Category Archives: Asian American

On Being An International Student During The Lunar New Year

By Hannah Teoh

Edited by Natalie Grace Sipula

[3.5 minute read]

Recently, the Lunar New Year passed and celebrations were happening everywhere. If you aren’t familiar with the holiday, the Lunar New Year is celebrated every year to mark the beginning of the Lunar calendar. It originates from China and is celebrated widely by Asian diasporas all around the world. As an ethnic Chinese person from Malaysia, Lunar New Year has always been an important event to my family. On the eve of Lunar New Year, everyone gathers at the ancestral home to have a big traditional feast, followed by a grand ritual at midnight to commemorate the new year. The festivities typically last for a week. We usually clear our schedules for the week for visiting relatives and for going to temples to pray for the upcoming year. The Lunar New Year was always my favorite time of the year, purely because it is a time of unity, reflection, connection, and remembrance. 

The Lunar New Year has looked very different the past few years. For me, the Lunar New Year lost its usual vibrant vitality and character during the pandemic, as lockdowns and social gathering restrictions discouraged visits to temples and seeing relatives and friends— but with good reason, I must add. Many of my relatives are quite a bit older and were part of the population that was highly vulnerable to the air-borne infection. We also did not have a vaccine roll-out at that time, so it was a more precarious situation to navigate. While I understood why such restrictions were put in place, it also made our Lunar New Year celebrations humbler. Streets were quiet when they normally would have abounded with cars and people on their way to different celebrations. The night sky remained calm when it would have been painted in splatters of fireworks.

Photo by HyggeLab Concept on Unsplash

2020 was the last year I had a Lunar New Year celebration with my family back home in Malaysia. I left for the U.S. the following year in 2021, right before the New Year. I stayed with my sister in Boston and we had a small Lunar New Year’s eve dinner with Korean take-out food. We called our parents and our grandmother to give well wishes, and they in turn gave us virtual red packets (packets of money traditionally given out by elders during Lunar New Year). A grand celebration that usually takes place over the course of a week was relegated to a modest dinner. 

For the first time, I spent the Lunar New Year alone this year. Between finishing schoolwork, attending class, and going to work, I never really prioritized celebrating the holiday. Plans to have a dinner for Lunar New Year were mentioned in passing but never brought up again as people got busy (myself included). The dumplings that I usually make were stored for an extra day because it was time-consuming to make them. I called my parents late, with the 15-hour time difference throwing off my frame of time. My Lunar New Year celebration started and ended with a bowl of glutinous rice sesame balls in Alhambra.

Photo by Olivia Colacicco on Unsplash
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The Many variations of english

By Ning Hannah Teoh

Edited by Natalie Grace Sipula

[3.5 minute read]

Language is fascinating. Even within the English language, where all words are written using letters from the same alphabet, there are so many variations. Every region where English is spoken has its own accent, slang, and grammatical structure, formed through centuries of culture and history.

Growing up in Malaysia, I was familiar with a hybrid version of the English language— colloquially coined “Manglish”— which was a combination of English, Malay, and other miscellaneous languages. English sentences would end in Malay and Mandarin suffixes (-lah, -mah, etc.). You would often hear a Malaysian person go “Stop it lah” or “Got meh?” which respectively translates to “You should stop,” and “Do they really have it?” English in Malaysia reflects the multicultural and multiethnic diversity that exists within the country, and it is an excellent example of how varied English is not only across regions in the United States, but in different parts of the world as well.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Ever since I came to the United States and eventually USC, I’ve been learning different variations of English and all of the regional words and phrases you encounter when you move around. When I was living in Boston, I learned that sprinkles (the ones you put as a topping on ice cream) were called “jimmies”. I also found out how much Bostonians were fond of their Dunkin Donuts, so much so that they refer to the coffee and donut franchise by the nickname “Dunkies”. Once, my boss who was based in Washington D.C. assigned me a task where I had to look for educational-support organizations within the DMV. At first, I was very confused because I thought the DMV was the Department of Motor Vehicles. It took me a while to realize that in this context, the DMV referred to the Washington metropolitan area, or D.C, Maryland, and Virginia.

