Abigail King '08
Winner of Irene He Yuan Chinese-American Friendship Award
China and America as Yin and Yang
Growing up I felt caught between a clash of cultures: a battle of East versus West. The American culture would ask me why I took my shoes off when I went home, or why I celebrated New Year’s in the middle of February instead of January. The Chinese culture would start speaking to me in Chinese, and then when I didn’t respond, asked me why I didn’t speak Chinese. It seemed that there was no common ground between the two. I came to Mount Holyoke to study Chinese in the hopes of connecting more with my heritage. Little did I know that connecting with my Chinese heritage would also help me find a balance between the clash of cultures.
During my Mount Holyoke career I was presented with two opportunities to travel to China: once as a student of Chinese, and once as a teacher of English. As a student I was given a glimpse of the vast and diverse culture that China had to offer. From Peking Opera to Jay Chou; from the Great Wall, to bustling Tian’an Men Square, I was immersed into the fast-paced Beijing lifestyle for two months. For once, I felt like I belonged somewhere. However, it wasn’t until I went to Fuzhou to teach English where I realized that the Chinese and American aspect did not have to compete with each other, but were instead two parts of one whole. I thought teaching English would only emphasize the American aspect of myself and further alienate the Chinese aspect, however I was wrong. Unlike Beijing where I only spoke in Chinese, I spoke both Chinese and English with my students in Fuzhou. If my students did not know how to say something in English, they could explain it to me in Chinese and vice versa; if I did not know how to explain something in Chinese I could explain it in English. Even though we were from two different countries, we were still able to understand each other. One of my students said to me, “Even though our nationalities are different, it’s like we have the same blood.”
After my trip to Beijing, I became the events coordinator of the Chinese Cultural Association at Mount Holyoke. Every year CCA puts on a show of student performances to demonstrate Chinese culture as well as celebrate the coming of the New Year. After coming back from China for the second time, I wanted to create a China Night that emphasized the many aspects of Chinese culture; that China wasn’t limited to fortune cookies and chopsticks in the hair. I wanted to produce a show that not only displayed the Chinese culture in China, but also the Chinese culture in America. I wanted to put on a show that emphasized; no matter where one grew up in, whether it be in China or in America, one will still be able to find a common ground between the two diverse cultures.