In the first post in this series, Sherry wrote about perceptions of female PhD students. The second part deals with issues that arise when move away to do PhD, abroad and then try to fit back in….
Soon enough it was time to visit home again.
It was the beginning of my 2nd year of PhD and I was pretty excited about going home on Christmas vacation. And I arranged trips to Beijing and Shanghai. I studied in Beijing for two years and hadn’t been back for 5 years. I was so excited to visit there and meet up with my friends. And a lot of things happened in China as well, like the mobile technology progressed insanely quick. So when I was talking to my friends about where to meet up and what food to get, I realised that I was the only person who doesn’t own a Chinese mobile number, a Chinese bank card, AliPay account and Wechat Purse, and I was perceived as really weird.
In a group discussion on an IM app(Wechat):
Friend 1: “Book a place using you phone number and also buy a coupon online so we get 20% off.”
Me: “I don’t have a mobile number, I can only talk to you guys here when connected to Wi-Fi.”
Friend 1: “Seriously??!!”
Me: “ Well I’m only home at most 20 days a year, there’s no point of buying a new one or paying to keep an old one…”
Friend 1: “Ok, I can book it”.
Friend 2: “ I’ve just seen a deal online, should I buy it and you guys can pay me back via AliPay or Wechat Purse?”
Me: “ I don’t have a AliPay account because I don’t own a Chinese bank account, and I am not sure about how that Wechat Purse works, but I can pay you back in cash.”
Friend 2: “Sure, no problem. But seriously, what did PhD do to you?”
Me: “What??!! How is this related to my study?”
Friend 2: “Oh our little poor PhD student, she doesn’t even know she lives in the last century…”
And when we actually meet, there were more jokes about me being a PhD student. In general, everybody saw me as a little poor thing that does not live in reality, so whenever I don’t know something that’s trending, such as a TV show, it’s all my research’s “fault”, regardless the fact that I haven’t been living in China for 5 years at that point. Oh, and doing a research is also perceived very differently at home. A lot of things also happened in my family while I was gone, such as two cousins got married. That sort of changed how people talked to as well.
Uncle: “So, your older cousin and your younger cousin are married now, when do I get to see your wedding?”
Me: “Em, you will see it when it happens…”
Cousin: “Well you need another person to have a wedding.”
Aunty: “What kind of boys you like, I can start asking around!”
Me: “Em, I am still in the middle of a degree and not coming back really soon…”
Granny: “Yeah you’ve been abroad so many years, you can’t marry a foreign guy, you can’t leave your family behind!”
Me: “What guy? Why would I leave my family?”
Cousin: “Granny stop worrying, she’s doing a PhD degree she won’t meet a guy before graduation…”
At some point I just faded to the background and they don’t even notice that I’ve gone. I’m glad I am such a great topic for my family dinner…
Stay tuned for the last part. 🙂
Xiaozhe (Sherry) Cai (@) is a PhD student at Centre for Applied linguistics. She is learning in the wonderful world of intercultural communication and researching mixed-culture groupwork in Higher Education. Love traveling and music. Wish to see the world, haven’t achieved much but working on it! And most importantly, 100% foodie!