What It's Like Studying Abroad in Shanghai as An American Raised Chinese

May 13, 2019 11:08:00 AM / by Guest Posts

CAPA Spring 2019 Diversity Advocates scholar Malia Waltman opens up about her American identity and Chinese heritage, as well as how she is reconciling these facets of herself in Shanghai. She also talks about her experiences with locals, including the advantages and disadvantages of blending in abroad.

Have you ever heard of the term ABC? If you have not, it means American Born Chinese and is used quite frequently to describe Chinese Americans whose parents or grandparents immigrated to the United States. The term is well known here in China, and when most Chinese learn I am American, they ask if I'm an ABC. I, however, am not, and have coined my term for myself—ARC, which refers to American Raised Chinese. Because unlike my ABC counterparts, I was born in China and raised in the US by non-Chinese American parents. How might you ask? Due to China’s 35-year-old one-child policy, I was put up for adoption by my birth parents and was adopted by a family in the US. Now I am back in China facing a place that is my unfamiliar home.

Malia with Street FoodStreet food in Shanghai.

Ever since I was a child, I knew I was adopted; I always felt slightly different from everyone else. At home in the US, my differences stood out, and I was easily recognizable. Whether it was on the soccer field or in the choir, you could always pick out the one Chinese girl in the group. Here in China, I blend in for the first time. Just from looking at me, no one assumes I am different. They all simply think I belong here.

Diversity in Shanghai is quite prevalent, with its high expat population compared to the rest of China and large amounts of international students. The Chinese nationals think nothing of seeing foreigners on the street and I have found Chinese treat foreigners with respect and patience as they try to stumble through a conversation in Mandarin, and are usually more than happy to have a chat to get to know them. On some occasions my friends will get stares and people will come up and ask them to take a picture with them.

Students on ECNUs CampusStrolling through ECNU's campus.

I personally have mixed feelings about my ability to blend in as it can be an advantage and disadvantage. The disadvantages usually come from my inability to communicate, but I have found the benefits to be much important. As for the advantages, I am free from odd looks, people naturally approach me, and sometimes do not hesitate when I speak Chinese. For example, when I visited the fake markets in China, none of the shop owners approached me, because the native Chinese do not shop at the fake market. Overall, I have found that my ability to blend in has really allowed me to see and experience Chinese culture in a way different from my classmates. I will be forever grateful that I had the opportunity to come and experience my China, my no longer unfamiliar home.

Thanks Malia!

Malia Waltman

Malia Waltman is a junior at Lebanon Valley College and is pursuing a double degree in International Business and Digital Communication. She is spending this spring at CAPA Shanghai.

At CAPA, we seek to foster increased student diversity and to provide all participants with the opportunity to explore, challenge and redefine their identities in distinct ways. Launched in Spring 2017, the Diversity Advocates Program is an extension of this philosophy and provides resources for advocates to pursue diversity initiatives of their own within their global cities.

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Topics: Shanghai, China, Diversity Abroad