For me, one aspect of my social identity that is meaningful to me is my identity as a woman, as generic as that might seem. I spent the most formative years of my childhood in an all-girls school, the school motto of which I can still remember: to be ladies of grace and leaders of the future. That empowering mindset always subconsciously stayed with me, engendering within me qualities of assertiveness and leadership (maybe not the grace part, but we can’t win ’em all). When I switched to an all-gender school, I started to realize that these qualities in a woman were not always encouraged, especially in male-dominated environments. While my somewhat disorienting tenure in a mixed-gender institution did end up dampening my heady spirit somewhat, I’m glad that spark was nursed in me when my brain was the most malleable. Furthermore, I was raised within a matriarchal household, so I was always really aware of and accorded significant respect to the feminine power. I think I am a person who truly embraces her femininity while possessing some traits traditionally thought of as masculine.

An aspect of my social identity that isn’t as meaningful to me is my religious affiliation. I was raised Catholic, and I still identify a lot with that culturally. However, I don’t attend church regularly, besides special occasions, and I don’t do a lot of things like Confession, for example. I still really respect religion, but I just don’t find it plays that big a role in my life.

One aspect of my social identity that takes on more meaning in Western cultural contexts is my ethnicity as a Chinese. To be honest, back home, I don’t really think about my ethnicity because ethnically Chinese people constitute the majority. I am well aware that I am, however, a minority in the United States, which affects a lot of different things in very complicated ways — including how I perceive myself, and how people react to me, things like that, big and small. Sometimes, I feel strange here because I feel an expectation to act or think in a certain way because I belong to a certain ethnicity or race.

I believe that navigating different social identities within intercultural situations is especially layered, because we also have to navigate cross-cultural nuances while simultaneously understanding the implications of different social identities. I think the main axiom we can follow is to treat others how we would like to be treated, which includes respectful and open communication. It is not possible for us to know every single cultural and social nuance, and each person knows their needs best. So it is better to treat everything on a case-to-case basis and find out each person’s individual needs instead of assuming.