My Grandpa, or “goong goong” – the Cantonese phrase for Grandfather – was a chef and grew up in Hong Kong. He obtained citizenship and immigrated with his family to the United States because of his cooking abilities, which makes me a second generation American. As a result, my family traditions have always been a unique blend of classic Asian dishes and holidays mixed with American traditions. One of these traditions is a soy sauce spaghetti dish my grandfather made all the time when I was younger. The ingredients include green onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, spaghetti noodles, chicken base, ketchup, salt, oil, sugar, soy sauce, and dark soy sauce. My sisters and I loved it, and it satisfied my other second generation cousins’ tastes too. Thinking about this dish makes me aware that my taste is made up of not only my ethnicity, personality, and family, but also the generation that I was born in.
Being a second generation American has allowed me to live as an American while hearing first hand accounts of growing up in another culture from both of my parents. I’ve heard stories about what it was like in Vietnam to eat raw mangoes with fish sauce- before they got ripe, so the animals wouldn’t get to them first- and what it was like to grow up there during the Vietnam war. I’ve heard what it was like for my Chinese grandparents to immigrate from China, with uncertainty and the drive to create more opportunities for their children.
There is a poet and artist named Morgan Harper Nichols, who writes: “Lessons from Monarch Butterfly Migration…Because the lifespan of the monarch butterfly is only a few weeks, it actually takes multiple generations to finally make it back to the north…The monarch butterfly is a reminder of what it means to pave the way. To carry on on a journey that you might not actually live to see the end of.” After reading this, I wondered what events would happen in the future because of the way I live my life now-at school, at work, or with friends. I recognized that I am like the monarch butterfly who makes it to the north (or in this case America) to live the American dream. I attend a university in the United States and get to study for opportunities that weren’t available to the generations before me. I’m a student at USC because of what my grandparents and parents have worked for. I am living the life I am because of ancestors I’ll never know.
It seems like just yesterday, the world stopped in response to the pandemic. For the first few months of social distancing, I lost track of the days. Before I had time to perceive it, weeks had gone by. All plans were thrown out the window, and the year that marked the third decade of my life has been nothing like I originally expected. I could have spent all of my time dwelling on the lost moments and experiences, but instead I chose to see the light at the end of the tunnel. So, after giving myself time to reflect and acknowledge that my home would most likely be the center of my whole life for the rest of the year, I worked to find my motivation and passion.
At the beginning of the pandemic, things weren’t so bad, as I had school to occupy myself with. Society as a whole went on an exploration through the world of Zoom. There was frustration and even hatred towards technology, and for many learning technology has been like learning a new language. However, once we all settled into the basic framework of living in an online world, technology became the bridge connecting everyone via a virtual landscape. Lately, Zoom has been a key feature in my life. From classes to weekly meals with my friends, it seems that we are all in long-distance relationships these days. We have found a way to connect without the need for physical presence.
“Are you excited to graduate?” This is always the first question I get asked when I tell people I’m a senior. I never know how to answer this question because I am filled with so many different emotions, and it is hard to pinpoint one simple way to describe all the things I am feeling. On the one hand, of course I’m super excited to graduate! I will no longer have to take exams and I’ll have the freedom to do other things with my time. On the other hand, I’m sad to leave as well. Becoming an adult comes with more responsibilities, like paying bills and working constantly. But as I reflect back on my past four years at the best university in the world, the most resounding thought I have is this: I can confidently say that coming to USC has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and I don’t regret a thing.
I remember the one piece of advice that all of the older students I’ve spoken to during my time at USC gave me: to enjoy college to the fullest and take advantage of everything before it’s too late. I feel that I have really taken that to heart and made sure to try and explore new things. One of those new things was studying abroad. Studying abroad was one of the biggest highlights of my undergraduate years. It allowed me to discover a part of myself that I didn’t know much about. I’ve always wanted to travel but I never knew I was capable of it, because it seemed too expensive and there were so many variables to consider. Fast forward four years and I am already planning a backpacking trip in Europe for the summer after I graduate. Traveling for two months will not be cheap, but there are so many ways to experience a new country while saving money. Instead of staying at nice hotels, there are many cheap hostels in all the big cities that allow you to sleep with other backpackers in a smaller accommodation. Couch surfing is another way to save, as this option is usually free. Locals host the people who come to their hometown from around the world by allowing them to sleep on their couch. I believe this is a great way to learn the culture while making lifelong friends.