Copyright ©2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: Finally, this hour, we return to the Hidden World of Girls, our series produced with The Kitchen Sisters. The end of high school and the beginning of college is a momentous time for any teenager, a time of shifting identities and evolving family relationships. Well, now imagine going through all of that in a foreign country. Nineteen-year-old Mandy Lu did just that.

MANDY LU: Well, after 13 hours of arduous journey, I am finally in Beijing, and it feels kind of weird. That was me a couple of months ago, on my first trip back to China since before I started college in the U.S. It's been two years. When I saw my parents and grandmother at the airport, I felt awkward. I didn't really know what to say to them.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

LU: The first thing my mother says to me is: You're not fat. She always tells me I've gained weight when I talk to her over Skype.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

LU: Whenever I cross the border between my two worlds, for the first few days, I feel like I'm in a daze. I have to find an identity for myself in a place that's so familiar and yet not familiar at all. And I'm all on my own whenever that happens, because no one around me knows my other world or the kind of person I am in my other world. My parents are from northeastern China. They're migrant workers living in Beijing. Financially, they're not very stable. They run a traditional medicine shop doing acupuncture and massage. They work seven days a week. I look at how hard their lives are, and I feel guilty that I can't help.

It's hard for them to get a grip on what things are like for me. I don't think they know enough about America to have the capacity to understand certain things. Like how I don't eat steamed buns for breakfast at school. Or how I could disagree with my professor. Or why a dance party at college where everybody cross-dresses is fun. So we end up talking about mundane subjects like what I want to eat for lunch.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)

LU: That day was kung pao chicken. On my trip back home, I spent a lot of time sitting around with family eating or just snacking on sunflower seeds. My parents think it's important for me to connect with my relatives, but I have almost nothing to say. Sometimes, I wonder if I'm actually related to them.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LU: As they got louder and louder, I would have flashbacks to the racket my friends and I would make in the school cafeteria over, you know, someone's silly trick with a straw or the racket we'd make with test tubes and beakers in the chemistry lab. I found myself missing that. I've been back from my visit to China for two months now. I'm still debating if I should put pictures from my trip on Facebook. Here in the U.S., I've been unconsciously only putting my American self out there. Maybe I'm afraid to show my differences, or maybe I'm simply avoiding the many questions I know will come my way.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: