Saturday, November 10, 2012

Thoughts that come up when living in a foreign country

Being so far removed from family, I am feeling the effects of how much I got stepped all over by almost all members of my extended family all these years. Since I'm the youngest in the family, ever since I could remember, parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, sister + brother in-law have been offering me endless advice + suggestions on just about everything, from how to tie my shoe laces to how to dress myself to how much education I should get to when to get married. As a child I just assumed everybody knew better and took it all in. As I got older and got educated in the west I was totally surprised parents allowed their young children to choose their own outfits. Before the age of 10 I had zero say in what I could wear for any occasions to go out of the house. I absolutely despised my mother's taste in clothes. I guess sometimes the dresses would look fine on a more feminine looking girl but not on a tomboy like me with the ugliest hair cut in the world.

I grew up to become a total pushover. Whatever I decide about my own life can be super easily changed by a suggestion that my mother or my relatives. If my mother says I needed a haircut I'd suddenly become all insecure about how I look (turns out my mother's the insecure one, always telling me to dress nicer when I'm about to meet with this rich aunt, or when Chinese New Year is around the corner). It's amazing that for many years I believed that people offer me advice because they are looking out for me, not because it satisfies their own ego to offer their "words of wisdom" to the youngest one in the family.

Not saying I'm amazingly organized on my own. It's just that if I'm late, I experience the consequences for being late. When I was at home, my mother would take extreme measures so I am not late for some casual dinner with relatives. She'd tell me the wrong start time (6pm dinner when it actually was a 7pm dinner), tell me to be home by 5pm and then chain call me if I didn't make it home. If I did get home by 5pm she'd make me wait and do nothing for an hour, just so I wouldn't be late. She thought she was trying to build a habit of punctuality in me, but instead she just created resentment each time she did this (and this has happened countless times).

A couple of months before I moved to Europe, my mother tried to tell me how to pack in minute details. She also set a totally arbitrary packing schedule for me, which would only work if I woke up every single day and packed for 8 hours and didn't see any friends during the whole time. That totally did not happen, and our relationship just kept getting worse the last couple of months we spent together.  Right now I have no desire of meeting up with family any time in the near future. The thought of getting together with family brings up stressful feelings of everybody racing to tell me what's wrong with me, how I should behave and what I should do with my life.

I know that my family means well and they give advice to try to be useful. The thing is, first of all, I am not centered enough to objectively only take in advice I need and politely ignore the less useful suggestions. Secondly, I have to step back and objectively look at their lives. To be honest, none of them have lived a life that I envy, nor have they made personal choices that I wish to emulate. I used to think that because I should listen to their advice and learn from their mistakes, but in reality, I should only look to learn from role models, because they have also made plenty of mistakes, but whatever they did right got them to where they are right now.  I should never learn from people whose lives I don't want to emulate because either they never follow their own advice, or they've tried their own advice and failed, but somehow expect that piece of advice would work on me instead.

What got me started on this piece is that I've been meeting a lot of interesting people lately. Some have led successful lives and some have been more "experimental" with their lives. While I would definitely not recommend anybody to follow their paths, I'm happy for them that they weren't strongly discouraged to try different things (or maybe they were but they didn't oblige). I think as long as people practice "ahimsa" - do no harm to others and to oneself, one should be free to live the life one chooses (this is only possible for those who were lucky enough to be born into a liberal society).

I met a couple friends in their early/mid-20s who are currently grad students. They tell me that most of their friends are married with children. Depending on the size/location of the towns they're from, one tells me most of her friends didn't even go to college. Another tells me that her friend's parents strongly discouraged their kids to go to college and advised them that the most practical thing to do is to get married and have children as soon as possible after high school. This is the complete opposite of Asian cultures. I wonder where I would be if I were in their positions (would I still have been a pushover and complied?), and I wonder how these grad students I met managed to push through peer pressure and continue their educations.


  1. From reading your posts over the last little while, I'm glad you have the Atlantic Ocean between you and your family. That sort of overbearing characteristic of theirs can only be handled for so long. As for the last paragraph, being able to juxtapose your situation versus theirs can always open the curiosity door.

    1. Thanks Jethero. Being in an environment where no one is constantly telling me what I must do from moment to moment makes me realize that I don't really have a backbone (Half the time I don't know what to do with myself). I should grow one quickly and decide for myself my directions in life or else some other bossy people will eventually come around and push me around.