The challenges and blessings of being multicultural

Written by: 
Zeek Cheng

Growing up in a multicultural family is challenging because it is hard to fit into a particular culture, but it also helps cultivate the best attributes from both cultures, according to BYU-Hawaii students from multiethnic backgrounds.


Courtney Schwendiman, a freshman from Washington studying exercise and sports science, said her parents are African American and Caucasian. Raised in a predominately white community, she said her appearance made her standout. “My elementary school teacher asked me in front of the whole class what it was like to be half-black and half-white. And because I have really curly hair, my friend once asked me, ‘Can you comb your hair?’ And because I have fair skin, people would ask, ‘Are you sure you are half-black?’”


Similarly, Jeremy Woffinden, a senior from Japan studying computer science with a Japanese mom and American dad, said he was treated differently due to his looks. “In public transportation, sometimes people feel hesitant to sit next to me. They see me as a foreigner. People would be amazed when I speak Japanese. They would say, ‘Wow, you speak Japanese! Why don’t you look Japanese?’”


Another thing Woffinden mentioned was experiencing different parenting styles. “When it comes to education, my mom is an Asian tiger mom. My dad is more relaxed and would say, ‘you should study what you enjoy.’


Parley Wen, a freshman from Hong Kong studying hospitality and tourism management, has parents from the Philippines and Hong Kong and said this particular “mix” gives him a unique look when compared to students from the same places.


“People sometimes view me differently because of my appearance,” said Wen. “Sometimes I might not get invited to activities because they think I’m different. Some people think I’m an ABC - American-born Chinese - and some people think I’m a Korean. Most people will speak to me in English at first.”


Despite these challenges, the students said they find advantages to having a mixed cultural background.


Wen said, “Being able to speak both languages fluently is super advantageous. It also gave me a unique way of thinking and to have a different perspective in handling things.”


Schwendiman said, “When we go to the African American side of the family, we act this way and do these things, but when we go to the Caucasian side of the family, it will be a totally different environment. It’s fun because we get the best of both worlds.


“It’s an interesting mix. The way my parents do things, the idea of family, the food that they cook, the music they listen to, are very different.”


Woffinden said, “I have the influence of both humors. I have developed both the Japanese humor and the dry sarcastic American humor. People sometimes have a hard time understanding me.”


Although she doesn’t enjoy being treated differently, Schwendiman said she has learned to embrace her multicultural identity. “It gives me different perspectives and an opportunity to see everyone as equal. I can pick and choose which side I want to be. I can be neither or both. I can be who I want to be. That helps me to be confident and happy with who I am.”

Date Published: 
Saturday, December 2, 2017
Last Edited: 
Saturday, December 2, 2017