Foreigner by Skin

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After years of saying ‘I do’, I discovered that my experiences abroad made my spouse’s country my own.

Comparing Makes It Harder

When I got married, everything was fresh. I had a new spouse, I began a new life, developed new obligations, made new sacrifices, learnt a new language and connected with a new culture.

The first time my husband brought me to his home nation to meet the world he grew up in, I could not count the number of time I compared everything to the country I came from. “Back home, we do this, we believe that, you can/can’t do this/that, etc. And though I encountered the delights of a new environment, it formed a barrier between my thoughts and what was in front of my eyes.

For years, we were going back and forth, but at the beginning, I wished to return to what I knew because I observed others with different mentalities and I would not budge on mine, believing where I came from was right. It was a good thing my spouse grasped the western mentality, since he studied there for a while, else it would have been hard to comprehend and appreciate each other in a relationship linking the opposing ends of the planet. Everywhere I went in his country, people were whispering ‘laowai’ (老外foreigner) in both a curious and disapproving way…depending on where I went as not all places where the same. From taking selfies with strangers to being captured on video while I ate, there was no end to the strangeness I was not prepared for.

Comparing everything without laying my ego aside made it tougher to adapt the first few times I visited. It was a magnificent destination with such beauty and amazing gastronomy to which I should have immersed myself in, instead of approaching it with caution.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do“, was the most accurate advice I could pass on to others, learning from my own mistakes.

Restrictions Make You Question

Over the course of several years, I developed a strong emotional connection to the enigmatic realm inhabited by my spouse. I acquired familiarity with certain vocabulary terms and developed the ability to independently engage in purchasing tasks, relying on my comprehension of essential keywords for navigation purposes. Gradually, I developed a strong attachment to a nation in which I was not native, and had great enthusiasm whenever I had the opportunity to revisit.
I was residing within my country at the time of the initial outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Similar to several individuals from Western countries, I held the belief that remaining within the borders of my nation was preferable due to the overwhelming influence of exaggerated reports and unfounded rumors about Asia propagated by the media. As a family with transcontinental connections, we were always concerned for our distant relatives until circumstances underwent a change. After Asia implemented border closures and effectively addressed the crisis, the Western world experienced major effects of the pandemic. In the end, my husband had to return for his parents because our relatives were the ones who were worried about us, but I was unable to return.

Having undergone various daily routines in various cities, I developed a strong attachment for the uncomplicated and low-stress lifestyle prevalent in China. People appreciated my attempts to communicate in their language, despite the fact that I frequently stumbled or missed structure. In other words, I desired to escape the demanding and unyielding atmosphere of my country of origin and seek solace in the happiness I experienced while residing in China, where individuals exhibited diligent work ethics and a quickness for promptly resolving problems, in contrast to the procrastination tendencies observed among the inhabitants of my hometown who actively avoided working.

If you need something completed on a Saturday in China, you do not have to wait until the following Monday for the task to be evaluated and the following week for it to be completed.

During the pandemic, I frequently shed tears over the fact that I was detained in my home country while others were stranded abroad.

Experiences Make It Home

Initially, I found myself navigating between two distinct realms, wherein I did not fully align with either. However, with time, I gradually forged the interconnections that tethered me to a sphere where the significance of my non-native citizenship was diminished, save in instances necessitating administrative procedures.
Having possession of my insurance card, driver’s license, car, and home, as well as experiencing the process of weird pregnancy experiences in eastern hospitals and giving birth in China, I found it more difficult to perceive myself as a foreigner. Despite engaging in frequent travel between the West and the East, I experienced a sense of attachment to both, ultimately finding greater contentment residing in the East.

In present circumstances, when individuals refer to me as “waiguoren外国人/laowai 老外” (foreigner), I have developed a knack for confidently stating my nationality in their language, while simultaneously emphasizing my connections to China, including my marital status, offspring, and residence. It is sometimes a source of pleasure to witness the surprise expressed by others when I am able to respond in their language to some extent, as those from foreign backgrounds are commonly perceived as lacking knowledge of the Chinese language.
From a total foreigner in all dimensions of the term to a palatable hybrid, I believe I have become a foreigner only in terms of skin color.

Have you lived in a foreign country? What was surprising, enjoyable, or unforgettable about your experience? Would you repeat it again? If so, would you do it differently?

Sabrina Mailhot

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