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Allergic to the World: Chinese students shouldn't abandon cultural ties

The Chinese undergraduate students at Ohio University are pretty upset recently at NetEase (Known in Chinese as Wangyi) — a leading Chinese news website.

Here is why: NetEase took and posted some pictures, without permission, from a blog called “Our dreams are different,” created by students from Visual Communication and E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at OU.

It distorted some of the captions, added some made-up quotes and consequently changed the message sent. The pictures with the original caption were meant to present diversity on campus with a story that because of their different cultural background and language barrier, the Chinese undergraduate students on OU campus live a quite different life from the American students.

The version NetEase presents, however, makes the story about the frustration of the Chinese students wanting to be more like Americans yet failing to do so.

Trying to make a point clearer, NetEase gave this series of pictures a dramatic name: The lost American dreams.

There is so much wrong with what NetEase has done. I could go on and on criticizing about irresponsible journalism, but it’s a beautiful day and I don’t really want to spend time on some low-standard journalistic practice that even a non-journalism student would consider inappropriate.

What I want to talk about is this “American dream” that NetEase thinks the Chinese students in the U.S. are losing.

So what is this “American dream” anyway? I’ve heard people talking about it all the time, but truth be told, it always seems too vague and arbitrary a term to me.

As usual, I turned to Wikipedia for help. It explained it as “a national ethos of the United States in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility achieved through hard work.”

So realizing one’s “American dream” does not necessarily mean being more like an American, but being the best of oneself, taking advantage of the freedom, and all the opportunities here.

Strangely there exists this widely held belief in China that the standard to measure how a Chinese student studying in America is doing is to see how much the student has blended into American culture, how many American friends this Chinese student has made and whether or not he or she has adopted a Western lifestyle.

So generally speaking, if you are a Chinese studying in the U.S. and you are not Americanized, you are a loser, or at least a student with a lost American dream, as presented by NetEase.

While I’m always preaching for culture interaction, I never consider a certain culture superior. Neither would I ever blur or erase my identity just to fit into another culture.

The truth is I like being different. I like my awkward accent and my occasional mispronunciations of some words; I like that my wrong choice of words sometimes triggers some laughs; I like that even daily communication with people can bring me some self-satisfaction (and self-loathing, sometimes).

If I want to be just like the rest of the others, I could have just stayed in the small community where I come from. Seriously, why would I bother to fly half across the globe just to be like everyone else?

A Chinese comedian, Joe Wang once joked about this: “I do one thing best here in the United States that I can never do in China: be exotic.”

So, please, don’t take that exoticism away from me.

But I have to be clear that I’m not suggesting Chinese students or any other foreign students should keep themselves exclusive from the American culture, and hold on desperately to what they already are, the friends they already have, and the life they have been living for so many years. Again, we could have done that at home.

So, have an open mind. Try a hamburger and some Coke with an absurd amount of ice. If you still prefer kung pao chicken, that’s fine. Nobody is to blame for being different. As a matter of fact, what distinguishes you from the others might make you more interesting and more memorable.

So yeah, I do not want to be an American. Don’t get me wrong. Americans are pretty cool.

But so am I.

Bixi Tian is a graduate student studying journalism and a columnist for The Post. Tell her what you think at bt121511@ohiou.edu.

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