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A letter from a Chinese ASG senator

Dear Miami Community,

My name is Heteng Xu ('Huh-tung' or just Henry) and I am from Beijing, China. This is my fifth year at Miami and I am majoring in IMS, Economics, Arts Management with a minor in Graphic Design. Right now, I am an ASG off-campus senator and I was invited by an editor at The Miami Student to share my personal experience of trying get involved with American students in my time in the U.S. and I hope that I can help Chinese students and American students understand each other.

This is my ninth year in the U.S. I came to the U.S. when I was 15 years old. I studied at a high school in Maryland. If I keep studying in the U.S. for graduate school, I can say that half of my life has been the U.S. so far. Just a simple introduction to my highschool life: because this part of my life can be the base of my understanding of the U.S. I lived with three different host families and each family has their own characteristics. The first family is hardworking and as a result well-off. When they do something, they care about etiquette. On breaks, sometimes they would treat me to outings, like sports games. During weekends they would usually stay home and relax. My host dad has his own band, and I became one of his fans. The main thing they taught me is a code of conduct.

For my second family, it's kind of special. We have a dad whose job is to take care of the family. In this family we have 3 dogs, 3 cats, and 3 sons. It is very lively. The mom is a very good doctor, the head of her staff. She spends less time at home. We live next to the river in the country. Even the house was built by the dad. This is a very country-style family. And sometimes I'm afraid of dust or dirt and they're always teasing me like, "haha, city boy."

For my third family, I live with a grandma. We call her Mama. She is a very devout Christian. She is 80 years old and she is a part-time worker at a court. She is very nice to everyone. Every day she feeds the squirrels peanuts that she bought, she is like Snow White. She is also very open-minded and philanthropic. Her kids will always come to check on her. Before, I didn't have a very clear view of religion, but after I live with Mama I realized it would be good to have a religion. Even if I know that it's not real, I know that it's a good thing to have because I've seen the kindness of in her.

After I came to Miami, I wanted myself to be great. More involved, more engaged with the school, for my self-improvement. For that, I tried to make more American friends. So I got involved in many activities and student organizations. When I was a freshman, I ran for ASG senator and after that I tried to be an RA. I tried twice and I didn't make it. I failed at everything where I wanted to be strong. The one thing I succeeded at was volunteering and that doesn't even take much. During that period I didn't have enough public speaking ability. This is a barrier for everyone but when you use another language its harder. I thought maybe I was not determined enough to be great.

When I think back, I can see that maybe it was impossible that I could make it for RA and ASG. But those rejections helped me grow. Although I had a lof rejections, I still wanted to get out of my comfort zone, to have a brave heart. This is very important for not just international students. When you see something you want to achieve, you have to be brave.

From Freshman to senior, it is a fact that your circle of friends will shrink. After I moved to off-campus, other than go to class and work, I never stop on campus anymore. Not only is it harder to make American friends, it's also hard to make friends with other Chinese international students.

At the beginning I was looking for the exterior problems that I cannot make good American friends. Because before I came to the U.S. my English was always around D to F level. But you can not learn English in a day. I started to question myself, 'why did I give myself a hard time? If I can be like those ABCs (American-Born-Chinese) maybe I won't struggle anymore. But after I communicate with them, I found out that it's not true. The real problem is cultural habits. ABCs have their own struggles, the conflict between family culture and society culture is a bigger challenge. I realize that the thing that isolates us is not the language, and its not the exterior problem. They don't like what you like. They don't think the same things are funny. You think it should be done by this way, they use another way to deal with it. All kinds of psychological gaps and misunderstandings are the reasons for the divide. What is culture? When chatting with American classmates, many jokes can't be picked up. Sometimes it may be a line in a movie, or a reference to a book, play, or story. These things are hard to learn in textbooks, just like when we use chinese idioms with Americans, If don't explain the idiom's backstory, I worry it's hard to understand as well. Media references are the light part -- the deep differences in worldview and cultural thought are much harder to deal with. Over time, American classmates are tired of explaining. And you have lost patience. Must we forget our own culture to exist in another? Or can we find a fusion or a balance?

We always talk about and educate everyone about diversity and inclusiveness, but how much have we really done? In ASG, I saw an inclusive organization that made me feel acknowledged and cared for! With them, I have been working hard to find ways to connect our cultures!

If you have any suggestions or ideas, please come to my office hours to talk with me. Every Tuesday from 12 noon to 1 pm, I am waiting for you at the ASG office! You are also welcome to add my Wechat: xuhetengxx or email me at

This column was edited for clarity and grammar with the help of the author. We have done our best to communicate Henry's thoughts while leaving his voice intact throughout.

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