Studying abroad, in most cases, comes with an expectation. An expectation of discovering who you are, developing your person. Of finding identity.
This may be even more exemplified when minority students study abroad, including when, and maybe especially when, moving to a place of majority.
Here’s my story.
Mixed race is a funny thing. It’s something everyone seems to have an opinion on, often occupying two opposite spaces: it’s wrong – it’s the future. When “mixed” is the only racial term that doesn’t make you feel completely “othered,” political analysis of the populations’ existence is surreal, because to you, the experience is so much more.
I’m not just tainted blood, and I’m not just hope for a race-free future.
I’m a walking identity crisis.
Briefly, my experience wasn’t like my immigrant Asian-American mother’s experience, where she felt caught between worlds; it was more like I didn’t have a world. In my family, I was the white girl. I didn’t speak their language, but being white, they didn’t expect me to. At family gatherings, I sat in the corner, smiled, and nodded. I was called “gongzhu” (princess).
The funny thing is that, for a long time, I believed them.
Somewhere along the way of being white, though, I realized that could never really be true.
“You’re so exotic.”
“What are you?”
“Oh, so that’s why you’re good at math.”
“You’re just the right amount of Asian.
Like, not too Asian.”
Bring it on Singapore.
Singapore: an ethnically diverse metropolis with four official languages – I came here largely to see how my experience as a mixed Asian would change. Call it a social experiment.
The history of diversity in Singapore runs deep. Considering their native population to be Malay, Singapore is a sovereign city-state island country off the coast of Malaysia. Now a hub for international business, APEC, and trade as a major world port city, Singapore got its start as a British trading post in 1819. Since then, it has risen to have the third highest GDP per capita in the world (World Bank, 2018).
Seen “Crazy Rich Asians”? Then you know Singapore is a city of the future.
Because Singapore’s history is entrenched in interaction with Western countries (De Silva, 2018), Eurasian (Asian with European heritage) is a state recognized micro-minority (0.4% in 2015). I’ve since learned that Eurasian actually has multiple distinctions. There’s multi-generation Eurasian (people with Eurasian ancestors) and first-generation Eurasian (people with one European parent and one Asian parent), and usually, Eurasian refers to someone who is multi-generation Eurasian. In addition, first-generation Eurasians tend to take advantage of the double-barreling classification system in Singapore, where they can specify two individual races (ie. European-Chinese). Likely, this is because first- and multi-generation Eurasians have vastly different experiences. The rest of the demographics of Singapore read as: 76.1% Chinese, 15.0% Malay, 7.5% Indian, and 1.5% Other (Department of Statistics, 2018).
It’s because of the prevalence of Western influence and the perceived mixing of all sorts of Eastern and Western cultures that led me to believe there was something for me to find in Singapore.
Okay, here it goes.
So, in Singapore, people usually know I’m foreign, but they’re not sure what I am. They have assumptions though. Sometimes I’m White. Sometimes I’m Chinese. Sometimes I’m local. Actually – sometimes I’m Polynesian or French or Eurasian or Latina, or none or all of the above. And yeah, sometimes they just don’t know.
That’s when I realized that not having a word transcended country lines; what had previously caused me discomfort actually provided a sense of familiarity when abroad. I realized that I wasn’t being treated much different than I was treated in the US.
As a first-generation American of mixed heritage and relatively ambiguous appearance, I’ve discovered that I am able to relate to and connect with an amazingly wide variety of individuals, if even for a one-time chat.
I was born to navigate barriers.
Then I realized that even though I may never fully feel that true, traditional sense of community anywhere, I can find it everywhere.
So, how has my experience as a mixed Asian changed?
I used to ask: Who am I to myself?
But I’ve realized that I don’t need to answer that question.
I know who I am to myself. I’m Kelsey, 我是羅凯思; I like music, genetics, and long chats; I like点心and pan pizza.
I discovered that I don’t need to be insecure about “how Asian I am.” I just am. And that’s all I need.
I’ve instead found a much more intriguing question to ask: Who am I to you? And why do you think that? Let’s start a conversation.
And how’s for those expectations?
“Studying abroad, in most cases, comes with an expectation. An expectation of discovering who you are, developing your person. Of finding identity.”
Well, I guess I can check that off the bucket list.
De Silva, M. (2018). More than Devil Curry. Retrieved November 20, 2018, from https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/more-devil-curry
Department of Statistics. (2018). People & Society. Retrieved November 20, 2018, from https://www.population.sg/population-trends/people-society
World Bank, I. C. P. database. (2018). GDP per capita, PPP (current international $) | Data. Retrieved November 20, 2018, from https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.PP.CD?view=chart
This post was contributed by Kelsey Moreland, a 2018 Global Ambassador. Kelsey is a Genetics and Genomics major, studying at the National University of Singapore.
Don’t get left behind. Read more about Kelsey’s experience in Singapore>>