Foreign Perspective: Bizarre Things My Family and Friends Back Home Think About America

McDonalds 1I admit: it’s not easy being this awesome. International students represent their home countries while they are here. When they are home, they have to represent not only Penn State but also the United States. Sounds like a big burden to bear? It is. But I wouldn’t trade this precious experience for anything even if my family believed America was like these…

American food = burgers + fries + soda

This equation must be circling my mom’s mind when my mom tries to feed me 7,927,527,049,750,370 times a day. “Child, come and have more of this. Where else can you find such delicious hairy crab stew with tofu? America?!” It’s okay mom, junk food isn’t all there is.

Everything in the U.S. is huuuge, including clothing

Mom insists on getting clothing and shoe shopping done before I fly to Penn State because she thinks the stuff back home would fit my frame better. But ironically, long-sleeved shirts in East Asian size smalls are way too short and there are barely any size 7.5 shoes in Shanghai. Take me to any Payless and I’ll be the happiest shoe shopper. What’s better than getting a whole aisle of shoes that actually fit my feet?

College parties are evil (or confusing)

Movies, TV news and hearsay give American college parties a bad reputation. My parents strongly advocated against going to parties unless I go with people I trust, which is a good piece of advice for anyone. On the other hand, my uncle and aunt were trying to tailor a satin-y, prom-y dress for my cousin who was leaving for a university in Missouri last year. Good thing they called me before heading out to the tailor.  

There is no racism

When Obama took office in 2008, the whole world watched – and let their imagination run wild. Having one president of color makes people think we live in a post-racial world. If someone asks me, “There’s no more racism in America, right?” I’d say, “How do you explain stop-and-frisk? Flying while brown? Can you name five Asian or Latino lead characters in Hollywood box office hits from last year?”

There is no countryside in America

Years and years of dubbed sci-fi and action movies can really take a toll on you, especially in your expectations department. Said cousin and her parents freaked out to see tree critters and cows greeting them upon their arrival in her college town. No Times Square billboards and neon signs. No sidewalk, even. Just farmlands and grassy hills. Welcome to American college life. It’ll grow on you eventually.

You can casually hang out with celebrities

I have to say some people not only have a lousy sense of geography but also know little to nothing about how bodyguards work. “You are in D.C.? Say hi to Mr. President for me!” “You are reporter right? You should do an exclusive interview with Tom Cruise next time you are in the area.” The fact that I’m studying print journalism doesn’t help either.

It’s a small world after all

From time to time, I’m asked to give advice on where to stay and what to eat in places I’m unfamiliar with, just because they are in the U.S. like that one time people who sat next me on the plane to San Fran asked me ten million questions about the local Chinatown dim sum restaurants when I was just switching to another plane there. Or people assume it’s super easy to get around in America like that one time a friend got into a university in Philadelphia and excitedly declared, “I’ll visit you every weekend!” It’s actually a lot of money and time spent on the road to travel to State College from Philly, unlike the distance of where we live respectively in Shanghai.

Photo by Kyle Biller


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