What It’s Like Always Being The Foreigner

The thing about being the person who is ‘not really from here’ is that you don’t fit in a defined box – you jump in and out and walk along the borders or dance between the lines. But I think that is pretty great.

Yes the title is true, I am a nomad… kinda.

Before I get into the story that is my life, I would like to express that I do not by any means take this to be a negative, I know who I am and have never been ashamed of it. I just happened to be the foreign girl, the outsider, the one that was ‘not really from here’. I did make some great friends and for the most part, people didn’t care where I was from. I’m speaking from a more broad societal view and my personal experiences. My friends and family saw, not my appearance, not what my passport said or didn’t say… But me.
This post is just my personal experience and I was thinking about this recently as well as how few of us nomads are around. But with modern travel and migration, I’m sure this number is growing.

My story in a nutshell

As a baby

I was born to a Taiwanese Mother and New Zealand Father in Taipei, Taiwan. At the time of my birth, if your father was foreign, you were not entitled to Taiwanese citizenship. So there I was, a half Taiwanese potato baby, born in Taiwan, but could not legally be considered a citizen. On the other hand, if your father was Taiwanese, but your mother foreign, then you were granted Taiwanese citizenship upon birth in Taiwan. I know, the double standard is real!

HOWEVER, I had every right to a New Zealand passport. So my parents applied to get me New Zealand citizenship via descent.

I do sometimes wonder what the procedure would have been in the event I wasn’t able to get a citizenship for either country. I may have truly been citizenship-less.

New Zealand

Now, my new Zealand passport still shows that I’m from Taiwan (a.k.a ‘not really from here’). Now this alone isn’t why I say I feel that I was considered a foreigner. That, my friends, is based on the reactions of my peers when discovering that New Zealand was not my birth-land.

In school I was occasionally that foreign kid (despite growing up in New Zealand). Almost all my peers were born in New Zealand, or the nearby Pacific Islands. But nothing as far as Asia. The Asians in my class were, to my memory, all born in New Zealand. Granted, several of them had parents who had migrated over and birthed them in the country of Aotearoa (another name for New Zealand).

There is this event that I specifically remember. One of my classmates mother said to said to me.. ‘Oh, so you’re not really a Kiwi then’. It wasn’t the words she spoke, it was the way she said it. She spoke it with a look of contempt and I felt the walls of ‘you’re not like us’ go up around this person. She also gave that same face you give when you just realise that someone let out stinky fart. To an impressionable primary school kid, the message I got was… You’re an outsider, you’re not like us and therefore, worthy of my disgust’

Being biracial, I’m neither here nor there, culturally or in physical appearance. So this could have played a part into her mentality (but I’m not sure). I know that there are people in this world who believe that people like me are an abomination and yes, I have been called an abomination before. I’m not saying this particular person was of this mindset, because I will never really know.

Being biracial is like this food. Part burrito, part kimchi. It doesn’t fit into one cuisine.

Taiwan

But how about Taiwan? How did people treat me?

I only ever went back for holidays, for about a month each time. Growing up, my Mother wanted me to know my family, the culture and know Taiwan, so we went back quite often when I was growing up. We always went in the international line at the border, which was great for us because there was actually no queue.

Walking outside and facing society was different to my experiences in New Zealand. The main difference is language. People believed me to be a non-mandarin speaking or understanding person.

I did and still do, get people commenting on my appearance to each other, completely oblivious that I understand them.

Many people would attempt to speak English to me, or refrain from speaking at all. And when I did speak Mandarin to them, they would look at me as if I am insane.

Them: ‘no English, no English’

Me: ‘Sir, I am speaking Mandarin’ (in mandarin)

Them: ‘no, no, no’.

Please keep in mind that this was in the 90’s to early 2000’s, where migration and tourism wasn’t really a thing in Taiwan. So things might have changed now.

At my university’s freshers fayre (in London) I approached the Taiwanese society. There were 3 or so representatives at the stand, I went up to them speaking mandarin, and they all jumped back gasping. One of the boys asked me, ‘why do you speak mandarin so well?’ I replied ‘because I was born there, I am mixed race’….

