Living in China, I feel American

James Hur

I am starting to become the stereotypical, American teenager. The weird part is that I’m in China.

I have been a teenager for four years, and I have been living in Beijing, China with the high school foreign exchange program School Year Abroad for two months, but it is only now that I have begun acting in ways that would be widely classified as characteristic of an American high school boy.

I cuss, make dirty jokes, and stay out late with my friends looking for someplace to go clubbing. When I finally get back home at 11 p.m., I say “Goodnight,” to my parents. Then, I go to my room and listen to music while talking with my friends on Skype until 2 a.m.

What’s the reason for the change? Simply put, I have more independence here in China, where saying the wrong word could get me incarcerated or even killed, than I do in the Land of the Free, and I love it.

But, no matter how much fun it is to crack jokes about the transvestite standing next to me on the subway, and no matter how satisfying it is to shout “**** you” at the non-English speaking Chinese woman that cut me in line at the bubble tea store, these new habits that I’ve adopted are extremely un-Chinese.

Chinese teenagers just don’t seem to have the time to do what American teenagers do. Usually, when I see Chinese adolescents, they are either at school or on their way to school.

On the weekends, even when I visit places frequented by the younger generations of Chinese, I rarely ever see anyone my age, and after a certain time of night local teens are virtually unspottable.

Maybe I just don’t know where to look, but I don’t think that’s the case because I know kids like them, kids at Harvard-Westlake that spend all of their free time focusing on school and grades and college. I used to be like that. In America, I was much more Chinese than I am now.

As each day passes, I become more thankful that, here in China, I am not Chinese. I do not think I would be able to handle the stress of spending every moment of my adolescence obsessing over college while living in a society that reminds me every day of the failure that I will be if, come March, I didn’t obsess enough, and, as a result, do poorly on the Gao Kao, the Chinese college entrance exam.

If I was enrolled in the Chinese school system, I think it is highly possible that I would act more American than I am even right now out of a deep feeling of resentment towards the system that would have caused me so much worry. I could even become so enraged that I would neglect my schoolwork, and, before I knew it, March would have arrived, and I would not have studied for my test. I would do badly, and all of my rebellion, all of my American independence, would get me a job selling cheap jewelry on a tarp in Olympic Park.

That’s hypothetical, but I’m sure it happens. It does in America. There, however,  the end isn’t guaranteed. It’s more like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book where, if you pick the right choice, you still might have time to turn things around.

That’s what Steve Jobs did. Steve Jobs, cofounder of Apple, one of the largest computer companies in the world, was a college dropout and a prankster who, in the fourth grade, had to be bribed into learning.

If he went to school in China, I doubt anyone would know his name.