Ask a Neighbor is a new series where we seek to discover the cultures of other international families living in Beijing, breaking out of our social bubbles. If you’d like to be featured next, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org for the chance!
Dr. Celine Clement-Odugbesan is a veterinarian at Drs Beck & Stone. She has lived in Beijing since 2010 with her Nigerian husband and their daughter who now attends Boya Bilingual Kindergarten (博雅书院国际幼儿园). She shares her thoughts on culture as they prepare to end their China adventure this summer.
What is culture to you? I would define culture as the different ways of thinking and living of a person, or a group of people, that can be expressed in numerous ways, such as religion, language, the cuisine, the music, the social habits, and the arts. To me, every family has a unique culture depending not only on the country of origin of the persons in the family, but also on the background and the individuals’ values and choices. Culture is a daily matter for my family as it is present in the way we are raising our daughter, our eating habits, the food we cook, the way we are dancing at home, the way we celebrate, the traditional ceremonies we attend, the friends we meet, and our beliefs. My family is like a “multicultural micro-community” for my husband is born and raised in an African country, whereas I have been educated in a “European” way. We have met in Beijing and have now lived in China for six years. Our culture is a well-balanced composition of different cultures that brings a lot of joy and fun into our daily lives!
What would you say your culture was like before coming to China? I have been living as an expat for several years in the West-Indies before coming to China, and, as all expats I guess, I have been through the steps of culture shocks and transitions. I would say that my culture before arriving to China was made up of neither my “home” culture, nor my “second” or “host” culture. I have been considered, by my own family and friends, a cosmopolitan person! I have always loved discovering new cultures and countries, tending to even forget my own “home” culture. This surely has helped me to embrace Chinese culture as well, to be more “aware” and more appreciative of diversity. However, coming from a small island in the Caribbean, China and especially Beijing, has surely been a culture shock for me!
How has China influenced your culture? My Chinese experience has definitively had a strong influence on my culture, and by consequence, on my family’s culture as well. This third language (Mandarin Chinese) is now also a part of our family (my daughter can speak French, English, and Chinese). Besides language, the eating and cooking habits (I tend to create my own recipes that my husband loves to define as Franco-Afro-Sino-Caribbean ), the Chinese celebrations that we have integrated into our culture, plus the education and the teachings we continue to give our daughter from ourselves, Chinese teachers, and international teachers; all these have been heavy influences on our culture.
In addition, I am impregnated by a more “yogist” way of life, preferring to use traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and acupuncture on myself. Chinese people are very social, and we loved joining the evening dancing activities (guang chang wu) at the corner of our building! Living in China changed my perceptions about everything, from the way I shopped, to the way I bargained, down to the way I drove! There were some aspects of China that I integrated because liked them, or because they correspond to me and my family. Then there were aspects that just “hit” me and become a part of me without permission! China is a life changing and unforgettable adventure!
Do you think your culture will change when you leave China? Likely, yes! A family or a person isn’t static. Every step in life leads to a personal and familial evolution! Culture is a notion that involves a constant state of transition. I think being multicultural promotes open-mindedness and allows choices between the best of each culture crossed to build a unique culture!
Photo: Courtesy of Celine Clement-Ogdubesan