A student’s family history…

On May 16, a group of 15 UW-Stout students and professors, including myself, left the airport in Eau Claire and began our journey to Asia’s World City, Hong Kong, and later to what’s known as the Heart of Asia, Taiwan. The study abroad program, Travel Media Writing, was hosted by two university professors, Jerry Hui and Greg Schneider-Bateman.

The following post is the third of a three-part series of interviews with professors and students, along with my ideas, observations, feelings and reflections.

If you are an Asian in an Asian country, natives may assume you are “one of them.” University of Wisconsin-Stout student Yer Vang was standing in line behind her white classmates waiting for food. After interactions in English among the students and vendors, Vang was up next, the vendor then switching back over to their native language to continue the line. There was only one problem. Vang doesn’t speak Chinese.

It’s important to know first that Vang comes from a family of Hmong ancestry. She had never been to an Asian country or, furthermore, outside of the United States. However, after applying to the program another dream of hers would be completed–to study abroad.

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Students and professors at their cooking experience.

Asians are a minority in America, and Vang is a part of this labeled group. She discussed her experience being in the minority: “Back in the U.S., that’s how I felt all the time. Being stared at, glared at because of my skin color and ethnicity.”

Then the tables turned. In Hong Kong and Taiwan, Vang was in the majority. Most of her classmates would then experience a clear opposition, at points uncomfortable, unfamiliar, unaccepted. Vang was welcomed as one of the culture’s own.

This didn’t always take effect, however. Along with not speaking the native languages, she also has hazel eyes, which is not common among the Chinese people, so she caught the attention of a few locals.

In Hong Kong there seems to be a spa on every street. Vang found herself craving relaxation and ended up at a hole-in-the-wall salon. The women, of no surprise to Vang, began speaking to her in Cantonese. Vang quickly established her English.

“They kind of freaked out like ‘Oh, she doesn’t speak our language, but she looks like us,’” Vang added.

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Left: Yer Vang; Left: Jerry Hui

The workers were curious, so Vang explained her family history to make sense of the situation. However, when Vang mentioned Hmong, the women were stumped. Chinese culture refers to Vang’s people as Miao.

With her knowledge from research and family stories, Vang found ways to connect with those curious about her American and Asian history. She could relate to both sides.

She felt welcomed into the fast-paced Asian culture but still has a heart for home in America. Though, that will not prevent her from continuing to learn about her Asian ancestry, and of course, traveling to other international destinations.

 

By Shannon Hoyt, UW-Stout PCEM major

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