This is earth and I’m not alien

Diversity, especially ethnic diversity, always seems to be a new thing to me considering the majority of the population in China is Chinese. We were taught that China is made of 56 ethnic groups, and together we formed this harmonious society. But before coming to US, I only knew a few people from minority ethnic groups, and they looked exactly like Han people (the major race of Chinese) with similar lifestyle. In this sense,  the only “foreigner” I met in my first 18 years was a native English teacher. So most of the times, we Chinese people believe that we “are non-racist in the sense that most are not aware of our own multiethnic background and care little about it“.

Things changed rapidly the moment I arrived in US. I did not expect to become “nonresident alien” as if I came from outer space with the UFO. This title definitely confused me in the first few days and made me feel that US is not a great “melting pot” as advertised. I started to think about my ethnic background for the first time in my life. Fortunately, I was not treated differently as an “alien” during the first semester in VT. Surely the language and culture differences hit me. But after some adjustments in the following few months, I gradually get used to the new environment and made lots of new friends. As I walked through the campus, I could see faculty, staff, and students coming from different backgrounds and places and forming a robust and welcoming community.  By the end of the first year (2016), building an “inclusive VT” became one of the major goals in our university. The ultimate target of “inclusive VT” is to make sure that “inclusion and diversity is infused throughout Virginia Tech“.

A inclusive VT recognizes our diversified background and washes away any potential labels, “alien” for instance, to bring all members in this community as one. This is extremely important to higher education since we need a diversified and inclusive campus to “makes us smarter“, as Katherine Phillips believes. With different backgrounds, we saw things from various aspects and approach to questions in different ways. New and creative information can be brought into discussion, and potentially it is the key for solving the puzzle. Personally, I benefit a lot from this diversified campus and have multiple projects with all kinds of collaborators. The inclusive environment can help you find the strength as well as weakness of yourself and make best use of your merits. As a result, we can have a harmonious living environment with a enhanced working/research efficiency. I just hope this inclusiveness is not limited in VT or higher education but all over the US. As the most powerful country in the world, US should be famous for its inclusiveness instead of the tragedies, for example the one happened in Charlottesville. I do not want to talk about any politics involved, but treating people with different backgrounds as “aliens” is only isolating yourself.

8 comments on “This is earth and I’m not alien
  1. I’m also glad you’re not an “alien” too. One of the most supersizing things I experienced in my semester as an international student in Canada was how many similarities we actually share if we can removed the labels of “intentional student” or “American (in Canada)”. Both my professors and my fellow students mentioned and thanked me for bringing a different perspective into our classes that semester. I certainly appreciate different knowledge and experiences I got from learning from and with them (I can use both the US and Canadian soil texture triangle!).
    Can you give us any examples of how students and teachers made your first semester here at VT so welcoming? Any suggestions for things we could do in our classes?

  2. A. Nelson says:

    I learned a lot reading this. Thank you! I am especially intrigued by some of the insights from the NYT article you linked to about Chinese attitudes about race / ethnicity and the paradox of prejudices that confound those categories. Has living in the US made you think differently about Chinese attitudes? I’m curious because I know that spending a lot of time in Russia (which is probably not as different from the US as China is) made me see the culture here in a different light. (You are definitely not “alien”!)

  3. Armani says:

    Same as you, I feel lucky that VT gives me a very good experience as a alien here. In Taiwan, we always refer those people who have different skin or eye color FOREIGNER and feel interesting and special when looking at those people. But we are now actually those FOREIGNER in the US. However, most people don’t seem to feel weird when being around us because they have been surrounding by diverse people! I think that is something I learn and hope our people someday can learn such global perspective.

  4. Jyotsana says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I can identify with your post being named a “non-resident alien” myself. But I would like to take it even further down and dive deeper here. Just the fact that any foreign national is being nominated in official terms as a “non-resident alien” in itself holds power for the country enforcing the language and oppression for the individuals who are being nominated into such a category. As an international student I do nothing different than any citizen – I follow the law, I pay taxes as a citizen would, and I am liable in the same way as any other citizen would be for their actions…so then why the language? why the category? Why is no one advocating for that language to change that facilitates oppression and that says – you may suffer all the disadvantages but you may not enjoy any of the privileges…

  5. Syeed Md Iskander says:

    Nice post, Shiqiang. I like how you talked about being identifying others as aliens is another way to isolating ownself. Although the US uses ‘alien’ in its immigration documents, I never found myself as an alien here. I found it as a welcoming society!

  6. Sneha Upadhyaya says:

    Great post! “Non-resident Alien” got me really confused in the beginning too. Moreover, the definition of resident and non-resident here is the US is also very complicated.
    The program that I am in (i.e. Geotechnical Enginnering within Civil Engineering) is also very diverse. We have people from all over the world (China, Korea, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Lebanon, Turkey, Yemen, Canada, Iran, Colombia, Ecuador, and different parts of the US) and its always so much fun to know about the different cultures! We do potlucks often and to be honest, that’s something that I am always looking forward to!

  7. Qichao Wang says:

    Go Hokies!

  8. Faith Skiles says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful post. Also thank you for sharing the NYT articles. I also have to agree with Jyotsana’s analysis about the wording “non-resident alien”. I am very glad that Virginia Tech has been a welcoming community for you, but I would also like to see us as a country move away from language of “alien” and the intendant categorization the word denotes in todays political environment. Thank you for bringing it to our attention and know, that I for one, don’t approve of such words or classifications.

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