Our Shared Shelf discussion

May & June: Pachinko > Let's talk about Being a foreig... an international in another country.

Comments Showing 1-15 of 15 (15 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by [deleted user] (new)


As I was reading the articles written by Min Jin Lee and shared by OSS Team both in Twitter and Instagram, I could not help to see the links with some characters in Pachinko especially regarding education.

For those who have read the book and the articles you probably had the same feeling "someone who is put aside during her/his education because of differences such as culture or origins." We definitely read that in Pachinko whenever we follow Noa and Mozasu during their educations.

I don't know if some of you have studied abroad or have met international students through International Club for example but one thing that struck me (and this is personal) is how little efforts are made when it comes to meet and to share with international students. I mean, it's not all bad but six years ago (I was in 4th year of higher education) a group of international students from all around the world (Brazil, Russia, China, Ivory Coast, Mexico, Columbia etc...) joined my school year, they got welcomed but somehow some distances were kept with them and actually they formed some kind of family with other international students. I am aware that this family was made to balance emotional needs and to support each other (but was it the main reasons?) but I was astonished to see that somehow (even if they were integrated to the school) distances remained with "natives" and (to what I remember) almost no french stepped forward to know them, to share stories and cultures in deep and sincere discussion. I feel that Min Jin Lee describes this "being put aside" in her book as well as in her articles so I believe it should be great to all talk about that here.

So I was wondering if any of you had experienced that (or is experiencing that)? Why in those situations people are put aside and decide to be closer to other internationals? Is it by necessities (need support and emotional void to fill) or because of similar values are shared?

I'll start answering those questions first (even if I don't feel that much legitimate, maybe it will invite people to share as well). To be fully honest, when I meet the international students I was not feeling I was belonging to that school atmosphere. People were somehow focused on something totally different and disconnected from the world reality. Some of them went in Africa for humanitarian purposes but somehow it felt partially like "white saviors", it was a task or a duty and I'm not sure if it was fully sincere (on the other hand, are we always sure about the sincerity of our feelings? :) ). However, when those international students arrived I felt irremediably attracted like totally caught. To be fully honest, I think at first I was (unintentionally) seeing an exit door in them that could help me to understand personal problems, and obviously that would help me to escape from an environment I was not belonging. In other words, I supposed I looked for something to fill void (hey! Nobody is perfect but at least I'm sincere and I am fully honest with them!). They somehow welcomed me in their group and I realize that their common points was lying under their differences. So they got close because they were different (and this is amazing!). Whenever, one of us was in trouble the others were supportive and kind like a family. So obviously being supportive was a necessity but it never felt the motivation of our intentions.

I wonder if I hadn't had that void, would I have step forward to know them? I want to say yes, but I honestly believe the answer is no, so I'm glad I had that void because they opened my eyes and I will always be thankful to this family! :)

I hope this thread won't be perceived as inappropriate especially because my experience is definitely neither outstanding or bad. The purpose is only to spark discussion and I felt I should start a little bit. Hopefully, nobody will feel upset and if you are please let me know. Also, I you have other important points in mind feel free to add them! :)

message 2: by Oscar (new)

Oscar | 21 comments I'm a Mexican who lives in the U.S./Mexico border, although I consider Mexico my home since I was born and raised there. But on the border, those kinds of definitions end up being murky. But it's so easy to see the differences and similarities between both countries regardless.

I've lived in the US for a considerable amount of time and traveled there as well. Although I'm pretty outgoing, when I was in my college years I was far more so. But one of the things I noticed is that in the US, people are a bit more closed-off. Everyone seemed to just mind their own business and not really be into welcoming people into their lives or only talk. Sometimes I think that this may have been racism against me, but who knows. Either way, since I was in a bordertown, there are a lot of Mexican students and they were the ones I ended up gravitating toward the most. They were easier to socialize with and quite a few ended up as friends of mine.

When I{ve traveled to the UK, I mostly met and hung out with British people. There really wasn't an opportunity to see other Mexicans save for my travelmates on the second trip, and we got along great. But dealing with Brits, I noticed that the grand majority are very nice, very helpful people. It's true that they prefer their own space and all, but if you're in need and reach out to them, it's very likely they will help you.

