Feeling Walled In
By Nancy Yun Tang '14
Being a freshman is not easy. Being an international freshman is even harder. Being an international frosh from China? Are you kidding me? The answer would be anxiety, anxiety and anxiety.

The first kind of anxiety comes from the realization that I’ve never-thought about my identity. Yes, I feel a strange kind of pride whenever I tell people I’m from Beijing, China. But when someone asks me whether I am communist, the situation could and only should be described as awkward. What is China? Socialist? Communist? Capitalist? I’m not quite sure. I am Chinese, but who am I really? There are no such terms as “Democrat” or “Republican” in my Chinese vocabulary — maybe it is because I was brought up in a racially homogenous environment. I have no religious beliefs that I know of and always considered “race & class” as a purely academic discussion topic. I don’t play sports and haven’t been exposed to many extracurricular activities here on campus. I feel lost at times. Amherst is so diverse that it keeps my mind spinning. I even have an illusion that China actually is a communist state — why else would my peers and I not have a specific self-identity? However, you should always believe the Chinese on this subject: China is not communist.

Another reason for being anxious is the challenge of critical thinking. In my political science class, my professor called China “an unstable state.” I have no choice but to force myself to think critically, even though my previous education emphasized following the teacher’s instruction. I do not, cannot and will not think of China as unstable — I have to return home for winter break, and to believe home faces possible chaos simply is not helping. And there is always The New York Times, whose editors love to put China on the front page. I have to think critically here too — the narrators in such news pieces are always some U.S. citizens. It feels weird to me that China is “them”, not “us” anymore. From now on, I should be alert in perceiving the world. Nothing should be taken as given. There is the U.S. point of view and the Chinese point of view — but it is time I develop my own individual point of view.

Sometime I wonder why my nationality in particular makes me so anxious. Thus, the ultimate source of anxiety: the complicated feelings one has towards his or her motherland. Patriotism seems too grand a word yet I do love China and my culture. It is hard for me to criticize China but sometimes I cannot deny reality. I went to the movie sponsored by THiNK night last week and watched “Seoul Train,” a documentary about how Chinese government captures North Korean refugees and sends them back to North Korea, where execution awaits them. I was disturbed and distressed; there are so many things about Chinese policies I don’t understand and don’t agree with. Yet it seems that I am supposed to be the representative of China here at Amherst — I need to learn my relationship with China: I’m also affiliated with her, but I might not think the same as Chinese officials. And it is my generation’s duty to change China for the better.

The truth is, Amherst is great and I’m doing fine. I enjoy being with my friends and I love my classes. The anxiety is a drive — it drives me to think more, learn more and see more of the world through this experience of Amherst. The fact that Chinese currency (the Renminbi — RMB) is appreciating influenced me when my mom called and told me to use cash rather than the RMB-based credit card.

Oct. 1 was the 61st National Day of the People’s Republic of China. China is old — the People’s Republic is young, like a college frosh. As a college freshman, I expect to go through a process of suffering from anxiety and learning to think critically before I actually fit into the Amherst environment. How could the China fit into the rest of the world? I bet the answer wouldn’t be that different.

Issue 05, Submitted 2010-10-06 02:58:42