Just like everybody else

In the last post in this series, Sherry writes about fitting PhD into your life plan (and explaining it to everyone else…).

If that trip wasn’t traumatic enough, you should hear about my recent trip back home during Chinese New Year.

Chinese New Year is like Christmas in the western world. Everybody will be home and you are either visiting your relatives or they are at your place. I was really looking forward to go home! And it was so great fun to see a new generation in my family after one and half year: everybody is married and have kids. Now I have four second cousins running around calling me aunty!

I am from a small city in China, most of the people in their 26 are either in promising relationships that would lead to marriage or already married. It also means that half of my parents’ friends are already grandparents. So even though for years of being rather laid-back about the topic of my relationship status, my parents actually sat me down and made me talk about my “real life and future”. The series of questions and comments from them made me feel frustrated and unsupported, and it got more difficult everyday when something like this started to escalate:

 “It’s just a degree, finish it and get on with your life”…

 “Don’t you think you should be responsible and have a life plan, like husbands and kids?”

“I don’t understand why you found it challenging, it’s just reading and writing…”

When I first got home, I felt like a guest everywhere, and all of my family treated me like a visiting friend. When all of my female cousins were busy taking care of their babies, I was sitting on the dinner table talking to my other family members. After several days of dinners with same people, I realized that even though I was sitting at the table not doing “a women’s duty”, my ideas and comments was not taken as seriously as I thought. We were discussing very random things, from the education of my second cousins to current political situations. It’s just at some point I realized that whenever I disagree with them, I was perceived as a woman who argues irrationally, from “you didn’t wash the dishes” to “you don’t love me any more”, or made fun of “being a nerd that are so into books that don’t understand life anymore”.

 I felt quite a bit hurt and disappointed the fact that, my entire family didn’t consider my education and different perspectives as something positive but a rather weird and childish way of living.

“We don’t slay dragons, but we are pretty sweet about PowerPoint presentation.” (Image credits: Des Burns / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

I am a student of Intercultural Communication, I have a good working knowledge of the theories: culture shock/reverse culture shock, zone of appropriateness, developing intercultural competence…etc. But knowing the reasons and intentions behind people’s behaviours doesn’t necessarily make it any less awkward for me when I had to deal with situations like that. I don’t fit in at home, I understand that, I also know my relatives had all those reactions/comments only because it’s just not fair that I look like the person they know but just have completely different set of values and beliefs. It was still so difficult to be in a situation when my aunty who loves me so much that she uses my birthday as her bank pin asked me that: “Don’t you think you are too far away from your family? How about I help you looking for a boy and you come back? I know it must be hard for you to find someone because of your ridiculous degree… “ I just could not say to her that I am really sorry that I don’t consider my life would go “ the right way” as she suggested…

In the end of my trip, I couldn’t wait to come back to England, where I only just need to a PhD student. When “quirky PhD student” and “a woman who should have kids by not but not even in a committed relationship” meets “get roasted by your family, friends and strangers for 20 days”, that was the worst Chinese New Year I had in my entire life. I love my family with all my heart, I just wish they could accept me as who I am.

I am not the third kind of human being, I can wear pretty dresses when I want to, I can have long and nice hair, I enjoy food, music, reading and take a walk outside just because it’s beautiful when England doesn’t rain. I am just like everybody else. I just happen to believe that pursuing knowledge and doing a research is as great as having a wonderful family with kids.

If you enjoyed reading this post, check out the first and second part of the series. 🙂

Xiaozhe (Sherry) Cai (@5herrycxz) 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!

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