Foreign Perspective: Un-relatable TBTs

If you’ve ever studied abroad, then you know what it’s like to be submerged in an entirely foreign culture. But have you ever wondered what it’s like on the flip side of the experience – what it’s like for someone going abroad to America? Join columnists Amy Chilcott, of Australia, and Kasumi Hirokawa, of China, as they encounter all things American and Penn State – and tell it as they see it the way only one with a foreign perspective can.


As international students become more and more integrated into Happy Valley’s way of things, our American friends sort of start to forget that we were not here 10 years ago to laugh at the same joke or know the same song lyrics in the same language.

Here’s what my friends’ (mostly 90s) TBT items look like to a not-so-pop-culture-savvy international student a.k.a. yours truly.

Chicken dance

What dance? Why is it called “Chicken Dance?” Do chickens even dance? Maybe chickens in America have more fun than the ones back home. My first encounter with this song was at a bowling alley. When this song came on after an endless string of Euro dance pops, the entire bowling lane dropped their balls and started dancing to it. The memory of grown people flapping their arms has been stuck in my head ever since.


I was there before Pokémon was a global phenomenon. I think there was a whole year between the release of the first Pokémon movie in Japan and in the U.S. But oh, the frustration I feel when I know 99.9% of Pokémon names only in Japanese (except Pikachu) and I’m almost certain people are talking about Pokémons but I don’t know which ones they are referring to. P.S. Be careful if you mention Pokéballs while you are in Japan. They are known as “monster balls.”

Boy (and girl) bands

If my friends ask me if I remember JT in his mac-and-cheese hair days, I’d say “Nope!” Because I seriously don’t recall anything about N*Sync, Backstreet Boys or The Spice Girls. I may have heard lots of famous songs from 90s artists, but chances are I wasn’t aware of who sang them. I sure as heck remember the Titanic theme song, thanks to mom who forced us to watch it six times.

90s fashion

Crop tops and acid wash jeans? Denim-on-denim and flannels? No, 90s fashion to me looked more like baggy knee-high socks bunched up at the ankles of “fashionable” high school girls and the super-tanned and intimidating white-eyelinered “gyaru” look of Shibuya and Harajuku. I vaguely remember mom buying me my first pair of platform sandals and I felt fabulous beyond my age of 11.

“Purikura” photo booths

Everyone in my fifth grade class spent most of their free time inside photo booths, but it was uncool to admit it. Plus it was even more awkward to be caught taking “purikura” photos by a classmate. I don’t blame them because when you take photos with a “purikura” machine, you can not only add a frilly frame and a super fake tropical background, but also make your eyes 10 times bigger and your complexion smoother. Modern incarnations of these photo booths for insecure teenagers have loads of stamps and pens so that everyone can write clever things like “BFFs Foreva xox!!” across their pictures.

Sylvanian Families dolls

When I saw two bunnies from the Sylvanian Families decked out in holiday gear in the window of the toy store on S. Allen St. last December, my heart almost stopped. My neighbor and my first- and second-grade classmate had an entire dollhouse full of these overall-clad fuzzy critters and I now admit that I stayed friends with her partly because I had access to her dolls. I was a terrible friend, I know.

What are your favorite memories from your childhood? Did I miss something? Let us know in the comments.

Photo by Ziyan Sha

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