Immigrant Abroad: A Chinese-American in London

Amy Wu is a student at Brandeis University studying Business and Computer Science who studied abroad with IFSA-Butler at University College London. She was an International Correspondent for IFSA-Butler through the Work-to-Study Program.

Did you know that by 2055, the largest immigrant group in the United States will be from Asia and the Middle East, and will comprise of about 15% of the US population (Source)? My own family immigrated to Atlanta, Georgia from China when I was just five years old. Growing up, I transitioned between various types of accommodations in diverse parts of Georgia, allowing me to grow up alongside both immigrants and multi-generational Americans. Though I’m no longer an immigrant by law, due to my US citizenship, my family emigrated in order to give me the “American Dream.”

But the idea of being able to pursue that dream just didn’t seem realistic because my family was still settling into this country.

canal
The Venice canals come to life

Before I studied abroad, I was one of those kids who dreamt of wanderlust since middle school. But the idea of being able to pursue that dream just didn’t seem realistic because my family was still settling into this country. At the time, our family priorities were focused on helping me succeed in school in order to attend a great university. It wasn’t until high school– when my aunt told me the one thing she regretted the most in college was not studying abroad– that I realized it could become an integral part of my university experience. That moment struck a chord because I didn’t want the same regret. It’s already been 5 years since she mentioned it as we headed home from art class; I had drawn a beautiful scenery of the Venice canals, and the crazy part is I saw the canals in person while studying abroad. Study abroad has given me the best of both worlds: 1) I can still be a full time student and 2) I can pursue my passion for travel and experiencing cultures outside the Chinese and American cultures I grew up in.

My first day at University College London!
My first day at University College London!

Growing up in the US as an immigrant meant adjusting to the new American culture. I remember my mother helping me adjust to the new language barrier by teaching me English everyday after school. But I don’t have family in London, so unlike the adjustments I experienced in childhood, I couldn’t depend on my mother to guide me through all the cultural changes experienced abroad. However, I had the help of IFSA-Butler, a very good friend of mine from college, and a family friend who even picked me up from the airport. Chinese culture tends to depend on connections to help each other out, so while I don’t have immediate family around, I depend on the friends I met along the way for guidance. By contrast, American culture tends to value individuality and change to reach your own goals and dreams– the blend of the two cultures meant if I struggled in reaching for my goals, I still had the support of my family and friends.

I assimilated into American culture and got so caught up in the problems facing America that I rarely got a chance to get a glimpse of what different countries were like or the problems facing them.

Growing up alongside multi-generation Americans gave me the impression that America is the best country in the world. I assimilated into American culture and got so caught up in the problems facing America, that I rarely got a chance to get a glimpse of what different countries were like or the problems facing them. Studying abroad as an American, London was particularly great as it is a gateway to the rest of Europe and its multitude of cultures. Being there to experience in-person new cultures was so valuable because it provided diverse perspectives of situations our own country is faced with.

Meeting another Chinese-American in London who became my travel buddy to Prague
Meeting another Chinese-American in London who became my travel buddy to Prague

And studying abroad as a Chinese-American, it’s been exciting for me, too, to meet other Chinese students studying abroad from different parts of the world: Canada, Australia, etc. It’s exciting because our racial appearance might be the same, but our cultures, languages, religions, and outlooks are very different. Having the ability to understand these cultural differences taught me to value openness, a skill vital in this very diverse world.

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