I have to admit that when I first came to the U.S., I worked hard to get rid of my native accent. Even though English is my first language, I spoke in tones and inflections that were unfamiliar to the American ear. I pronounced “three” as “tree” and said “geo-GRA-phy” instead of “ge-O-graphy”. In the beginning, I would mimic how Americans discarded their t’s and took out the h in herbs. In some ways, I didn’t want to sound foreign. I didn’t want to be looked at as “other”— a sentiment I believe many international students share. Especially under the political climate of the previous government administration and with the recent rise of anti-Asian violence, international students are all the more aware of the hostility we might face simply by being international. Coming to a foreign country alone is already tough in and of itself, but knowing that you will potentially face outward discrimination from a vocal minority because of where you come from or how you are perceived is a different kind of fear. So, I worked hard to sound as American as possible so that fewer questions were asked of me.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

But the truth is, I am not American. I grew up calling an elevator a lift and I grew up drinking teh tarik (“pulled tea”) and not unsweetened iced tea. Coming to USC has made me prouder about my identity as an international student in this student community. I have so much cultural experience to share— language included— why would I ever hide it? Seeing the thriving and diverse international community here has made me realize that the international experience is unique and that I have been blessed with the opportunity to be part of the cultural exchange between international and domestic students. This includes the interaction between accents, slang, and everything in between.

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Pictures? A thousand words. Experiences? Immeasurable.

By Iric Hong

Edited by Natalie Grace Sipula

[4-minute read]

Growing up in a working-class family, long-distance travel was more often than not a luxury that was far out of my family’s reach. With the cost of providing kids a fruitful and fun childhood increasing by the day, it becomes exponentially harder to allow children to experience all that the world has to offer. Without a doubt, however, I will have to admit that those of us that had the opportunity to call Southern California our home for most of our life had it a fair bit better than others, as this home is also home to many other cultures hailing from different places around the globe. As a child, I was able to experience a variety of cultures that, in some shape or form, shaped Southern California in ways that I could only imagine.

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

Despite this fact, I was not really prepared for what I was about to witness during my first long-distance flight (that I can actually remember) during the summer of 2016. My family and I were on our way to Japan and Hong Kong and to say my current state of emotions at that time was simply excited would be an extreme understatement. I was unsure of what to expect when I got to Japan. Therefore, I landed preparing myself to be amazed by the culture and the people. And, to be frank, I was not disappointed.

Although I did not have many interactions with Japanese people outside of asking for help finding directions, they were all very helpful in trying to help us find our way despite the language barrier. But the most impressive thing I encountered on my trip existed elsewhere in Japanese society. The integration of man and nature in the design of the cities was absolutely awe-inspiring. You could be traversing Tokyo’s or Kyoto’s main streets during one moment and the next, you are exploring a vast forest leading to one of many shrines that populate the Japanese landscape. It felt so surreal that society could establish such a fluid connection between man and nature in the middle of such a well-developed city. I, for one, have never seen anything like it in cities across America, including the likes of LA, Seattle, New York, Atlanta, and Orlando. It was especially exciting to witness such a feat as I have always been quite the environmentalist myself. At the end of the Japan leg of my trip, I felt that my experiences were well above and beyond my initial expectations.

Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash

As for Hong Kong, I knew in some sense what to expect and what to look forward to as my great-uncle lives there with his family. Additionally, I have always loved Hong Kong despite the fact that I had not been there in a long time, because Hong Kong is one of the few places where nearly everyone speaks my first language, Cantonese (although I am not great at it myself). Coming from beautiful and innovative Japan to Hong Kong, the bar for awesomeness was not low, but I felt that Hong Kong, in many ways, replicated the same elements of awe in their society. With the geographical location and terrain of Hong Kong, it is no simple task to establish a vibrant community, much less a metropolis, and yet it was done. It was done in a way that didn’t seem intrusive of the natural landscape, with many large patches of woods still persisting around the city itself.

After leaving Hong Kong, I was left thinking about how different the lifestyles are between that of America and that of Hong Kong and Japan. To say the least, it was very different in many aspects; saying it in such simplified terms still feels like an understatement. At the end of the day, to truly understand what others put into words and what they have experienced, you must experience the real thing for yourself!

Featured Image by Tianshu Liu on Unsplash

Iric is a recent USC graduate that majored in Electrical Engineering. His career inspiration from a very young age was on-screen robotics like Iron-Man and Gundam. He hopes to work in the aerospace industry, as that industry resembles what he wants to strive for the most. He likes to play tennis, play video games, and watch movies in his spare time.