Alex Shi is a Boston University broadcast journalism graduate student. She is originally from northeast China. Her family now lives in Beijing. Shi came here one year ago to study journalism.
Carolyn Bick: So, what did you expect to find in America, when you first came over here a year ago?
Alex Shi: I knew I would have a lot more male attention. [Laughs]
I wanted to be the best of the Chinese group. I thought I have a better personality, more easygoing, easier to reach out to. I didnít really have an expectation in terms of getting a best American friend. I just had a goal of being the top in my own group in my field of studying.
Personal relationship-wise Ö for some of the really stupid things that happened, I didnít expect those to happen. I donít know what I was expecting when I first came here.
CB: What about what you would find in America? What did you think you would hear, taste, or see?
AS: I donít know. I lived a really internationalized life in Beijing. I didnít have too much of a culture shock. I wouldnít have to adjust myself to the life here. That I knew.
Itís really just the loneliness that caught me by surprise. I never thought I would be alone. I never thought I would be as lonely as I was.
CB: Can you tell me about coming here?
AS: I set my expectation rate very low. I knew it was going to be hard. I knew academic-wise, there was going to be a lot of challenges. I knew about discrimination, like racism.
I was very clear that I was not going to the States to have a perfect life. I might be able to have a perfect life, but I need to earn it, and thatís going to be hard.
When school started, I felt clueless in the beginning. Although I had worked with CNN in Beijing, I was a news assistant. I didnít really know much about broadcast news. Also, basic news training -- thatís what I was lacking. Also Ö I was writing and speaking in my second language. That was hard. And my writing was a lot worse than my spoken English, for some reason. [Laughs.]
My professor had that conversation with me. He was like, ďThis is something Iíve never seen before. Most of the Chinese students in my class are better at writing than at speaking.Ē
That was kind of a dump for me. I got a D on one of my first [assignments]. I was so confused! I didnít know there was [a grade of] ĎDí. I thought it was just, ĎA, B, C, and Fail!í
There are still difficulties and problems, but Iím getting more comfortable Ö detecting my problems, and then solving them. Thatís the process.
Personal relationship Ö thatís more complicated. I donít have a conclusion on that. I still get confused sometimes, [with] my American friends. Sometimes, theyíll just sit down and talk to me. Or they want to listen to me. And after that, theyíre just gone.
I donít go after people. I would try to be like, ĎHey, do you want to grab a drink, or do you want to have dinner?í But, if I donít get any response, or a very positive response, two or three times, I stop. If that person doesnít contact me, Iím just going to sit here. Iím not going to do anything on my end, Ďcause I donít want to be annoying.
Iíd like to think I am a really good person, but it doesnít mean people like me. Itís more of a me problem in terms of my mentality, I guess. A lot of people come to me, and will be like, ĎAre you American? Did you go to an international school?í And itís a no to both questions. But I talk in certain way that people might forget Iím an international student, sometimes, and I donít know if thatís a blessing or not.
In terms of guys, that might not be a good thing that they forget that Iím not American. Ö Maybe theyíre nicer to international girls? I assume sometimes they are.
When people get comfortable, they donít pay attention to you, or appreciate you as much as when getting to know you. But I am still international. Iím still Chinese. Iím very Chinese. I spent the first 23 years of my life in China!
I feel like the biggest problem[s] are all personal. My Chinese fellows Ö they assume that I hang out with Americans the whole time, which is so not true! I am mostly by myself, or with other international students.
CB: How do you feel that you donít -- that your Chinese peers assume one thing, and American students assume you hang out with all the international students?
AS: That used to make me feel really terrible.
There are three Chinese girls in the same program -- weíre all in journalism -- and they were going to the buffet thing on [Boston Universityís George Sherman Unionís] third floor. We used to do that a lot during the first semester. That kind of became a tradition, among Chinese students.
I might look bubbly and happy and outgoing, but I am really kind of shy, in terms of -- I donít like inviting myself to things. But I kind of looked at those girls as really close friends. We came out of class, and I was walking with them. They were ready to cross the street to GSU, and I forget what happened, but they were like, ĎOh, have a nice one, bye,í and they just took off to the GSU for the buffet, without asking me, or inviting me. Thatís a really small thing, but those small things get me really bad.
There was something else that was happening at the same time, as well, in terms of guys, and stuff, and I was already having a hard time. I couldnít find people to talk to, because thatís the kind of thing you donít want to Ö talk [about] to people you canít trust. So, I was keeping that to myself, and then my own people walked away from me for something we always do as a group.
I just felt so bad. I missed my parents back in Beijing. You know, when something hits you, I think you just try to hit yourself with other stuff that hurt you.
I texted my mom, ĎI want to go home.í She got really concerned, and called. I picked up the phone, heard her voice, and just started crying on the T. I didnít even care.
I was just like, ĎMom, I donít know why they donít like me.í I was popular, in a way, back in China, because I sing, I perform. I have a good personality. I am really bubbly! My group, my circle [of friends in China], they love me! Thatís how it was back in China. But here, I am mostly alone.
CB: So, how has your reception been in America?
AS: Oh, guys-wise? Awesome! At first, when some guy would say to me, ĎYouíre really beautiful,í I would say, ĎYouíre just saying that because Iím Asian, or youíre trying to be nice.í But then one guy says that -- two, three -- and youíre like, ĎAll right.í
CB: What about other relationships youíve had? Not necessarily romantic.
AS: I have a lot of nice, awesome people around me. I just donít have anyone close.
Thatís what I [need] most. If I have that special someone, be it a best friend, or a boyfriend, I literally donít [care] about other people. Thatís how I function. When I donít have that person, itís going to be me versus large groups, the different circles in my life.
[The Allston bar] The Avenue is my place.
I feel safe there. I know everyone -- the waitresses, the bartenders, the bouncers. They talk to you like they care about you, but I donít care whether they care or not, whether theyíre just saying it, or theyíre being genuinely caring. I come here, pay a small amount of money, get a conversation, get a comfortable space.
Whenever I am feeling like Ö I donít have anyone to turn to, but I donít want to spend time at home, I just go to The Avenue, because itís really just right down the street.
I am not anyoneís best friend right now, I think -- the people who are in Boston. Thatís kind of sad, but it is what it is.
I think I am at a point where I have kind of stopped trying.
CB: What is your favorite food, drink, or experience youíve had here that you didnít have in China?
AS: Really good fried chicken from Soulfire! Soulfire fried chicken is so good, and their mashed potatoes on the side are really good, as well. And they have fried mac Ďní cheese. It sounds so calorie-thick, so heavy, but itís so good!
Although I do complain, I love living here. One thing, for the air. Itís so clear and fresh. Beijing is so polluted right now! I went back [to Beijing] for a month, and I got sick by the end of it.
I kind of love living alone right now. You got through everything on your own, which is kind of an achievement. Iíve been cooking a lot.
I am more in control. Back in China, my parents were trying to take control of everything. I can do whatever I want. Thatís just Ö the taste of freedom from my parents! I love that. Even if this is what itís going to be like in the future, for a while -- being alone -- thatís all right. I still enjoy life, being on my own.
Carolyn Bick is a photojournalism graduate student at Boston University. The interviewed has been edited.