Karin calls Shanghai home, feels like a foreigner back in the USA

Karin moved to Shanghai at four, and she loves it here, but she's keen to head back to the USA  for college, even though she feels like a foreigner there now.

Holin's words:

Karin has lived in Shanghai for 13 years and knows this place quite well. She was recommended to be my another interviewee, so I added her on WeChat.

In Karin’s profile picture, I saw a graceful lady in a red evening dress being presented a small bouquet of flowers by a formal-looking young gentleman at a ceremony-like event. I supposed it was taken at her wedding.

Karin was very willing to do an interview with me, but she was always busy with school stuff. I supposed she was a school teacher.

Finally we met at a café near Century Avenue after three months’ wait. To my surprise, Karin is just a teenager in her senior year of high school! 

With long, curly brown hair and wearing a simple white T-shirt and black hot pants — naturally showing off her long, fit legs in a pair of white sports shoes — Karin looked energetic and overflowing with youth.

She told me she was sometimes looked at as a Chinese person who spoke fluent English when she was back in the US. She would just smile, she said. 

I realized she was more confident than her peers — even in the face of my awkward questions, Karin answered openly. 

Now Karin was preparing her application for college entrance. Carnegie Mellon University or Northwestern University are her dream destinations at the moment.

I'm waiting for Karin's good news.

Holin Wang / SHINE

Name: Karin Dyer
Nationality: American
Job: High School Student
Years in Shanghai: 13

Holin: Do you remember the moment you first came to Shanghai?

Karin: Although I was four years old when I came to Shanghai for the first time, I still remember. 

I remember I came here and I found it was so hot because I was usually living in Michigan where it's not so humid. Shanghai is more humid and it is so hot in the summer, and very crowded. 

Michigan is small, so I remember being surprised by how many people were in one place and everyone would touch my hair or take pictures with me cause I was so small and so cute, which really surprised me.

Holin: Did you feel like a superstar?

Karin: Yes, I felt like I was famous, but I think later on I got tired. "Okay, stop!"

Holin: That’s amazing! You said your mom is from Taiwan, and she followed your father here, right?

Karin: Yeah, she stays at home. Before they married, she had moved to America when she went to college.

Holin: Do you have any interesting stories related with Shanghai?  

Karin: It is funny because when I went to America, and people asked me, “Where are you from?” I would say, “I am from Shanghai.” Then they would reply, “Wow, your English is so good.” So I think that's funny.

Holin: So your American friends do not regard you as an American?

Karin: No, they think I am Chinese. I feel that here people think I am not Chinese, but Americans think I am Chinese.

Holin: Does that annoy you?

Karin: Sometimes, because I was born there, I mean in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and I don't look Chinese, so when they say, "she speaks very good English"... okay, it's fine.

Holin: So here is an awkward question for you: In your heart, where are you from?

Karin: It is hard to say, because I grew up here. I love my culture which is like a mixture of American and Chinese, because I live here. I like both sides so much and I think I feel more Chinese than American. 

When I visited America in the summer, I felt like a foreigner. I don't really understand how people do things in America.

Holin: Have you ever lived in Taiwan for a long time?

Karin: No. We never lived in Taiwan, but we visit there a week every year. Mom's grand aunt is there. I love Taiwan as well. 

Holin: Okay, let’s to Shanghai. How do you spend your weekends in Shanghai?

Karin: I like to go to explore Puxi with my friends, and like using Mobike or Ofo to go to malls and restaurants. Just hanging out.

I live in Jinqiao area in Pudong, and there is not so much to do there. But in Puxi, there is so much to do because it is so many stores and restaurants! It is pretty. Pudong is boring. It does have lots restaurants, of course, but it is not so cool.

Holin: Which place in Shanghai do you like best and why?

Karin: I don't know the street area, but there are a lot of old trees and many boutiques. (The area Karin referred to here must be the former French Concession.) I like the feeling it gives you, which makes you feel old and cultural. You know Shanghai is so modern in some areas, especially in Jinqiao. Everything is newly built. So, I like this change being, like, in old Shanghai.

Holin: Cool, and which road do you like best? 

Karin: I think Huaihai Road M. So many malls, like everything is going on there, I think it is exciting.

When I was young I had a cello lesson there before, so we drove past there on the way to the class and I thought it was so cool and there is so much to see. So later on, when I got older, I would go there with my friends or just walk around there.

