The Liability of Foreignness



“Life happens at the end of your comfort zone.” –Neale Donald Walsh

Growing up, I always played it safe in life. I consistently took on the role as “mom”; I cleaned up after everyone, followed the rules down to the periods and commas, and lacked any adventurous qualities. After starting my education at the University of Washington, I was suddenly surrounded by individuals that were not afraid to take risks. Every one of them seemed to frequently share elaborate stories about their escapades; there was such elegance in their speech—something I became very envious of.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I took a class entitled AP European History. The content of the course was fascinating to me—I knew I needed to explore the world in order to advance my intellectual creativity and cultural knowledge. Since starting at the University of Washington, I vigorously researched study abroad programs, originally planning on studying somewhere in Western Europe. Never did I expect myself to venture off to Asia, but I am so thankful for the experience thus far. The idea first came to me when the global business center director visited my Accounting class, introducing us to the Foster School: Shanghai Program. I decided to apply and once accepted, the decision of whether or not to take on this adventure seemed obvious—so, by March, I had a one-way plane ticket booked to Shanghai, China.

After an eleven hour flight and a brief panic attack, I found myself suffocated by the humidity, foreign tongues, and lack of personal space. I felt incredibly out of place, my excitement quickly turned into anxiety. Once I arrived to my dorm room, I realized that I beat my roommate. Although it gave me a moment to get situated on my own, it also allowed for the apprehension to set in. I was in an unfamiliar place, surrounded by unknown faces, and I quickly questioned if I had made the right decision to take part in this venture.

On the first day of my International Business class, we discussed a concept entitled the “liability of foreignness”. It can best be explained by additional risks that firms, or in this case, individuals, operating outside their home countries experience above those of the local firms. This concept could very well be applied to how I was feeling when first arriving. I felt as if I could be easily taken advantage of, my talents would be overlooked, due to the fact that I was a foreigner, and I was unfamiliar with the cultural norms within the country, thus given me a major disadvantage in nearly every aspect of day-to-day life as student in China.

Although I have only been in the incredible city of Shanghai for a little over a week, I feel much more comfortable and there is not a single part of me that regrets taking on these unchartered waters. I have yet to pick up the Chinese characters on street signs and I still rely on others to order food for me, but I truly feel as if I am making every effort I can to immerse myself into the Asian culture. From company visits with both local start-ups and big name businesses, to getting purposely disoriented in the biggest city in China, I have gained knowledge and friendships that I feel will last a lifetime. I thought my adjustment so far from my comfort zone would take much longer, but if I have learned anything, it’s that I was ready to leave my nest far before I imaged. I have become so fascinated by the culture here that I am almost afraid for the program to end—I fear I may feel lost amongst my previous securities. After voicing this fear to my fellow classmate, she smiled and told me, “That’s because Seattle is no longer your home; you belong to the world now!”

Here’s to two more weeks in Shanghai—more details and life insight to come.