So overall, it depends on the circumstances.Sometimes, I've found it to be in a foreign environment if I'm with other international people and I think that's because we might possibly feel equally alienated. But other times, the people who are from the country I'm visiting are so kind that I end up hanging out with them. I'll say that as I've grown older, my time in foreign countries tends to be very focused and I usually just go to do the work, socializing comes as an aside that just happens from the work. When I was younger, I'd prioritize them similarly.

message 3: by Alda (new)

Alda Saldan (bioarla) | 12 comments Hi Florian! I see your point and being at present an international student in Australia I can relate to some of what you describe. Australians are generally easy-going and nice people, but it's somewhat difficult to become a member of their "inner circle" of friends. And so, after 2 years living abroad the majority of my friends are international people, too (but not of my same nationality). I don't feel alienated, but it's something I realized one day when I thought about the new friends and acquaintances met here. A possible explanation might be that "natives" have already their consolidated net of friends, built over the years, and thus they're in no special need or hurry for new friends. On the other hand a newcomer in a foreign country feels often the need to make new friends and probably this makes it easier for two international people to meet and invest more in building a connection. And it's not only a behavior that I feel is driven by the necessity of receiving support, but in my opinion it has more to do with humans being social "animals", and the pleasure of interacting with others.

message 4: by [deleted user] (last edited Jun 07, 2019 12:29AM) (new)

Those are good points people are different depending on their culture.

@Oscar: I lived 3 years in Florida and I must admit people are quite friendly there but to get into the "inner circle" (That a good expression Alda used, I like it), it was almost impossible so I was with internationals. Note that I am a French white male so I cannot say anything about racism toward me. I guess in the boarder it may have tension due to "manipulation" I don't know.

@Alda, the need to socialize is actually a very good point but being socialized seems related to emotions (for me at least). I create social bound through emotions and affection, I suppose there are different way I don't know :) I guess I was not clear and I wrongly "emotional support " what I was trying to mean was the need to share emotions, I'm not quite sure what are the reasons that drive us to be socialized and I guess there are many (I let that to people who have way more knowledge than I do regarding that field!).
Personally, when I met my 2nd family I had already friends but I guess I was looking for something else that was fitting more with what I was changing in (now I'm saying, it sounds so selfish :s). The other thing realized while being abroad is how easy I have been forgotten and replaced by former friends (let's be honest I did the same) and the funny thing is... People who kept contact with me (and with who I kept contact with) were mostly international, that's quite ironic. I feel we are drifting away in emotions, their necessities and on what are really based our relations :p

message 5: by Ashwin (new)

Ashwin (ashiot) | 215 comments Nice topic!!

In my class in university (in India), we had some international student classmates. In general (anecdotal evidence), we all got along very well. However, one of the things that perhaps prevented forming very close friendships was that the international students were here only until they finished college and went to their home country. Therefore, it was kind of accepted that the friendships were temporary.

Of course, there are certain folks who did form deep friendships and are still in touch.

message 6: by Sophie (last edited Jun 09, 2019 02:02AM) (new)

Sophie I lived abroad (mostly in Indonesia and the USA) most of my formative years, and my friends from that time are quite literally placed around the world now. I moved back 'home' (The Netherlands) after college, and although I was born here, I never grew up here, and even after 20 years back in the country I still don't feel wholly Dutch, nor do I really have Dutch friends (beyond my partner). The few close friends I've made have international backgrounds, like me.

I think this is largely to do with the fact that I didn't grow up here, and I really miss the cultural history the 'regular' Dutch person absorbed while I lived abroad so long. I can't joke about the TV shows from my youth or the required reading at school, or what have you, with any of my Dutch acquaintances - and they can't joke with me. And while I can't joke that same way with my international friends, either, they do know EXACTLY what it's like for your heart to be split in pieces across the world, and to not be able to be near your family or best friend instantly if someone gets seriously ill, etc; I share this separate cultural history with them.

