Yes, the saying is “work hard, play hard” but within Chinese culture, the saying becomes “work harder, play later.”
Being an American-born Chinese has allowed me to indulge myself in both American and Chinese cultures. Although both have balanced themselves within different aspects of my life, my Chinese heritage has always battled with my American pride within my academic career. Due to my extremely traditional and strict Chinese immigrant parents, school and my career has always been prioritized over my social life, family life and even my health. Some may say that being an American-born Chinese is the best of both worlds because of the fact that you get all the toughness and needed discipline from your Chinese side but all the fun and flirtiness from your American side. Even though they’ve both found a way to intertwine, academics have always been a struggle. Should I even be writing this column or should I catch up on reading? And yes, it’s only the second day of class, but I guarantee you that I am already behind on my readings.
The American side of my identity understands that grades aren’t everything. I always try my best and that’s what ultimately matters in the end, despite the outcome. I acknowledge that I need to take breaks, that coffee cannot be my only source of energy and that sleep is, in fact, not for the weak. I understand that college should be a time of experiences and that it can’t be experienced by being glued to a desk. I should be going crazy while my body is still young and strong enough to take it. I should be writing this column, because it’s what I love doing.
However, I can’t help but feel guilty for doing extracurriculars, taking breaks, sitting down for an actual meal and getting sleep when I could be studying or doing something more targeted toward my career. I know students from other cultural backgrounds feel the same way as well. You know about that odd feeling that creeps into your stomach and when your conscience fills with doubts whenever you choose to play over work. There’s always a voice in the back of your head saying that you can do more — even though your body and mind have completely run out of energy.
The Chinese side of my identity has always made me strive to be the best in everything, especially in an academic setting. In elementary school and high school, when I didn’t come out on top, I was scolded by my parents and had privileges like my Nintendo DS or phone taken away. Now even without my parents here to scold me, I still hold myself accountable by taking away social or fun privileges. In no way am I saying that my Chinese heritage holds me back from living a healthy college life, but it does make me think twice about how I’m spending my time here at UC Berkeley. This urgency of accountability has been bred into me since birth because of my Chinese culture, but has been embraced more healthily by my American values of maintaining a good social life and health.
The contradictions between my two cultures have battled each other since the first day I stepped into a classroom. However, I’ve learned that I need both cultures to succeed in furthering my education and career. My American side is why I have the best memories from college, the greatest friends a girl could ask for and breaks that my fried brain deserves. On the other hand, my Chinese culture reminds me to make my parents proud, to not give up when a paper can’t be written and to walk out of one of the best public universities in the world feeling like I’ve actually learned something unique and important.
By the end of this column, I’m sure you can see or understand the predicament I’m faced with when it comes to cultures and academics. At times, it seems that the two cannot coincide within the same space, but as I get older, I find myself being able to find a balance. My American and Chinese cultures allow me to have the best time in college while keeping my education a main priority.
Contact Joyce Cam at[email protected].