I would like to document this before I forget.
I think most people underestimate the step that we, as Asians, have to take out of our comfort zones to simply enjoy a meal with other people who are not similar to us – and by that, I mean people who aren’t Asians. I am comfortable sharing a meal with Koreans, like my Korean tutors from the UCL Korean Culture Society. I am also more than glad to have meals regularly with Joey, Tz Ching and Darren, because there is just an inexplicable similarity among all of us that smooths the interactions. Maybe it’s the fact that we look similar, maybe it’s because we sound similar given that most of us are acquainted with the Chinese language, maybe it’s the fact that we think similarly because we have common roots. I cannot pinpoint it myself.
Most of my discomfort comes from the knowledge that most people do not understand what I say in the initiation of a conversation, because of the varying intonations and how we drop all our letters in conversation habitually (s, d, t, th, the list goes on). For this very reason, I understand the desire for people to adopt accents, because I truly think that it makes a difference in the depths of conversations you can have with locals if you sound similar to “them”. I do not think that this is any form of reinforcing Western superiority, because they have to do the same in your country, like how they have to understand a bit of Singlish to fully experience and understand the local life in Singapore. I quote Anpu as an example (a friend in my Geography course), who was trying to imitate Singlish with an inevitable mix of his British accent, much to my laughter. I do not think of them as “try hards”, which are labels and criticisms that we readily lay on people who attempt to fake an American or British accent. I think it is all about code-switching in the appropriate circumstances. I do acknowledge that this is an unpopular opinion among people in my social circle, but I say this having outcasted implicitly in an international environment because of my “very strong” accent. I am often concerned that people would not understand my point because they just nod and smile anyway, like what I do when I am lost in translation. This really makes me speak up less in class compared to when I was attending school in Singapore, even if I had any heart-burning queries about certain themes in the lecture.
After my seminar today, the exchange student in my group asked if we wanted to have lunch together and I readily agreed, before regretting right after I agreed. I am sorry. Thankfully, another girl in my group, who is an exchange student at Germany, came along as well. It reminded me of my first few weeks at UCL as a fresher when I readily agreed to lunch and dinner meetings because I felt the need to socialise. I contemplated a bit and decided to go along in the end because it is my final year here in UCL, and I would not have those opportunities very much anymore.
Moments and conversations:
1. How the guy who came from Catalonia (not Spanish!) was actually pro-independence given that he came from a small town. There are fundamental differences in their language, and this also causes them to develop differently in their mindsets, with political ideology as one example. I think (third) language learning has literally opened my mind to another world out there, and I am thankful for the sudden/random decision I made to learn Korean when I was travelling with Aloysius last Christmas.
2. and therefore, I remember how they were astonished when I told them English is my first language. I think most Europeans still do not know this. I was thankful because when he first asked where I was from, he immediately expressed doubt that I was Chinese because he said my accent sounded very different “you are not from China, right?”.
3. How the girl was really thankful for her free university education.
While transient, I think these are moments that I will remember in the future about schooling in a totally international environment in a foreign country. The only thing I regret is getting that second cup of coffee because I already had lunch. Oh my god, enough caffeine for the day.