life experience, professional experiences, research experiences and interests in multiculturalism and multicultural counseling.
I was born in Hong Kong. As a child, I had traveled to many counties throughout the world such as Thailand, Malaysia, Japan and the United States, but my visits had been to mostly to popular tourist destinations. For example, in the United States, I visited Disneyland, Disney World, the World Trade Center, Sears Tower and the Statue of Liberty. Based on these trips, I had always thought that America was very similar to Hong Kong; America just had different looking people who spoke another language. My perception was also influenced by my ethnocentrism. Because Hong Kong is a very small, homogenous city, I assumed that all of America was just like New York.
I later returned to America to start my undergraduate education. It was Winter 2000, when the airplane slowly descended into the Indianapolis International Airport. I had expected to see the skyscrapers that had welcomed me on my previous journeys, but that day all I saw were corn fields and single story homes. I was shocked and left totally speechless. I asked myself, “What have I gotten into?” I did not know that farmland existed in America. I wondered, “Why do Americans need farms? Just import all your food. Who wants to be a farmer anyway?” I simply did not understand.
However, I soon realized the limitations of travel on truly understanding the cultural dynamics of a country.
I also mistakenly believed that reading had provided me with a thorough understanding of world culture. When I was growing up, I liked to cook all kinds of food from different cultures, European, American, Asian and Middle-Eastern. I felt close to those cultures when I manipulated different ingredients and spices from those regions. I collected ethnic cookbooks, especially those with vivid pictures, and vibrant stories about life in different cultures. William Sonomas cookbooks were my favorite. When I read about the different kinds of food people eat and the ingredients they chose, I felt in touch with their daily lives. To me, learning about cooking was like looking into a culture with a spyglass.
Unfortunately, reading is not always the perfect way to learn about culture as I discovered during a family gathering with my in-laws. When I reached over and spooned some vegetables off the plate across the dinning table, my in-laws were shocked by my barbaric manners. I could not understand why the entire table stared at me as though something terribly wrong had just happened. I panicked, and found out that I was supposed to say,.