Being British Born Chinese – A Reflection

I got requested to write a response to my culture lesson a month ago. I’m finally getting around to it. At the start of the class was an activity where students stood to the right of the class if they agreed with a statement¬†and on the left if they did not. A fellow expat/teacher/blogger called Meg warned me that Chinese students were prone to the herding effect, which means they would all stand at one side of the class. Fortunately, this didn’t happen.

The lesson itself was a little difficult to teach because using a projector to show the slides stifled discussion. It would have been better to print hand-outs and break up the class into small groups.

To end the lesson, I asked the following questions:

  • Was Susan (the British-born Chinese girl) British or Chinese?
  • Where should a BBC live?

The general consensus was that she was mostly British, which is what I would agree with. One significant remnant of Chinese culture that I have inherited is an immense weight of obligation to my parents. All non-deadbeat parents sacrifice for their children, but Chinese parents go the extra mile, with children strapped to their backs and no shoes on their feet. This, plus other idiosyncrasies, means that BBCs produce their own culture.

I was slightly shocked to find one student strongly suggesting that BBCs should live in China. It wasn’t my fault that I was born outside the Motherland. I can’t even contemplate living outside Britain.

Now, I am really interested in knowing what the Mainlander’s attitude is towards Chinese born overseas.¬† If anyone else is interested then please send me a large cheque to sponsor my PHD.

Being British Born Chinese

I am going to do a special lesson on culture for my students. I have no idea how it will go because my student’s exposure to foreign culture consists of their (eccentric) teacher and stereotypical American movies. You can look at my lesson plan here

. Before I get a mass of complaints, I realise that my lesson plan is missing some fundamentals:

  1. Statement of aims
  2. No target grammar being taught
  3. No timings on the plan

Whilst browsing for some material for the lesson I found a youtube video about being British-born Chinese.

There is a lot that I sympathise with. The long evenings spent by myself whilst my parents worked; acting as a translator; the feeling of isolation; episodes of racism (though it hasn’t been a problem for me for years); the long hours studying. Even my parents like to play Mahjong!

Well, I’m not completely like Susan. My parents are from mainland China, I never had to work that much in the takeaway and I decided to run off to China after university, just to confuse myself even more. Actually, my experience in China has taught me that I am British at heart. However, the more important lesson for me was to rise about the paradigm of culture. It is too easy to say that all actions and attitudes are caused by culture. I’m trying to look beyond and see the person underneath. Realising this, culture does not seem to matter so much anymore.

Actually, it does matter because it gives me an easy lesson to teach.

<insert witty title about Cambridge>

I was privileged to be able to stay in Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge for a few days. I managed to attend some Christian Union events, a formal dinner and an Ecumenical Society meeting. I perfected my long-winded explanation of how I have nothing whatsoever to do with Cambridge.

Cambridge student: So James, which college are you from? James: Well, …

This has similarities with my explanation to the Chinese of why I can’t speak the language.

Local Chinese person: You don’t speak Chinese, where on Earth are you from?
James: Well, …)

I have gotten used to not fitting in anywhere.

Student clique-ness is taken to the next level in Cambridge. The students will admit that much. But that is not surprising when you consider that massive work-load, academic rigours and the tradition of the place.

I revisited Pembroke College, where I applied to read economics 5 years ago. It is still as beautiful as I remember. I considered what life would have been life if I had passed the interview.

Pembroke College, Cambridge

In short, I would have really disliked studying here. I didn’t have the brain-power or will for it. I did immensely like living in Nottingham. I usually only studied for the scheduled 10-hours a week, so lots of time to do other things.

So I saw a few friends, enjoyed the view of Kings College, become grateful for my Nottingham University experience and realised that I never ever want to be a student again.