Equally, there were also people in Taiwan that didn’t give two sh*ts about whether I spoke Mandarin and just treated me like any other local human and carried about their day when I spoke mandarin to them. No questions, no nothing. Those people were awesome.

United Kingdom

When my parents and I moved to London when I was 15, I regarded myself as a foreigner – for obvious reasons. I’m sure the locals did (and still do) upon hearing my accent. It has actually been a catalyst for many interesting conversations with strangers or soon to be friends.

Moreover, to this day, I still do not regard myself as British. It took about 8 years, an exam, an interview and pledging myself to the Queen for me to become a naturalised British citizen, but nonetheless… I don’t feel British. There are a lot of cultural differences from New Zealand and Taiwan, and yes, I may be used to it now (10 years down the line), but there are still things I am learning about the UK; cultural references usually stump me or British colloquialisms and slang.

The thing about being the person who is ‘not really from here’ is that you don’t fit in a defined box – you jump in and out and walk along the borders or dance between the lines. But I think that is pretty great.

I feel very privileged with my upbringing, being born to two different cultures and living in three different countries gives you a very open perspective of the world. I can only hope I can give my future children this opportunity, it is a lesson in humility and a real eye opener.

17 Comments Add yours

  1. Katie Kuo says:

    Thank you for sharing this, I feel like it’s so common for people to make judgments based on someone’s appearances, and for example in Taiwan, many foreigners who have lived there for many years will still be treated as a foreigner, and perhaps when I go back to Taiwan just to visit I am treated as a local, because I appear completely Taiwanese, but I grew up in NZ.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for taking the time read and comment :). Yes you’re right, people make very quick judgements based off our appearances. I also agree that if you are not ethnically east Asian, you will automatically be a foreigner. When was the last time you went to to Taiwan?

      When my Mother goes back to Taiwan, locals on the street can recognise that she doesn’t live there anymore – an overseas Taiwanese.

      Like

  2. Well, on the behalf of the UK, we’re glad to have you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you :D, it means a lot!

      Also, thank you reading and taking the time to comment.

      Your blog name is hitting close to home today as I’m pretty knackered from daylights savings!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I hear you. On the plus side, it’s a nice day for wearing sunglasses.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. pamicdolls says:

    I love to read your story, it is interesting and I am happy for you have grown up to be a better person . 🙂 A very happy, positive person!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Giulia says:

    Great post. Being able to experience different cultures is truly a blessing in my opinion. x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you :). Yes I agree, it really is amazing.

      Thank you for taking the time to read it!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Ali says:

    This is really interesting. It is always the people who don’t fit in who are the most interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Ali,

      Thank you so much for your kind words! I’m glad you liked the posts and thank you for taking the time to read it 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. floatinggold says:

    I can relate. Kids conveniently knew when to use the “but you’re not x, you’re y” when it suited their agenda. However, I did not really pay much attention to it. I bet your experience made you stronger. And I am glad to see that you are proud of your multiculturalism.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment :). Yes, you’re right, it did make me stronger for it. There is so much more I can write on type of topic, I might do some in future :).

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I don’t know…I’m from “here” and yet I don’t feel like I fit into a defined box. Lol. I used to want to be like everyone else–in fact I remember praying…”Please God, let me be normal”–but now, at age 47, I’m so glad to be me! Not sure how that happened… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read :). Oh man, yes! This feeling expands so much further than what countries people are from, everyone is individual. I’m glad to hear that you are happy being you! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. megisacat says:

    It blew my mind that one of your parents was Taiwanese AND you were born there and you still weren’t a citizen :O it never occurred to me that some countries had strange rules like that. I know in America if you’re born somewhere else and your dad was American and mom isn’t then you’re not a citizen (because of male soldiers going overseas and getting women pregnant but just being born here endures citizenship)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello! Yes it’s insane right! Taiwan has changed its rules now as many couples complained about the double standard. Ah that’s interesting about America, so if non-American tourists gave birth in America then their child would be an American citizen? If so…nice.

      Like

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