Written by Kush Dubey
Published in the November 6, 2015 issue
Students who find themselves transitioning between cultures—whether it’s from Kenya to America or from Hong Kong to Australia—often find themselves in positions of uncertainty when adapting to new atmospheres and lifestyles. For some students, differences in school climate entail reforming one’s identity in order to fit the norm of a new culture. Both menial and major differences pose challenges that are difficult to face but ultimately overcome.
Senior Rabecca Chepkoech recalls her first thoughts after learning that she would move from Kenya to America when she was six years old. “They told me I’d be going to see my mother and I was excited about that,” she said. “I think I was too young to really compare the difference between [American and Kenyan culture] since I’d only spent six years on this earth and I felt like it was just another part of my life.”
Senior Fay Liu, a student born in Taiwan who moved to Shanghai, then to Maryland, Macau, Hong Kong and finally to Palo Alto in the middle of freshman year, found that the process of moving quickly became routine. “After a while it didn’t really feel like anything since I’ve had to move so much,” she said. “It just felt like a new beginning.”
One of the challenges Liu remembers was the noticeable change in the behavior of her peers. “Here people are nice and respect you and are friendly if you ask for help, but that wasn’t how it was everywhere I went,” she said
According to Chepkoech, some cultural problems arose with peers’ reactions to her race. “It was easy making friends but I strug- gled sometimes with the fascination my peers seemed to have with me,” she said. “They would inspect me like a specimen and ask to touch my skin or lick me to see if I tasted like chocolate.”
Assimilating into “American” culture, however, was a somewhat straightforward process for Chepkoech. She was able to quickly understand norms through exposure to American movies and television. Moreover, immigrating at a young age allowed Chepkoech to grow alongside her friends. “The kids around me were growing up too and I think coming at this age, we were, in a way, starting at the same place,” she said. “We were all learning about life and we were too young to differentiate between things too much.”
For Liu, her perspective on life in Palo Alto has improved since arriving. “When I first came to the U.S. I didn’t really like it and wanted to move back to Hong Kong, but now I feel that time has gone by really quickly and I like living here now,” she said.