To me, culture is ambiguous. On the one hand, I have learned from classes that cultures are human construct that shapes our perception of the world, forms group identity, and mold people into one community. On the other hand, I have always felt that most people are floating in the middle of cultures: we are each a collection of different characteristics from different cultures and identities.

My upbringing as an Australian Chinese has significantly impacted my perception and interpretation of culture. Having spent my childhood and primary school years in Beijing, I never thought about the impact of culture on me as a child, given the racially and culturally homogeneous community. However, when I moved to Australia, I quickly realized that I stepped out of my cultural comfort zone and felt pressured to mask my differences by mimicking the “local students”. Rather than celebrating the cultural differences, I was trying to hide them. My Year-7 self would refuse to wear stockings during the winter because the trend among the “local students” was to wear short skirts with only socks despite shivering and catching a cold. When speaking to others with a similar experience of transitioning to a new culture, I found surprising commonalities: we all tried to “speak, behave, and dress in a similar way” as the local people, even if this decision may come at the cost of forfeiting our own personalities and cultural practices. We are often standing at the liminal space between cultures, and when people ask us — “where do you come from?” — we are often at a loss for word.

However, as I became older, I have begun to realize that I am defined by my own culture and have grown to appreciate my Chinese heritage and identity. By spending 6 months in China in my freshman spring, I immersed myself in the historical setting of Suzhou gardens, museums, and galleries, visiting as many historical heritage sites as I could. These 6 months helped me reclaim my identity, come to term with myself, and openly celebrate my complicated cultural upbringing and my identity as a Chinese. This time in China also fuelled my interest in traditional Chinese architecture and arts, a field I hope to explore further in the future.

I am excited to expand my cultural landscape by participating in the Global Fellows program. Even just during my first weeks of the English Conversation Club, I am surprised by the level of diversity among the participants and have learned so much from everyone. I look forward to developing the crucial intercultural skillsets and shaping Duke to be an inclusive home away from home for everyone from all cultural backgrounds and identities.