Monday, December 8, 2014

Should I Stay or Should I Go (Back)?

By Yixin Zhao 
Student: Columbia University

Millions of international students come to the United States to study every year. But after completing their academic journeys, they all face one question: Should they stay in the U.S. or go back to their home countries? It’s a question so big that it can change one’s entire life trajectory.
I will graduate next year, and I have yet to decide. To be honest, when it came to writing about this, I struggled to sort out my feelings. So I hereby invite you to listen to my stories and consider that what I offer is only a fraction of the whole puzzle.

What’s Your Passion?

Whether you stay or go back is a personal choice – one you make for your career, or simply for yourself. When I first came from China to New York City, I was disorientated and didn’t hold a clear vision of what I wanted to do in the future. I was distracted by the question and the disturbing feeling that accompanied it.

But I’ve come to see right now as an optimal time in my life to make a difference, so my career may be my priority. Naturally, I may choose the place that better nurtures me professionally, taking into account working environments, interpersonal connections, personal growth, and more. Recently, one of my best friends, Joyce, found her true passion in the publishing industry, so she decided to go back to China to pursue her career. It made sense for her because she felt it was hard to engage in a cultural business in a foreign country. My takeaway from her story is that if you find your passion first, then the question of whether to stay will probably answer itself.

Lifestyle Choices

In the long run, staying or going back may be about both a professional passion and a desired lifestyle. I consider myself fortunate to have experienced diverse ways of living and to have the opportunity to choose the ones that best suit me. Compared to where I grew up, I do prefer the free spiritedness and diversity I’ve found in America. But I’m still on the fence about what I’ll do.

Unlike me, Cassandra, a friend of mine from a summer course, connects with almost everything here. She got her green card a few months ago. Originally from Canada, she left home at 15 and spent more time in America than in Canada. “I feel excited to live in America, and I didn’t see myself as an outsider here,” she said.

However, another friend of mine working for does not feel that way. One of many international employees in the field of technology, Jason works as a programmer. He has described his life as materially abundant but spiritually hollow. Despite a substantial income and a stable job, he does not feel as happy as he expected. Last time we talked, he told me he was frightened that his life was going to be mundane in a typical middle-class way. Even though we are free to choose how to live our lives, the culture surrounding us can greatly affect our options.

Comparing Value Systems

While a desired lifestyle is more of an individual choice, a value system – what you believe in or stand up for – is often something you were born with or inherited from your culture and family. I am from a culture that emphasizes collective value over individual value. But before coming to America, I was influenced by Western culture and accepted some of its values, such as freedom. So I found myself caught between collective values – meaning I have obligations to take care of my parents and pay back my country – and individual freedoms, which encourage me to follow my heart and dream. I have not made my decision yet, and choosing one option over another really intimidates me. It’s quite a predicament.

You may grow to doubt your old beliefs or accept new ones when coming to a different cultural environment, and it usually takes time to adjust and negotiate those feelings with yourself. Some people change greatly and devote themselves to a new life, while others double down on their native value system. I am still looking for a balance in between.

We’re all exploring, and we’ll never know how things will turn out until we try. But you are never alone in this endeavor. Whether you stay or go back, I wish you the best luck.
Yixin is a graduate student at Teachers College, Columbia University, majoring in communication and education. She previously studied communication at Beijing Jiaotong University. In the pursuit of becoming a storyteller in media industry, she is currently an intern at SinoVision English Channel.

1 comment:

  1. I am not alone!

    New value system and old one fight with each other all the time


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