Potluck of Cultures

Yu

This is Yu. She is from China. She mainly brought the traditional food from her home town in the Sichuan province with her to the United States. “Food is the flavor of your family or home town; you cannot buy it here. When you are homesick and you miss your home and family, the food from home will make you feel better.”

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When Yu and her husband Haiyang decided to take the leap and leave their home  country to move to Atlanta almost 2.5 years ago, Yu knew it would mean leaving her job as a financial consultant in China. More importantly, because she is not allowed to work in the United States, it would mean postponing her career altogether. A difficult decision, but one she wanted to make to support her husband’s dream. “At first, my husband struggled with this. You know, to ask a person to give up their dreams is not easy, but he believes that coming to the United States for his PhD studies will ultimately change the life of the whole family.” While Yu 15726202_705048102976986_8917946467559605433_ninitially found it hard to adapt to life without a job, she realized that having this time off could actually be a good opportunity for her to realize her dream of starting a family. And so, in 2015, the couple welcomed their beautiful daughter Catherine into their lives. Yu admits that she never envisioned herself as a stay-at-home-mom, but that she is happy that she now has the time to focus on her daughter and her role as a mother, even it runs counter to what she was raised to believe about a woman’s place in the modern world. “From my childhood, I have been studying very hard to get a good job later on, but now I want to be a good mother first, so that I can focus on my job when I am able to work again.” She resents the often negative image of stay-at-home-moms and believes there should be more support and understanding for mothers willing to stay at home for their children. “Taking care of the kids is a job for both parents together and when a mother sacrifices herself and her career to do it, that should be paid. She still contributes her labor, time, energy and love; she is not a lazy woman, rather she is working all day and all night.”

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For Yu, raising her daughter so far away from her family and her home country can be a very difficult task at times and she wants her daughter to get to know both while their home is in the United States. “Now I miss my parents very much. I think that your parents are the only ones that, no matter where you are, what kind of person you have become or what your future is, they will support you and love you all the time.” She feels it is equally important to surround her daughter with both the customs and language of her home country, as well as those of her new one. Therefore, Yu often tells her daughter stories, not only the English children’s stories she has encountered in the United States, but also the traditional Chinese stories she grew up with. “Chinese and English stories have different ways of looking at the world, because they represent the different cultures and I want her to learn the difference between them.” Similarly, she has introduced elements of both cultures into their home and their lives, so that Catherine can enjoy the best of both worlds. Not only do they celebrate many of the traditional Chinese festivals, like the Spring Festival, they also take part in some American festivities, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. “Every Christmas Eve, we visit a church on Peachtree Street. It is very different for us, because in China, it is a big day for businesses and shopping! The stores give big discounts, etc. Here in the church it’s very quiet, both in the atmosphere, as well as in our minds. I really like it. And then the following day, of course we go shopping! (laughs)”

15727177_705048109643652_1332640505620752528_nEven though life in China is similar to life in the United States in a multitude of ways, Yu does admit that she prefers certain aspects of life in her new home over that in her homeland. For example: as opposed to China, where air pollution is a well-known problem, Yu enjoys the fresh air and the abundance of trees and nature found in the city of Atlanta. She has also grown very fond of the people in the South, who she describes as very friendly and helpful, but above all very respectful towards each other. She admits that she was pleasantly surprised the first time she heard people thanking their bus driver before getting off the bus. “In China nobody does this; they think that because they have paid for the service, they don’t need to thank them, but here everyone shows respect.” More importantly, she admires the confidence of the American people and hopes to pass this on to her daughter Catherine. “Chinese girls are very shy. Sometimes we worry about making mistakes, or offending someone, but people in the United States are always very confident. When I teach Catherine, I will teach her to be confident and to just be herself, without worrying about what others are thinking.” What she loves most about her new home is the variety of cultures she has encountered there, allowing her to live vicariously through the international group of friends she has met there. She loves hearing her friends’ stories and little known facts about their home countries and excitedly shares her own stories about growing up in Chengdu, the home of the giant panda, with them. “I like the different cultures here; it is very fresh and exciting for me. A person doesn’t always have a lot of chance to visit many different countries, but when you talk to people from different countries, it is like you have visited these places.” She feels inspired by her friends in the Georgia Tech International Spouse Group; not only by how they overcome certain struggles and worries linked to moving to another country, but also by the way they come together to lean on each other during bad times and celebrate together during good times.

Still, while Yu has come to feel at home in the United States, it will never be able to take the place of her home country. To remind her of her home and feel closer to her family, she has brought a little Buddha statue with her. “My grandmother talks to the Buddha every day, to protect her relatives and bring them luck. So I have brought the statue with me for luck and protection for my loved ones as well!”

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Interview and writing by Tineke Van Varenberg

Make up by Denise Batista

Interview and Photography by Sonal Sukheeja

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