Hook'em Heritages: Part 1

Hook'em Heritages is a series sharing personal stories of Asian/Asian-American students at the University of Texas at Austin.

By Jolene Chao

For many, home is a two-hour drive away. For some, home is a four-hour flight away. For Jiaqi Zhao, home is a twenty-hour flight away. A second-year history major, Zhao comes from the Shandong Province in China.

Photo by Unsplash
Photo by Unsplash

Studying abroad in America was never a thought that crossed Zhao's mind. It was not until her father studied in America for a year when it became a possibility. Impressed with the level of education the U.S. had to offer, Zhao's father urged her to attend college in America. But initially she found it difficult to leave her home.

"At first, I really [didn't want to come here], because it's a really unfamiliar environment for me and I really don't want to stay away from my family," Zhao said.

Zhao soon discovered why her father wanted her to come to this far, unknown world.

Photo by Unsplash
Photo by Unsplash

"I think American way to think about something is different from China," Zhao said. "They're curious about everything they learn,"

For Zhao, this American way of "critical thinking" has broadened her perspective and encouraged her to choose her own opinions.

"In China ... someone who's older than you means they have more experience so what they said you must believe them," Zhao said. "In America ... you can choose what is right or wrong by yourself, but in China, right or wrong is like a formula."

Having this freedom of choice has also led to new passions.

"Because I can choose to do what I want so I realize doing exercise is really important and being healthy is important," Zhao said. "I think my new passion is doing exercise [and] for new hobbies, I really find I like archaeology."

At the same time, the distance has strengthened Zhao's sense of cultural identity.

"I think after one year living in America, I like Chinese culture more." Zhao said. "[I'm] more proud of being a Chinese because the food ... the history, the culture."

Part of this renewed cultural identity was also inspired by her time in America.

"In America, especially in Texas, I think people really proud of being Texan. I think they really value their culture," Zhao said. "I'm Chinese and far away from my country [so] I also should be proud of my roots."

Jiaqi Zhao believes living in the U.S. has helped her to broaden her horizons. Photo by Jolene Chao
Jiaqi Zhao believes living in the U.S. has helped her to broaden her horizons. Photo by Jolene Chao

Despite the differences, Zhao says there are actually similarities between the two countries.

"I think you can find some common things in history," Zhao said "We are all people no matter Chinese or American people and we have human nature."

This has led her to embrace both cultures and has redefined Zhao's perspective of a multicultural identity.

"I try to learn the American way of thinking ... To combine together is better than before just Chinese way of thinking," said Zhao.

Indeed, this fusion of cultures has given her a new viewpoint - one that she hopes others will someday understand.

"I think as I know more about the world, I know the world is connected together," Zhao said. "It's really closely connected and not separated. I think if everyone think this way, no more war will happen."

All photos are copyright free

Jolene Chao is a freshman journalism student at the University of Texas at Austin.