Home > Features, Uncategorized > International students blend cultures from different societies

International students blend cultures from different societies

by Christina Edwards

October 14, 2008

Elon University is nationally recognized for the number of students it sends abroad each year. But for some Elon students, an international experience was just part of growing up. Seniors Chika Kusakawa and Jordan Mohr were both born outside of the United States, and have successfully blended both cultures.

Kusakawa was born in Japan and moved to California when she was 5 years old because of her father’s job. As a child, she had to learn to balance both the Japanese and American cultures.

“I attended Japanese language school for about six or seven hours on the weekends, so my weekends were cut short, which I hated,” Kusakawa said. “But I am now very appreciative of that since I have the ability to communicate easily with all of my family, relatives and friends. Growing up in two languages was a norm for me. I wonder what it’s like to know only one language.”

Mohr also speaks more than one language — he knows four. He was born in Germany and lived in Germany, Singapore, Guatemala and Mexico before moving to Greensboro, N.C., when he was 12.

“[We spoke] English usually,” he said of his family. “But for the first two or three years of my life, I learned Bahasa-Indonesian when I lived in Singapore. When I was a kid growing up in Weinheim, I naturally was taught German. As I moved to Guatemala and Mexico, I learned Spanish.”

In addition to being multilingual, both students have taken advantage of the cultures and traditions of more than one society.

“New Year’s is such a large holiday in Japan, we celebrate with a traditional meal every day for three days straight,” Kusakawa said. “But we still do the countdown and the party hats on New Year’s Eve. There are also children’s days in Japan, which we used to celebrate. [We] also celebrated Thanksgiving. It was fun celebrating the traditions of both cultures throughout the year.”

But having a multi-national identity wasn’t always easy for the students.

“There have been times when people hear me speaking Japanese and assume I don’t understand English,” Kusakawa said. “I feel judged. Or they speak slower or down to me. But once I start speaking English, they realize that I understand them perfectly fine. It’s fun to see their reaction.”

For Mohr, the stereotyping surpassed borders.

“My dad once told me as I was being pushed in the stroller I’d randomly sing the Indonesian national anthem,” he said. “Sure enough, the locals would do a double take as they saw this brown-haired, blue-eyed Caucasian kid sing in Bahasa.”

Such experiences shaped his younger years, but Mohr has no regrets.

“I should say that my childhood was vastly different,” said Mohr. “I understand that not many young Americans have the chance to see the world. I highly recommend that seeing the land of your ancestors gives you tremendous appreciation for who you are.”

Kuskawa said she believes her experiences have been somewhat universal.

“I never felt lost or overwhelmed in one culture over the other,” Kusakawa said. “I always knew where I was from and have always been proud of that. I’ve had times when I felt like I stuck out of the crowd, but I think everyone has those moments in life.”

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Categories: Features, Uncategorized
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