Adjustment to a New Culture
I had to find more friends. After several weeks in school I knew a couple of students but saw them only a few minutes, perhaps three times a week. I decided to learn a few more names. I came ten minutes early to my News Media and U.S. Government class. Two young women, one black and one white, were already there. I told myself to be aggressive and went up to them.
"Hi." I tried to be casual. "My name is Liu Zongren. I come from Beijing, China." I stressed Beijing, hoping that might create some attention.
"Oh, really? How do you find it here? " The white woman seemed interested.
I couldn't understand what she meant. "I came here by plane, of course." I must have looked lost. The white woman added quickly, "I mean, do you like this country?"
"Well, I don't know. " How foolish I was. Why had I said this?
"My name is Ann. This is Geri."
Several other students had arrived by now. I didn't know if the two women wanted to go on talking. I began feeling nervous when I realized I was standing in the middle of the classroom.
Ann started to move away. "Glad to meet you, Mr.— "
"Liu," I said in haste, "Just call me Liu. My last, no, my first name is too hard to pronounce."
"Glad to meet you, Mr. Liu," Ann repeated.
"Thank you," I said, my face turning red. I wondered what I had thanked them for, as I made my way to a seat.
After the class began, most of what the professor said escaped my ears and I left as soon as the lecture ended. I had no other class that day and I didn't want to go back to the loneliness of the McKnight house, so I explored around the grounds. Many students were entering a particular lecture hall. I stopped and checked my list of classes. It was a history class. Good.
I went in. I sat in a seat away from the lecture stand. Nobody paid any attention to me. I saw several Asian faces among the crowd. I relaxed, took out my notebook, and opened the school newspaper, pretending to be an old hand. A young man sat down beside me and smiled. It was five minutes until class. Perhaps I could strike up a conversation with this friendly looking man. I started my set introduction. "My name is Liu Zongren. I come from Beijing, China."
"Glad to meet you. My name is George Christi." He seemed ready to talk.
"Please write down your name for me." I handed my notebook to him. "You know, it is very hard for me to remember American names without seeing them spelled out." I said this out of a desire to speak two more sentences, rather than as an explanation. I looked at what he wrote. "Is yours the same name as that British woman who writes mystery novels? "
"Sort of," he answered.
Seeing me at a loss, he asked, "How do you like the weather here?"
"Much the same as that in Beijing. We have cold winters, too."
"I hope someday I can go to Beijing."
"You'll be welcome. If you wait for two years, I can show you around." I was so very eager to make a friend of him.
Unfortunately, the professor appeared and the class began. I would be sure to come to this class again and locate this friendly person.
I didn't try my luck anymore that afternoon. Instead I found a seat in the library and tried to finish some assignments. I took out my books, but my mind refused to absorb anything. I glanced around the library; some students were doing their homework; a few were dozing on the sofa along the wall. Looking at those tired students, I remembered an article in the newspaper had reported that the 1981 fees would be $6,900. How could I blame them for not wanting to talk to me? Costs were so high; they had to put their time and energy into their studies.
I closed my books and began a letter to Fengyun, but couldn't finish it. Sad, I packed up my books and walked slowly back to my room. I knew my sadness came not only from missing my family, but also from the frustration of being unable to learn. People in Beijing must be thinking I was enjoying myself here in the richest country in the world. Yet I was suffering, not because people in America were not accepting me, but because they didn't understand me and didn't seem to care how I felt — and because I didn't understand them, either. After my three classes each day, I walked without aim around the grounds like a lost soul. I had no place to go.
I felt better when dusk fell, knowing that another day had passed.