When you pull a plant from the ground and put it into a pot, you leave remnants of its roots– of itself –in the place from which you took it. Likewise, when you uproot a tree and replant it elsewhere, you never fully remove it from the space it once resided. This process is taxing, it is challenging, and it is seldom performed without a great deal of mess along the way. Like a tree or a plant pulled from the ground, Alexandria Kuo knows what it is like to uproot.
A self-professed “third culture kid” who moved from New Jersey to Taiwan when she was 11 and from Taiwan to Wheaton, Ill., when she was 18, she has uprooted and replanted in ways that many of her peers cannot fathom. Now a college student in a city different from her native Tai Pei City, Kuo is learning how to adjust to her new environment, and how to plant roots in a place where she has no familiar soil.
Though she is Taiwanese and identifies herself as a “third culture kid,” Kuo had previously only visited Taiwan for vacations so packing up her life in New Jersey and moving to the island was a frightening and daunting experience.
“When I first got there, it was a culture shock,” said Kuo. “I felt not at home, like a stranger in a different world… I had already made a circle of friends back in New Jersey, and it was so hard to just be torn away from that friendship and everything that I had gotten used to. ”
A sixth grader at the time, Kuo had to adjust to new friends, a new school system much more rigorous than the one she had encountered in the states, a new culture and a new city.
“The city is very different from America, and as a suburban kid, moving to the city was like, ‘Oh my goodness, it is so messed up and all the streets are dirty,’” said Kuo. “There are some traditions in Taiwan that I have grown used to, and I have actually made my own, so when I first came to Wheaton, I was kind of like, ‘Oh, I kind of miss it back home.’ I didn’t know that I would miss it [Taiwan] until I came here, so it is a broadening of perspectives, I guess.”
Though she learned to love- and even miss- Taiwan, Kuo returned to the United States after graduating high school because she feels that this is home- or at least one of them.
“I have always thought of coming back home, because, after all, Taiwan is not really my home, because although I call it home, it is not where I want to stay for the rest of my life because I feel like it is still a narrow bubble on this one little island, and so coming back home has always been in my mind,” said Kuo.
Specifically, Kuo chose to plant her roots in a part of the United States that was new to her, settling at Wheaton College, a private Christian university just outside of another big city, Chicago.
“For a really long time, I was in a secular bubble, so I though that I should come back and re-focus my real mission here on earth that God called me to do, and so I just hope that coming to Wheaton and coming back to America can help me just re-center what I want to do, and what I want to do in Him.”
Kuo’s aspirations for the future include working in broadcast journalism and media, specifically, working as a news anchor. She credits this vocational decision in part to her life in Taiwan and to the global perspective she gained while living there.
“Understanding global perspectives has made me more interested in this path, and being able to communicate with other cultures and understand what their life is like and what their news is like has really helped me figure out that I actually do want to take this path, because I have both the American and Taiwanese worlds to figure out and understand both worlds.”
Kuo feels that spending a part of her childhood in Taiwan has also given her another advantage: that of language. Kuo speaks both English and Mandarin Chinese, a skill she feels will aid her in communicating with people from cultures other than her own.
““If I stayed here in America for all of my life, language-wise I couldn’t be good in Mandarin Chinese and I wouldn’t be able to communicate in that language, and slowly that part of me would fade away, but back in Taiwan, I was able to communicate with people in that language and see the world differently through a global lens,“ said Kuo.
Though she said that she felt she has gained a global perspective from living in both suburban American and metropolitan Taiwan, Kuo noted that living in two worlds so opposite from one another has caused her to separate her two lives, something she is still working to overcome.
“When I land on American ground, I communicate in a different way than when I am in Taiwan. My mind would automatically switch to the American mindset, and in Taiwan I would switch to a Taiwanese mindset, based on the environment I am in, so I haven’t found common ground on that yet, although it is really easy for me to switch back and forth,” said Kuo. “I still need to work on how to combine both of them together.”
As Kuo once again replants her roots in Wheaton, it seems that this third culture kid’s life is looking more like a field of trees, spread across the world, than just one plant being transported from place to place. Roots in New Jersey, in Taiwan and now in Wheaton, Kuo continues to seek to find the place she can call her own, never forgetting the places she once called home.
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