Holin: You are still so young now! Can you tell the differences between the road now and when you first saw it when you were a small girl?

Karin: I can't really remember that, but I know Jinqiao. 

Holin: Sure. I want to know more.

Karin: When I first moved there, there was nothing there, and the trees were so small and new. Now they are, like, bigger and older, and they built subways and stuff and it is, like, developing.

Holin: You have been here for 13 years, and at first it was your family's decision to be here. Why do you love Shanghai so much?

Karin: So much to tell. I just love China. I like Asian culture more than American culture because it is old and meaningful. 

And I like the community here for expats. We have many old friends and family friends here with us. Now I go to the Shanghai American School. I really like the school and we are happy with the education there.

I love how everything is so convenient here, like you can use WeChat to pay for everything and there is Mobike and Ofo — transportation is so easy. And it is so safe too.

Holin: Can you describe how it feels safe for you?

Karin: Like, I can walk by myself outside and I don't feel worried, even at night. But in America, I am very scared. Because it happens so much, like, knifes or being robbed. My brother was robbed in college. It is a common worry for mothers with kids, like, my age when they want to go the college in America, they worry about safety. 

I love it here, it is so safe here.

Holin: You mentioned you have an older sister and an older brother, they all got into colleges in US. Can I ask the reason why they chose America schools instead of Shanghai’s?

Karin: I think they always wanted to go to American colleges because my sister is going to the school — Brigham Young University (BYU) — that both my parents wanted to. And my brother is going to Brown University, an Ivy League school where some family are.

Shanghai is my home. Whenever I go to America, I think I want to go home. I love it here.

Holin: Now an opposite question, do you anything you hate in Shanghai? Any suggestions to change it or make it better?

Karin: I think one thing I dislike is how people jump into line. 

We went to the Shanghai Disneyland with my brother and sister last summer, and so many people pushed and past the line. After waiting for an hour, it was very frustrating. 

And I came back from America like two weeks ago, and already when we were getting on the plane, people were trying to push in front. It's like, we're all going to get on to the plane — there's not limited seats! But they kept trying to get in front.

But it is okay, I am used to it, really.

I remember a couple of years ago, the pollution was really bad, that was one thing I really don't like. But now it is beautiful outside, so that’s good. 

I don't have many dislikes.

Holin: Do you think there are any shortages in Shanghai, perhaps when compared to places you've been before?

Karin: I think for most expats, it's like American food is hard to get here, or it's very expensive. 

Holin: You mean it’s hard to buy traditional American food?

Karin: No, like American products, so American cereal, you can't buy it here because we're in China, right? But a lot of expats complain about that because they're not used to eating Chinese food. Also like candy and things like that, American candy, is hard to get here and it is very expensive.

But honestly, I don't really like it so I am pretty happy with the food here. Sometimes, it is hard to shop for things. One thing, whenever I go to America, I buy a lot of to bring back is, like, make-up wipes. I haven't be able to find those here.

Holin: You mean some certain brand you like?

Karin: Yeah. So I will bring a huge box back, just so we can have it.

Holin: Any impressive memory during your life till now, during your 16 years?

Karin: I think a happy memory I have is when I was younger, our whole family would go to Shanghai Technology Museum… to the mall, and we would bargain to get the price lower. I think it's really a funny thing cause it was so different to what we were used to in America.

Holin: Are you a successful in bargaining?

Karin: I didn't used to be, but now I am pretty good at it!

Holin: But it’s harder for foreigners, right?

Karin: Of course I will speak Chinese! 

When I was little, I was so bad, my brother was the best one. So we would like, look and point to what we wanted, and he'd go to and bargain for us. So it was fun for the whole family. They (Karin’s elder sister and brother) are in America now, I really miss them.

Holin: You said that next year you will go to college, which college do you want to go to?

Karin: I don't know yet, there are so many colleges. I have a big list! I am looking at Northwestern and Carnegie Mellon. I don't know and I am working on them.

Holin: All the best!

Karin: Thank you.

What does Karin want to say to herself in the future? Have a look! Karin is sending a message to herself in the future 10 years from now!

Filmed by Holin Wang and Joan Zheng. Edited by Zhong Youyang. Translated by Jack Zhou. Special thanks to Andy Boreham.

Special Reports