I’ve bolded some points I will respond to from a New York Times article, Overseas Chinese, Foreigner at Home:
Cities like Beijing and Shanghai are increasingly home to overseas Chinese, as those of us of Chinese descent who are not citizens of China are known. By some estimates, more than 30 percent of the American citizens living in China are of Chinese ethnicity.
For hyphenated Chinese like me, living here presents challenges as well as attractions. The chance to explore our’s roots and discover a country radically different from the one left behind by our parents or grandparents can be as powerful a lure as the job opportunities offered by a rising China.
Yet expectations of some Chinese toward ethnically Chinese foreigners can be disconcerting. There are assumptions that someone who looks Chinese must speak fluent Mandarin and instinctively understand cultural norms that may be peculiar to the contemporary mainland. Both locals and foreigners can be unsure how to categorize us.
To the point of discover your roots as a way of going back to China:
I think this is a very challenging point to convey to a lot of my friends, even fellow Chinese-American friends of mine. My incentive is to really experience and understand a different culture (in this case, Chinese culture) to learn about how different people see the world, especially where my parents came from.
However, I often get challenged and asked a lot of questions: “What is the local salary there?” “What about your own career growth and professional growth, wouldn’t it get hampered by going back to China?” “How will you survive?” “What if you get manipulated, robbed, or attacked by the local culture?”
I believe this sets things in really crazy dichotomies. While salary is considered a factor (and there are definitely opportunity costs to going abroad, I cannot deny that; for example, unless you are working for a brand name, multi-national company, going abroad will have very different career directions than working in your home country), I believe these questions says a lot about ourselves:
We are essentially saying: if it is not related to your career, or it does not have a high monetary value, it is not worth pursuing.
While a certain amount of money is important in meeting basic essentials, and it is important to have a certain amount of disposable income to pursue one’s hobbies in their free time, we should remember it is how we spend our time that matters (and how that money is used in spending our time well).
In other ways, how can we measure what makes a successful life beyond career/professional as well as monetary growth?
It’s very personal for me to go abroad.
I want to become fluent and comfortable speaking and conversing with my family and other fellow Chinese about music, art, technology, food, dramas, and life, as well as share these ideas to the rest of the world (before the Cultural Revolution, China had a rich cultural and traditional history). I want to bring these perspectives back to the US to help build cultural bridges between Asia and the US. Building strong relationships is a strong motivator for me that brings me back.
To me, this is what brings me value in life. It goes beyond monetary and professional/career growth because I believe strong cultural understanding creates trusts and empathy, and these values help can bridge people from different backgrounds to solve the world’s biggest problems today.
I don’t know that much about my culture, and want to rediscover it, and bring it, share it. I believe these new experiences will make life very exciting. But, an exciting life shouldn’t be measured primarily on career/professional, monetary growth.
To the assumption that someone who looks Chinese must speak fluent Mandarin:
I think this is an even greater motivation to work abroad in China/Taiwan and work on your Chinese!
When I was in Taiwan, I was mistaken as a Hong Konger (I thought people would think I’m American because of how I dress and act, but it was my Cantonese accent that stood out). I felt so at home being spoken to Mandarin that I continuously spoke it, despite not understanding what everybody said and knowing that people in Taipei could speak English.
Ever since high school, I’ve really wanted to work in Asia, so being able to automatically use Mandarin in Taiwan, I felt the most TRUEST to myself in a long time. It really gave me true motivation to work on my Chinese; learning Chinese is not just a way to say, “Hey, I know Chinese, so I can get a job, but rather a way of re-discovering a culture and sharing it to the rest of the world. I want to share that, so I must actively improve it daily.”
In some ways, living to China / Taiwan, speaking the language and studying it, is a way of discovering your true self and identifying who you really are. I think this is what makes life meaningful.