A night view of Lujiazui, a financial hub in Shanghai (XINHUA)
As a Chinese Costa Rican huayi, a term commonly used to describe a person of Chinese ancestry born outside China, I have always had a deep appreciation for my cultural heritage. Studying a master's degree in China was an opportunity for me to reconnect with my cultural roots. It was a chance to visit the country and culture that my parents and ancestors called home. I was both excited and nervous about navigating a place that was so different from my home country. Before my arrival, I had no idea how much this experience would change my life.
Growing up in an immigrant Chinese family in Costa Rica gave me a solid foundation in Chinese culture and history. However, it was only after experiencing China firsthand that I began to truly grasp the depth and complexity of this rich cultural heritage. Every place I visited was a revelation, from the bustling streets of Beijing to the serene temples of Hangzhou and the flavorful cuisine in Guangdong.
But the city that swept me off my feet was Shanghai. I felt very inspired by the dynamic energy and momentum of China encapsulated in the city. The streets were bustling with activity, and every corner seemed to offer a new adventure or a new experience. In Shanghai, one is surrounded by monumental buildings, skyscrapers and the trendiest lilongs, the city's traditional alleyways; it's amazing to witness the harmonious coexistence and mutual enhancement of two worlds—tradition and modernity, the old and the new.
I was struck by the sheer diversity of China, both in terms of geography and culture. Even though I thought I knew a lot about China, I was constantly surprised and humbled by how much there was still to learn. From the ancient dynasties to the modern-day economic powerhouse, China's history and culture are deep and multifaceted, and I feel grateful to have had the opportunity to explore even a small portion of it.
Upon arriving in China, I felt a sense of excitement and belonging that I had never experienced before. Through this journey, I was able to piece together a better understanding of my ancestors' culture, which I felt was missing in me. But this journey was not just about discovering my roots. It was also about solving a deep-seated identity crisis that has plagued me for years.
Growing up in Costa Rica, I had always felt like I was living in two worlds, struggling to reconcile my Chinese and Costa Rican identities. Outside my home, I was surrounded by the vibrant Costa Rican culture that had been a part of my life since birth. On the other hand, I had always felt a deep connection to the Chinese heritage that had been passed down to me from my parents and grandparents. For years, I struggled with the feeling that I had to choose one or the other, but as I traveled through the country and learned about its rich history and traditions, I began to see how my own personal history and cultural heritage fit into the larger picture.
More than that, I was able to find the answers to questions I had long pondered. I came to understand that my identity was a unique blend of two different cultures as a whole and not something to be compartmentalized or reduced to a simple equation of "half this, half that." Instead, I began to see myself as a beautiful blend of Chinese and Costa Rican that had come together to form something so lovely, integral and personal.
Through this journey and these experiences, I was able to piece together a better understanding of myself and my place in the world. I found a sense of peace and acceptance that had eluded me for so long. And just like the ancient Chinese technique of juci, which takes the broken pieces of ceramics and joins them back together to give them a new life and beauty, I felt like I had finally been able to mend the parts of me that had been broken and create a more integral sense of self.
The author is a Costa Rican student at East China Normal University in Shanghai
Copyedited by G.P. Wilson
Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org