On nationalism, travel and culture


So I was sitting in my Math class a couple of weeks ago, mentally reading out the equation I was supposed to be solving. "x + y + z" ... "ex plus why plus zee" --

Hold up. ZEE? Had I really just thought that in my head? As someone who learned the alphabet ended in Zed, this was a mindblow moment for me. Had I spent enough time here in the USA to become, God forbid, one of them? Had all the teasing of my slightly curled 'r's over the summer really been a reflection of a changed national identity? Should I try to turn back? Should I just plow forward and become full blown 'MURICAAANNN?

Yeah, it's comical. Here I was questioning everything I had ever known about the alphabet in a multivariable calculus class in my fourth semester of college. To be fair, this experience, coupled with a few other things I've been thinking about for a while led me to wonder what my thoughts were on changing culture as a result of travel, and how this all fit in with nationalism. So I guess here's my exploration of my thoughts in writing.

To start -- Let's be real, nationalism is huge in the US. From awkward Annenberg dinners where people would stand up and sing Stars and Stripes, or Primal Scream where dozens of naked bodies chanted "U-S-A!" with a large American flag while they ran through the Yard, American patriotism is kind of inescapable here, and it's led to the 11% of us who are international students to be left confused and awkward in our seats waiting for the national anthem to end and for our friends to sit back down to continue our dinner conversations.

I've never really been a fan of nationalism, since I think it leads to a lot of unnecessary competition and unhealthy antagonism purely out of "my country is better than yours". Sure, I like to wave around New Zealand's history of social progressiveness and recent ranking of #1 in the world in terms of freedom and social mobility, but that's really out of a response to the rampant patriotism here than anything else. Given the possibility, I'd love for all countries to have such good records of freedom and social welfare, as well as all the things that New Zealand is perhaps not so good at.

Furthermore, as an international student who is not only from New Zealand but who was also born in China, I'm not really sure what to make of my national identity. I feel like a lot of my experience gained from all these places I've lived has impacted me and the way I think about things now. So, why categorize myself under only one nationality? Like a magpie, I could just collect customs that I like from places that I visit. If this means I prefer and use the pronunciation of the letter 'z' to be Zee rather than Zed, so be it. Someone did bring up a particularly convincing argument that it makes the alphabet song rhyme.

There are many things I've picked up in the states, which I'm not going to be ashamed for on accounts of "becoming one of them", thanks friends at home who will nonetheless tease me about it. Likewise, there are plenty of things I've grown up with and probably would never change about myself brought over from New Zealand and as part of my family's Chinese background, even if it means being a perpetual foreigner and being seen as "Un-American" (to be honest, the Americans have enough of a problem accepting their own citizens as part of their nationality, so I'm not even going to try to qualify).

Another thing that makes me go "Hmmm" is the recent-ish (okay, like one or two months ago) controversy surrounding a Harvard Grad's opinion on Auckland University's policy for international student, which Alice Wang has an excellent piece in the Herald about. What makes me go Hmmm is all the comments saying that the university exists to serve its national students and its national students only. Also talk about immigrants ruining the country. I don't really understand it, possibly because I live in Auckland and have no concept of the rest of the country's perception of multiculturalism. Regardless,  I feel like this inner-country centric thinking is somehow doomed to fail. The world is more open than it ever was and you get weird people like me who don't really know where they belong floating around everywhere, and that's kind of a great thing.

Maybe because I've been an international student here, and it can be kind of isolating when you're constantly reminded that you are second-class (what are the words the government uses? Oh yes, NON-RESIDENT ALIEN) compared to regular citizens.

In my ideal world, one would be able to travel around until they find a place where they feel like they really fit in and enjoy the culture of the place and just be able to live there like anyone else. And if or when they get bored of it -- go somewhere else for a few years, why not? This of course would only be truly ideal after we fix all the problems in most of the world right now, but let's at least try to work toward that goal instead of turning inwards and shutting off our borders to everyone outside out of what -- xenophobia? fear of culture dilution? economic failure? 

In whatever case, my passport has a silver fern on it but I'd like to be considered a citizen of the world if I could. All I want is to be able to ride an American sheep while eating escargot with foie gras and have Gelato for dessert with chopsticks. On top of a kangaroo. (And those those are just the places I've seen so far :p!,)