Confessions of a Chinese-Canadian girl living in Sri Lanka

“Do they like Asians there?”, I asked.
Pause.
“No, not really”, she bluntly replied.

That was 6 weeks ago and I distinctly remember thinking that I could handle the stares, the stereotypes, and the judgement in Sri Lanka. I passed the “Chinois! Chinois!” test twice with flying colours in Morocco and beat the “Jambo….Mzungu!” level in Uganda. The big boss, Sri Lanka, would be a walk in the park.

What I got right was that the racial challenge in Sri Lanka was going to be the big boss. What I got wrong was the fact that it was going to be a marathon.

When I walk down the streets in Sri Lanka, I can feel eyes on me like a hawk (though nothing will beat the stares I got in the Mumbai airport). Half of me wants to wither away and the other half of me wants to yell at them and say “YES I’M NOT WHITE MOVE ON”. 100% of the time, though, I try to ignore the stares and, in turn, stare at anything else but them. I’ve come to learn that ignoring something is my speciality.

Maybe it’s the fact that I’m going to be here for 7.5 months instead of the month I had spent at a time in Uganda and Morocco. Maybe it’s the fact that I don’t have as strong of a local support network that I had on my Global trips. Or maybe it’s the pressure to be perfect working for my first international NGO. Or maybe it’s just my brain weaving tales of self-doubt.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all the time that I feel like an outcast as a Chinese-Canadian girl. Working in an office that advocates for gender and ethnic equality makes me feel secure, hanging out with the staff makes me feel valued, and making new friends is exciting. It almost makes me feel like…a white girl…?

Growing up as a Chinese girl in the classic Canadian suburb meant that I grew up identifying myself more as a white Canadian girl than a Chinese-Canadian girl. I grew up abandoning my race, culture, and values because I was embarrassed to be identified as one. In time, living in Canada was easy because I found a way to identify as both, as a Chinese-Canadian, who has a knack for living a “white life” – and I’m okay with it.

But the reality is this. Though I am a Westerner, I am not white. I am a Chinese-Canadian girl, who is, on the surface-level, very different. I have stereotypes attached to the colour of my skin, jokes cracked about the shape of my eyes, and a preconceived notion that I should be good at math, be a business woman, and, potentially, lie and cheat my way for money. I am not white, and I will never be able to know the benefits or drawbacks of being one.

Here in Sri Lanka, women are second-class to men. Foreigners, especially female foreigners, are at a disadvantage because of our “loose morals” and tendency towards prostitution. And race can, unfortunately, put a damper on things

I will feel the consequences of my race but I will try my best to chip away at the stereotypes.

After chatting with my roommate, she reminds me that we should be in it to win it for all of the ladies in Sri Lanka (and beyond) who don’t have a voice to fight against patriarchy. Despite my skin colour, her skin colour, or anyone else’s for that matter, we are all human. The things our eyes have seen, the stories our ears have heard, and, even more, the stories that we are writing for ourselves have so much more value than the colour of our skin or the shape of our eyes.

Yes, it has, at times, been hard in Sri Lanka and I’m sorry to report to you that it’s not all unicorns, rainbows and fairies. Regardless, at the end of the day, I’m grateful for the people I’ve met so far, this beautiful country, and my supportive friends and family.

If you’re following my journey in Sri Lanka, do be reassured about this:

It will be hard and tough as balls (do people say that?). But if you think I’m only going to put 50% because I’m a Chinese-Canadian in Sri Lanka, you are hella wrong. I will find my way and I will put in 100%. And then 50% more.

That’s 150%.

See, I am good at math.

Personal mandate: Prove the stereotype wrong.

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XOXO, GG

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Global girl here. Your one and only source into the “glamorous” life in an NGO.

Granted, that was quite lame and no one stopped me (in fact, Larrissa encouraged it).

In the past four years, Global Youth Volunteer Network (Global) has become a huge part of my life. It’s a student-run, non-profit, grassroots organization that provides students and young adults with the opportunity to connect social justice education with action. I credit this organization, more specifically the founder/director, Dave Skene, for consistently supporting my interests and fostering my passions for cross-cultural learning, social justice and human rights issues.

Since 2012, I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to Tata, Morocco, return again in 2013 as an intern, and co-lead a trip to Kyabirwa, Uganda in 2015. Despite how close  Global is to my heart, I tend to shy away from sharing about it with my INDEV community because of the criticism it may receive. Admittedly, I’m scared of people branding Global Youth Volunteer Network as an organization that promotes volunteerism and the exhibition of white privilege in the global South. I believe its mission and values sets it apart from the rest, so if you can spare me a few minutes, let me use this platform to explain to you what Global means to me.

Truthfully, working for this NGO is not glamorous. Our office can be found at DVLB, Starbucks or Dave’s house (or really, anywhere we can get WiFi), posters are put together immediately after we watch a Youtube video about graphic design and food sales have been the most effective way to fundraise (thanks to all of our faithful, yet drunk, supporters). Clearly, Global is not a money-making-machine. Profit has never been one of Global’s strengths so breaking even is usually something that’s celebrated. Consequently, we accumulate a lot of stress within the 9 months of planning, learning, recruiting and fundraising for the trips and our partners. No, working for Global has not been glamorous.

That being said, I would never trade my time with Global for anything. I’m especially honoured to have had Dave mentor me throughout my university career; for teaching me about Indigenous solidarity in Canada, challenging me to adopt a more holistic lifestyle, and inspiring me to immerse myself in experiences and cultures. His humble life is a testament to the fact that money is neither an indicator of intrinsic wealth nor a determinant of your dreams. Thank you, Dave.

Travelling to Morocco and Uganda was also immensely educational and enlightening. On countless occasions, I was reminded to slow down, be present, and enjoy the simple pleasures in life. By building relationships with the Indigenous communities, I was able to learn about the social issues that the Berbers and Moroccans were facing as well as the environmental and economic hardships of the Sogas in Uganda. Moreover, the people I can proudly call my good friends reminded me how of sacred life actually is and the goodwill that a smile can bring. Positive body language can break down barriers of unfamiliarity, especially in places where language isn’t the common denominator and it’s a lesson I’ll carry with me when I go on placement.

To whatever Global has in the future, 1 year from now or 10 years from now, I will always credit it for empowering me to work compassionately towards a more sustainable future.

Is working for this NGO glamorous? No. But the lessons I’ve learned, the skills I’ve developed and the friendships I made in Canada, Morocco and Uganda have indefinitely made my life glamorous.

XOXO,

GG (Global girl)

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