There's a book that has really helped me come to terms with always feeling like the odd one out, wherever I've lived - but feeling completely at home with the 'international' kids wherever we meet up: THIRD CULTURE KIDS by David Pollock and Ruth van Reken. It's not a perfect book but it clarifies so much about living both outside your parents' culture as well as outside the culture you've (been) moved to. They've expanded recent editions to immigrant kids' experiences, too, rightly I think.

So, to come to Florian's original point: while I do think efforts should be made to welcome international students (and adults coming to live in your country) I think it's also important to realise that a cultural divide will persist, sometimes across years and even generations. When I went to college it took me two years of hanging around with the international students group before I ever got comfortable enough with US kids - and the ones I eventually became friends with all worked at the same place as student-workers.

But being made to feel welcome is at the start of everything, as is being willing to learn from each other. Differences are what make us all interesting and, in the end, stronger as a group.

message 7: by [deleted user] (new)

Thanks for the book suggestion :)

I feel a bit the same than you when you described that your friends and family are all around the world. Yes they do know how it is to have a split heart. Thanks for sharing your experience and feelings about those important questions!

I agree différences are what make us interesting and stronger as a group it's actually the best way to fight against obscurantisme and narrow mindness. :)

message 8: by Sophie (new)

Sophie Ashwin wrote: "Nice topic!!

In my class in university (in India), we had some international student classmates. In general (anecdotal evidence), we all got along very well. However, one of the things that perhap..."

But wouldn't you say that holds true for all university students? Everyone who goes to university goes there temporarily, and everyone leaves afterwards. Does going back to another country make it that more difficult to form friendships than going back to your home town or province?

I think it might, you know, but I think that cultural aspect might be a bigger factor than the temporariness of university.

message 9: by bibliophile_55 (new)

bibliophile_55 | 3 comments Hello, everyone! I live in Paris right now but I studied in Strasbourg and I remember the first year when it was easy to have friends. I didn't realize it at first, but I ended up having only friends from other countries and no French friends. And I think it's because of the cultural difference as I didn't understand their way of life. And I think we didn't have the same priorities too. Today I'm in Paris and it's always the same, I can't make friends with French people.

message 10: by Livia (new)

Livia Rocha (livia_rocha) | 1 comments Hi everyone, I hope you are all fine today!

I read this topic a few days ago and felt that it could relate to something that called A LOT my attention while reading Pachinko.

Weren't you guys surprised about the way Korean immigrants feel? I mean, the conflicting feelings described by Min Jin Lee on the book made me think about how hard it is to feel like you don't belong anywhere. I guess most of the foreigners that had to move to other countries because of conflicts, local problems, etc, must feel so lost...

About the experience of being a foreigner and making friends easily with other foreigners than with locals, I think sometimes locals are not very friendly too, you know? There is a lot of prejudice with people from pooer countries and different cultures.

message 11: by Kristine (new)

Kristine (y2kristine) | 18 comments I am currently living and working in China, and am going on my 3rd year. My lifestyle and choices are completely different than people who are forced to move because of financial reasons or violence. I chose the "expat"life so I can travel more and experience new things, and for this reason I already started out very privileged.

The reality for a (white) expat in China is the worst thing that happens to me on a given day is I am offered too many jobs while I am out walking around (ha! but seriously.)

That being said, the lifestyle is incredibly isolating and hard to cope with sometimes. All my friends consist of other expats and it's all shallow relationships, since most aren't here to stay and live, they just want to make money and travel then move somewhere else. I find it very hard to make friends and fit in with locals. Because of my age, and Chinese culture, most people my age are already married and have children. They have very established lives, jobs, and families and aside from inviting me over for dinner every once and awhile it's very hard to work your way into that.

If I was here out of necessity, I think I would be having a much different experience and even making connections and friends would be even harder. The reason I like this book so much is it opened my mind to those experiences.

Fallan (msyvettereads) | 7 comments As a mixed person, who is stuck between two racial identities, and who grew up in the southern United States, my experiences never quite embody one culture or another, but straddle two which continuously makes interactions difficult. While I am not living in a foreign country and have never lived in a foreign country, the United States can feel like one to me.

