As I think about going back to the United States in one week, I am overjoyed to see everyone I have missed immensely over the last 4 months and experience cold weather (or, at least, less hot and humid) again!
However, reflecting back on this semester is hard to do. It has been a fantastic experience. My classes have challenged me beyond the classroom and have made me really question what I believe in or how I define things. Whether it is about stereotypes of Asians, my future career trajectory, or what justice and truth really mean, I have been able to grow as an individual with the help of fellow exchange students, helpful professors, random encounters on the street, my hospitable Singaporean friends, and everyone back home supporting me.
One thing that I become uncomfortably aware of was the way people, myself included, treat Asians back in the United States. There is an increasing population throughout the United States, and people really overgeneralize who Asians are. Before I decided to attend SMU, when I thought of Asia, I only thought of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese people. When I realized that I only thought of Asians as looking and acting a certain way, I felt horrible. I completely forgot about India, Russia, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Laos, etc., and how different people are. Surprisingly, some Asians really do not like the "Asian level, super smart, etc." stereotype. I had thought it was a compliment, but it actually creates a level of expertise and intelligence that they feel they have to live up to. If they do not see themselves in this light, or are in a creative major, not math, a science, or business, they especially do not like people holding this stereotype. It is difficult for people to expand their definitions and generalization of other people, places, and viewpoints. Throughout the semester, I have found my generalizations being expanded and realizing that everyone is different. Once you wrap your head around about how different everyone is, it makes it a lot easier to accept everyone.
Another thing that I became acutely aware of was how people will form immediate assumptions about others based solely on appearance. Being a blonde in Singapore, I stick out like a sore thumb. People constantly stare at me on the train, want a picture with me like I am an alien species, or assume that I am here sightseeing and do not really care about the country and its culture. Everyone will have their first assumptions about others, including their nationality ("where are you really from?"...I have come to really dislike this question), and you cannot help that. However, I feel like I have had a responsibility to represent the US, exchange students, and foreigners in a positive manner. People are not exactly the biggest fans of any of these categories, so it has been a 'project' to alter people's views, even just a little bit.
Something to remember for anyone traveling, whether it is international or to another city within your respective state, is that you represent where you come from - the school, the city, the country - and if you want to help dispel negative stereotypes, act in a positive manner or, at the very least, act like someone your parents would be proud of. People will never like everything you do, but I have found that as long as you listen (many times more than talk), respect their opinion (not necessarily argue it), and be genuinely interested in what they do and what they think (even if you do not agree with any of it) and ask them questions, you will represent wherever you are from very well.
To wrap up a fantastic semester, I will be spending it eating the best food in the world (seriously, I will really miss the food), saying bittersweet goodbyes, and enjoying the Little Red Dot as much as possible. Maybe I will post one last time...maybe not.
Back to study for my finals. So close...yet so far.