Thursday, September 9, 2010

Representing the Diversity of Americans in Ukraine

One of the things that worries me about moving to Ukraine is how my Peace Corps Placement Officer asked me if I would be able to handle any racial stereotypes or prejudice against Asians. I am looking forward to representing the diversity of Americans in Ukraine. Diversity is such a huge buzzword everywhere now, from schools to the workplace. One of the core expectations of the Peace Corps is to show the world that Americans are not all white (pardon me for saying that straight up rather than using Caucasian, the more politically correct word), and I am proud to have that opportunity during my service.

I read online that I might frequently get stopped by police and asked to present my documents (just like profiling in Arizona). So I need to be prepared to explain my Asian heritage and how I was born and raised in the United States. Questions like "where are your parents from" and "what kind of Asian are you" are not new to me. In fact, questions like these are fairly normal, I get them all the time in the States. I also get classic questions like "do you speak Asian" and sometimes I got lots of stares from people when I'm in the South... cultural attitudes in the South are still very different from living in California where there is plenty of diversity. Of course, some people in the South also tend to assume that all Californians are super crunchy liberal greenpeace hippies but that is a whole other story.

Sasha, my Peace Corps Peer Advisor, reassured me that the prejudice and discrimination in Ukraine towards Asians is really not that bad. Since all volunteers have to keep their documents on their person at all times, presenting proper identification shouldn't be an issue if I do get stopped by police. However, she mentioned that I probably will get stopped more often than the "white" volunteers. Other times, I might be confused for a Chinese exchange student. This is pretty understandable since if you've never been exposed to diversity, it will be hard for you to expect anything outside of the norm. Apparently Ukrainians overall have a relatively positive outlook toward Asians and Americans, so I think it really won't be that bad.

I think it is interesting when people stereotype me... like when I'd walk around the Athletic Association building at Georgia Tech and the football players would ask me if I was a math tutor (or a cheerleader). Stereotypes are just stereotypes, and I'm always glad to show people that they are not necessarily true.

Just for fun, here is a list of things that I actually do that are really "asian":

1. Take my shoes off when I walk into a house. But many other cultures do this as well, like Ukraine!

2. Play the violin. Okay, I know this is almost equivalent to playing the piano but my hands weren't quite big enough to span an octave on the piano when I was 5, so my mom started me on the violin instead.

3. Save all the plastic grocery bags that I've ever gotten from places like Walmart and hoard them underneath the kitchen sink. I probably reuse about 10% of those bags for the mini trash cans in my room and then always throw the other 589446812 of them out when I move out of an apartment.

4. I date white guys. Here is a great article about this stereotype, from a book by Christian Landers' (adapted from his blog) called "Stuff White People Like".

5. Spin my pen or pencil around in my right hand during class. If you've never seen this, you need to pay more attention to the Asians in your classes. Watch closely, they all know how to do it.
Image courtesy of's "How to Spin a Pencil Around Your Thumb".

Honorable mention to the above list: I majored in engineering. I tried to switch to Public Policy once my freshman year (when I decided I wanted to be a lawyer) and my parents refused to keep paying for me to attend such a strong engineering school. Then I switched to Industrial Engineering, which was actually a great fit for me and my interests in working with people and yet still crunching numbers. So now I'm considering pursuing public interest law after the Peace Corps, rather than IP (intellectual property) law. And I'm one of the only PCV's in my group that has an engineering degree, everyone else has liberal artsy stuff like American Studies (what is that? is that like history?). Anyways, only 14 more days until Staging in Washington DC!


Anonymous said...

Hi! Great post! I *think* we may be in the same group--Group 40? I totally agree with the enthusiasm about showing Ukraine (and the world, for that matter) the colorful face of the US! I'm also an Asian engineer (typical), sometimes remove my shoes at the front door (depends on several factors), play piano, save all my bags (for trash can liners or eventual recycling), and mos def twirl my pens/pencils... though sometimes I get a bit overzealous and send them flying at innocent bystanders. Whoops!

Anyway, I just have one question: How did you get a PC Peer Advisor? Did I miss a crucial email?


Jing said...

Hi Warren, Thanks for the feedback! Yes I am in Group 40, good to meet another engineer (though you may consider me to be an Imaginary Engineer). To join the PC Ukraine Peer Advisor Program, send an email to Rose Chyette at and she will send you all the information! See you soon in DC!

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