In high school, I couldn't relate to my white peers who had never been followed in stores, and who never wore a bonnet when they slept or got ashy knees, or ate collard greens. And I couldn't relate to my black peers because black interactions felt like a dance I didn't know the steps to because I was raised by my white mother.

Doing something within my black culture, like braiding or beading my hair had me at once accused of cultural appropriation because I was not seen as having a black experience.

Having a culture and not being able to touch it because of how you look is isolating.

I am always asked "Are you Hispanic?" or "Are You Native American?" or "Are you Indian?" The idea that I am an amalgam never crosses their minds. That there are people out in the world that date, marry, and have children outside of their race is just not even on a lot of people's radar.

My brother has a son with his white wife, and my nephew looks like his mother. My brother gets "teased" all the time with "Are you sure he's yours?" This is an experience very unique to multiracial families which feeds feelings of isolation.

When filling out questionnaires that asked "what is your race?" and they give two options: white or black, my 2nd grade teacher said "you can only pick one, so which one do you feel most like?" That stuck with me for many years after, and it took a lot of work for me to not see my life like that.

By a surprising turn of events, I found a very accepting and understanding peer group in college with the international students from Nigeria. I don't think I made any friends in college that were native to the U.S., all of them were Nigerian and I still keep in contact with them today.

message 13: by Cheryl Lancelot (new)

Cheryl Lancelot | 4 comments I am an international student in Uni. And tbh, things that are easy for you could be obstacles we have to face every day. Some of these obstacles, I have to say, are related to people, so although I am trying to improve the situation, it's really not easy to trust people who can't understand, as Reni wrote, people who are "emotional disconnect"

message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

Please clean up this thread, thank you.

message 15: by Aline (new)

Aline Bronkhorst (alinebronkhorst) | 4 comments Sophie wrote: "I lived abroad (mostly in Indonesia and the USA) most of my formative years, and my friends from that time are quite literally placed around the world now. I moved back 'home' (The Netherlands) aft..."

Thanks so much for the book reference, I will definitively check it out!

Alda, your story resonated so much.

I was born and raised in Brazil. Both my parents are Dutch immigrants and we lived in a colony with other immigrants. So basically I lived in a dutch bubble in a small Brazilian town. I never felt completely Brazilian or completely Dutch either and always had the feeling of not belonging. I never even discussed this with someone else since I found it quite difficult to find someone to talk with about this.
It took me a long time to understand that this feeling of not belonging was in fact part of my identity as the first generation of dutch/brazilians. I noticed it more when I went to uni in Sao Paulo where all my friends were born and raised there and were the fourth and fifth generations of immigrants (i.e. Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Chinese and loads more). I do remember one of my friends asking me why I brought it up my Dutch inheritance so often (well I'm super proud of what my grandparents and parents achieved) and after that I stopped mentioning it. I was trying to belong and now I know it was silly of me in doing so, since this friend was actually a grandson of immigrants just like me.

I did go abroad for a year during my bachelor years and it was easier to connect with international students as well because we were in the same boat. It is not easy being on your own in a country where you don't know a soul and you basically have to start over. The fact that I'm an introvert doesn't make it any easier.

The same thing I noticed when I moved to England for my masters. It is easier to connect with international students. This time however I tried to connect with the locals, since I was staying here longer. And for me English people were very welcoming and always glad to help. I can't say for sure if they act like this to every immigrant, if I was just lucky and had contact with open minded people, or the fact that my English passes as a native speaker and I look like just like another European person.

I truly believe that language is very important in this case. I was in Norway for my bachelors year abroad and despite the fact that they all speak English there was an invisible barrier. Now that I'm in England I went out a few times with a group of Spanish people who are a very well connected group, and I noticed how important it was for them to get together. Half of them speaks a broken English and having a group of people that understands you and you can freely talk is really important.

Lee does mention a lot the language and how it changes your interactions with the people in the country you live in.

Anyway. Its the first time I ever put this into words, so apologies if it seems a bit disconnected!

back to top