May 13, 2020
By Camille Cheng
Hi, my name is Camille Cheng. I’m a Feminist Studies and Legal Studies double major. I studied abroad for three consecutive summers in Paris, Hong Kong, and London.
As a first-generation college student, studying abroad was an exciting opportunity, as none of my family members had the chance to even go to college, let alone study abroad. When my mom heard about my interest in studying abroad, she encouraged me to apply as it was a great learning opportunity that she never had. I picked Paris as my first location because my mom was born and raised there. To be able to study in a city where my mom grew up was a dream. But, the trip had so much more to offer than just experiencing the city and French culture. It was the summer right after my first year; I just finished one year of college and was struggling with my place in the world and my identity. Being in Paris made it hard for me to figure out my identity as a Chinese-American in a new culture. I experienced what it was like to be an Americanized Chinese in France as I spoke perfect English and showed “American friendliness” while looking Chinese and practicing Chinese customs, which confused some people. In France, it led me to adapt and act more American to connect with more people. But later in the program, I asked myself why I was adapting my own identity to fit the social norms of my surroundings. That’s when I realized that I didn’t need to change myself according to my environment as I was still Chinese-American regardless of how I looked or acted.
The next summer, I studied abroad in Hong Kong, a place where I could brush up on my Chinese. I went into the program to improve my Chinese and nothing more. As I explored Hong Kong each day, I learned more about my ancestral roots and where my grandparents grew up. Before I departed for Hong Kong, I didn’t know much about my grandparent’s past in the country as I never asked and they never shared. But during the entire trip, I would frequently facetime my grandparents asking more about their time in Hong Kong and what they did there. My grandpa used to paint and carve furniture in Hong Kong and my grandma would buy buns from a local bakery that was still in business. My trip to Hong Kong not only allowed me to improve my Chinese but also connected me with my heritage and my grandparents a lot more.
This past summer, I completed my third study abroad program at the London, School of Economics and Political Science to satisfy two of my Legal Studies course requirements. It was also my first time taking a course abroad not focused on language or culture. I took two International Relations courses to delve into a new subject that UC Santa Cruz doesn’t offer. I ended up loving the university and the two courses I took so much that I am considering applying for graduate school there one day. As a first-generation college student, studying abroad in London made me open up my options for post-graduate whereas before I was not considering pursuing anything more than a bachelor’s diploma. Maybe I’ll also be the first in my family to receive a master’s degree.
Reflecting on when I was a freshman at UC Santa Cruz, I was a very introverted student with high levels of social anxiety. However, now as I prepare to graduate, I realize that my experience studying away has taught me more about myself, what I want in life, and how to communicate and build relationships better. Those many first awkward conversations and fun experiences while I was abroad have led to lifelong friendships and memories as the person I am today wouldn’t be here if I didn’t take those many opportunities to study abroad.