“Beyond these Four-Walls”–an Unconventional Approach to Education

–Even though many study abroad programs are grounded for the time being (reverting to virtual platforms for engagement), upon reflecting on my exchange experience, why is it important for Asian Americans to study abroad?      

“I want to study abroad.” My parents cringe. From my personal experience, it’s a ‘foreign’ topic in most Asian American middle and low-income immigrant/2nd-generation families. Like most first-generation and minority college students, most of us tend to gravitate towards more practical vocations and majors—nursing, accounting, and medicine, to name a few.

While it’s uncommon for the average American college student to study abroad (only about 3% do so), it’s even more uncommon for Asian Americans. As an Asian American first-generation college student who majored in International Studies from CSU Long Beach (Go Beach!) and studied abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France (Aix-Marseille University ’17/’18!), here are my insights and reflections on the importance of studying abroad for Asian Americans:

  1. Reclaiming Our Culture: Multicultural and ethnic studies are often not mandatory courses in the United States. Thus, when I immersed myself in a completely different culture away from my Asian American community back in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, I became more keenly aware that I was Asian American–the history, traditions, food, and customs. For instance, when I shared with others (e.g. ex-pats, French classmates) about what it means to be Asian American, those moments caused me to desire to understand the AAPI identity deeper. I started to develop my appreciation and desire for comprehending more about our history through documentaries and discussions with like-minded peers, and this I believe can happen on many levels for other AAPI too.
  2. Building Skills for Stronger Global Citizens: From my experience as a 3rd/4th generation Chinese American (my grandfather was processed through SF Angel Island, and my parents were born and raised in San Francisco Chinatown), oftentimes I find that my community has a very strict sense of what a classroom is–textbooks, exams, and four walls. In a global classroom, however, the walls come down. Studying abroad forced me to learn to be more adaptable in my host country and build stronger interpersonal and intercultural skills–all things needed today to become more well-rounded 21st-century global citizens.
  3. A Chance to Share Our Stories: “What’s the United States like?” I, an Asian American, was often asked this by my classmates (fellow ex-pats from around the world — Syria, Senegal, parts of Asia, etc.) and French peers. Being able to share Asian American experiences and stories with others is empowering and also helps show a broader and more multicultural picture of the U.S. to the international community.

Back home, I continue to share stories about my language exchange experience in hopes to support more of my community to go abroad. For my high school’s alumni association newsletter (Abraham Lincoln High School in SF, go Mustangs!), I wrote an article about my study abroad experience. My Gilman re-entry project was about exposing my peers to STEM career perspectives from CleanTech Start-ups of the French Provencal region (retrospectively, I wish the audio production was better haha). And lastly, for my college alumni association (CSULB), I shared some peer advice about staying on track for planning and considering studying abroad during this era of COVID-19. I have also submitted to other Asian American organizations (e.g. Chinese Historical Society of America in SF).

Currently based in San Francisco, CA, I often approach my art and work with my international, interdisciplinary experiences in mind. As many who dared say, be the change you envision. Thank you for reading. A bientôt mes amis~

Ringing in the New Year in Marseille, France 2018 with the city’s Annual Lunar New Year Parade.

San Francisco’s Lunar New Year Parade 2019, one of the largest and oldest in the United States.

Guest Piece by Christina Wong (Gilman Scholar, 2017)

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