Blog #2: This Isn’t About My Internship

This isn’t about my internship; it’s about my mom and dad.

I’m going to be honest with myself. It’s impossible to truly hash out my experience in the Western Balkans without taking the time to write about a part of my life back in Muskegon. My parents actually have no idea what I’m doing in Sarajevo, and I’ve felt strangely guilty leaving them in the dark. I spent three days back home after my finals before flying across the Atlantic. There are two main reasons that they wouldn’t understand. First, I have no clue how to describe post-conflict research in my elementary-Taishanese. And secondly, they never went to college after high school.

In Ann Arbor, there’s always been a slight disconnect between myself and a majority of Asian American students because of this. I remember sitting in my Orgo structured study group freshman year as we shared our “most prized possession” during an icebreaker. I remember my silent disbelief when I heard one of my friends say that his most prized possession was his father’s Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering. Even though I’m very proud of what my parents do for a living, it was the first of many moments at Michigan where I felt so small. To be honest, before coming to college, I didn’t even know that there was such thing as non-medical “doctors.” It sounds crazy, and yes, it still does. Most people I told my first year would laugh thinking I was joking or was playing dumb, and for a while, I felt really out of place. I just felt really stupid. Was I supposed to just know? Are high schoolers already thinking about Ph.D.’s? When you’ve never met someone with a doctoral degree, who is suppose to explain it to you? My parents never did.

As a first generation college student with limited Chinese vocabulary, I’ve never been able to truly talk about my dreams with my parents. We discuss simple things: how to live a healthier life, shenanigans that my older brother keeps getting into, and whether I’m eating enough in college. When I’m tired of conversations over how to cook juk or men fun, I attempt to struggle through a conversation over my future after school. To have some understanding, I tell them I want to be a teacher (老师). My mom tells me, “Being a teacher is a good career for a soft heart like yours.” I always agree.

I actually want to be a policymaker in the field of international migration and am also considering a career in the foreign service.

My parents are by no means the stereotypical “tiger parents.” They’ve never put any pressure on me to study a particular field, nor have they offered any advice on which  fields  I should pursue. It’s not because they want me to follow my passions; it’s because they just don’t know what to say.  According to my dad, whatever I will be in the United States – even if I was a waitress like my mom, now – would be better than anything back in rural Taishan. When I told them that I would be working in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the summer, they had never heard of the country.  “I’m helping my teacher over the summer,” I said to them. They replied that it’s great that my teacher likes me.

Nevertheless, I have so much respect for my parents, and our relationship has always been rooted in trust. I trust that they are working hard in our restaurant to support the family while they trust that I am maximizing the opportunities available to me in the United States. Although I am chasing my dreams while doing so, I want to do well in college to honor  my parents. We quietly acknowledge each other’s contributions: just as I smile to a refrigerator full of food, my mom smiles at a letter celebrating my academic performance. This is the immigrant bargain at play. One of the greatest opportunities of being a citizen of the United States is the fact that I can take for granted the ease in which I cross international borders. Beyond merging the worlds of academia and work together, international internships are valuable simply because we can do them.

I’m half-kidding but if anyone can describe post-conflict research and the sociology of irregular migration in Taishanese, please help me.

 

Hunter Zhao

Originally from Muskegon, MI, I'm a rising senior who is studying History and Sociology. This summer, I am interning with the Post-Conflict Research Center in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

9 thoughts on “Blog #2: This Isn’t About My Internship

  • June 6, 2017 at 7:32 am
    Permalink

    Dang, you’re a great writer. This post was a pleasure to read. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  • June 6, 2017 at 8:31 am
    Permalink

    Hunterrrrrr I relate 100% with everything. For policymaking, I just tell them that I want to make laws for schools haha. Sending first-gen vibes!

    Reply
  • June 6, 2017 at 4:42 pm
    Permalink

    Hunter, thank you for your insightful and honest writing. It’s so difficult sometimes to find ways to connect with parents with cultural/generational/language barriers, and I appreciated hearing your story. Even in a high school with a large Asian American population, it took me a while growing up to see the diversity of Asian Americans’ experiences until I started learning about immigration into the US and hearing more perspectives from immigrants and their children.

    I’m not sure if you’ve heard this podcast before, but Act II of this episode of This American Life might be interesting to you: https://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/567/whats-going-on-in-there

    For your half-kidding communication inquiry, I would say that you research (研究) peace (和平), society (社会), and migration (移民). “我在研究和平,社会,和移民。“ Not sure how to pronounce it in Taishanese, but hope this helps!

    Reply
  • June 7, 2017 at 5:53 pm
    Permalink

    It’s so good that you are using your past experiences to reflect on your current situation and how the two are connected. I think it’s great how much you and your parents trust each other.

    Reply
  • June 14, 2017 at 12:12 pm
    Permalink

    Wow! This was really eye-opening and humbling to read. Thank you for sharing your story. I’m sure your parents are extremely proud of you and the work you’re doing, even if they don’t understand it.

    Blessings,

    Brianna

    Reply
  • June 19, 2017 at 5:57 pm
    Permalink

    What a insightful read, Hunter. I can relate 100%, as I, too, come from an immigrant background and struggle with the communication barriers you have described. Reflecting on my own experiences, I’ve noticed how my parents have stopped “monitoring” the progress of my academics and areas of studies not because they don’t care about my education, but rather, because there is this known barrier between us: one where we both have a mutual understanding that we won’t fully be able to comprehend each other. Instead, they’ve instilled a very great deal of trust in me, like your parents in you, and believe that I will take advantage of the opportunities given to me and use them to find my own success, however I may define it.

    Reply
  • August 17, 2017 at 4:40 pm
    Permalink

    I love this story so much. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  • August 18, 2017 at 9:35 pm
    Permalink

    This was such a wonderful piece! Although I cannot relate to the language barrier, my father and I definitely face a similar cultural barrier seeing as he is an immigrant from Germany who moved to the U.S. when he was 10 years old in 1950. It definitely is a very different dynamic having parents that didn’t work towards a higher education degree. My parents have never pushed me to be a specific profession but since the moment I said I wanted to be a doctor, they have pushed very hard for me to work as hard as possible. It is definitely a very different experience not having a parent who understands any of the application or test processes, which in my home often leads to tension from my parents thinking I’m not following a proper timeline. Although you never like to hear someone else having trouble bridging that gap, it’s nice to know there are so many students out there facing similar challenges.

    Reply
  • August 21, 2017 at 8:04 am
    Permalink

    I can relate with you very much as I too come from a Chinese immigrant family and the first to be born here. When I was younger, I felt immense pressure to improve my current situation and was never allowed to slack. Through years of discipline but considerate care, I have become ambitious and successful in my own ways. Although I don’t have to constantly show my parents my grades on Canvas, knowing how it was like to be raised in an Asian family still meant I had to be academically competent.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *