hard work. It is a hard, bitter pill to swallow when I watch people affirm me for my competence in my work when they come to me for help, and then have my existence as an afterthought. It is an insurmountable effort for me to discontinue helping people – strangely enough I ardently do want to invest in and watch people grow. But I am so desperately trying to face a struggle to develop relationships in the process, I’m earnestly trying to assert myself and be accepted for it – so much so that “why” just seems like a lofty, open-ended question.
Still, for every struggle, and every drawn-out season of difficulty – I can count the blessings and extremely wonderful memories I have made here. I have to catch my breath to fully count the number of overwhelmingly good people I’ve met here – my fountainheads of life, support and lessons. What has been an incessant struggle has not altered the simple fact that I have been incredibly blessed in an amazing country.
If I may please stress a point – every person has a struggle to face, or a maze of difficulties to navigate through, and every person has a story to tell. International students aren’t looking for pity, we aren’t looking for charity and we aren’t looking to impose ourselves and make demands, or further an agenda. We would love to bring colour to your lives; to share our stories; to be blessed and bless – as a guest, I kindly ask that we may work together to achieve understanding and discourse.