The struggles and lessons of growing up in a foreign country

Written by: 
Zeek Cheng

Growing up in a country that isn’t home to your ethnicity or culture has social and language struggles, but those who have experienced it said they have learned to not take offense and to seek to understand others.

Megan Nielson, a junior from Michigan studying TESOL, said she was raised in an American family, but her biological parents are from Vietnam. “I grew up in the United States my whole life, so all of my friends are white. But sometimes, I found it hard to fit in because I look Asian.”

For Rex Yamamoto, a freshman from Utah studying computer science, being Japanese and growing up in the United States was “awkward” when he had to move back to Japan at nine years old.

“At first, I didn’t speak Japanese, and it was awkward because of the cultural differences and language barrier. People will often comment on my English and ask if I'm half-American. My identity really confuses people.”

Kate Grandy, a freshman from South Korea studying biology, has lived in the United States, the Philippines, and Korea. “Answering the question of where I'm from is always complicated. Usually, I would just say I'm Korean American because I have grown up in so many different places.

“But my answer switches from time to time. There was a time in class when I said I was from the States and my classmate said, 'No, where are you really from?' It's just funny to see how curious people are of my ethnicity.”

Because she looks Asian, Nielson said she's had numerous encounters when people ask her how she spoke fluent English. “They would always say, 'Wow, your English is really good.' And when I would tell them I'm from Michigan, they will ask me where I'm really from and then I would reply Vietnam. And then they would ask, 'Where are your parents from?' and I would say America and they would get really confused. My background is really complex.”

She shared a funny experience when her family went to Japan. “Since my parents are white, the Japanese were asking me questions and expecting me to translate. They thought I was a tour guide.”

Yamamoto said his background has helped him have good characteristics from both the Japanese and American culture. “I’m more outgoing and have the social culture of the United States. I can also understand the Japanese aspect of life.”

Grandy said, “When people ask me questions about my ethnicity, I always take it lightly. I never think it as offensive to ask someone’s ethnicity because people are genuinely curious. I also understand that a lot of people that live in the United States don’t have the opportunity to travel as much as I do. I understand that everyone has a different background. I can’t set the same expectation for everybody or to expect everyone to know what I know.”

Nielson added, “I feel like I'm yellow on the outside but white on the inside. I don’t try to view myself as different. Especially here in BYUH, I feel very comfortable when being surrounded by more Asians.”

Date Published: 
Wednesday, January 3, 2018
Last Edited: 
Wednesday, January 3, 2018