I am Natalie Chau. In a way I am like a hidden immigrant – I grew up in my home culture, but I have lived between two worlds. I was born and raised in Hong Kong, and my parents are originally from here, but as they had lived in the UK during their teens to late twenties, I was raised at home with integrated values, language, and cultural references from both Eastern and Western ends. I spoke Cantonese and English as my mother tongues; read oriental folklore tales and Enid Blyton stories; and in light of my upbringing, I assimilated both Chinese sentiments and western ideals.
Being a part of two spheres has broadened my perspective, but I also felt that I was on different wavelengths with the other kids at school. I felt misunderstood and I wanted to fit in.
When I was thirteen, I left home to study in the UK. There I made friends from all over the world, and I loved my life. I would go strawberry picking with my British friends, celebrate Diwali with my Indian friends, feast on “real pasta” with my Italian housemates, and bring my Nigerian peers to Chinatown for Lunar New Year… I was immersed in diversity and felt my community embraced me for who I was. I had a sense of belonging and a sense of home. Yet, I knew I wasn’t always going to stay in England, because, for my parents, home was Hong Kong. Eventually I went back for university, but little did I know that estrangement would strike again. As hard as I tried to integrate, I couldn’t express myself without being teased for being “white-washed”. And even with friends from the international school, or those who also came back from studies abroad, it seemed there was an expectation to think alike and be like everyone else.
Eventually, I found it easier to integrate by conforming to the ways of how other people interacted. Nonetheless, there was always a part of me that felt out of place and troubled me – feelings that I knew I had no right to have, given the life I was blessed with.
Lost in denial, I took a break from college to spend some time abroad. As I reflected on my struggles, I learnt that being between two cultures isn’t about balancing different identities, but about integrating my divergent sides to define “me”. When we explore different cultures, our perceptions change, our identities reshape, and we break stereotypes. It’s difficult to explain ourselves when others might not understand or accept this process, and as a result, we experience grief and frustration about who we are and what is happening to us. Being cross-cultural is a gift, and it’s essential not to be held back by others and most importantly, by yourself.
Realising all this has helped me define who I am, what I love, and how to use my unique strengths in the life to come. When I returned to Hong Kong again, I finally felt good about myself in the midst of my neighbourhood. After many years of internal conflict, I am relieved to say that I am now happy and unimpeded by any feelings of being an outsider.