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By Phoebe Chen

Note: This is the latest in our series of blog posts from UC Berkeley students who support the work of the Global Lives Project through the Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program. Phoebe Chen is a sophomore majoring in Media Studies. Here, she shares her personal story about the meaning of her work with the Global Lives Project.

As a Taiwanese American student, I long struggled with my cultural identity. When I lived in Taiwan and attended an international high school, I was considered too American in comparison to my Taiwanese counterparts. When I arrived as a freshman at the University of California, Berkeley, I felt distanced from the vastly American student population; for context, only 3,992 undergraduate students out of 31,814 are international, meaning a majority of students were raised within American culture. Even though I attended an international school, I didn’t feel as American because my daily life prior to attending UC Berkeley existed almost entirely within Taiwanese society. Strangely enough, although I came from both cultural backgrounds, I could not fit into either one. 

Most often, students who experience this phenomenon are labeled ‘Third Culture Kids,’ or TCK,—an individual with mixed identity, most often influenced by their parents’ culture and the culture in which they are raised. According to The New York Times Styles Magazine, TCKs spend their formative years in places that are not their parents’ homeland. This mixed cultural identity is increasingly common in Asia, where students often attend international schools in their home countries. Likewise, I developed TCK status after being born in the US and moving at the age of three to attend an international school in Taipei, Taiwan. 

My TCK identity led me to realize the importance of cultural awareness and understanding. Although being stuck in a cultural melting pot makes fitting in difficult at times, I find solace in knowing my experience provides a unique perspective others may lack. That said, I still hope to expand and share my cultural consciousness. 

This objective later led me to discover the Global Lives Project under UC Berkeley’s Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program (URAP). After reading about the Global Lives Project’s  mission, which is to increase global empathy and awareness, I immediately began working on my URAP application. It was one of the few organizations I found on campus that offered me the opportunity to support celebration of  multicultural experiences, in a way that resonated with my own background. 

After completing the application process, I became a project manager for the Global Lives Spring 2022 Exhibit Team. I had the opportunity to lead a team of like-minded individuals with similar interests of furthering global understanding. In fact, I believe our range of cultural identities and perspectives  is what is allowing us to develop a Global Lives Open Source Exhibit Kit that is applicable to a wide variety of users: the Kit will enable any individual or institution to host their own immersive Global Lives exhibit in their own community.  

I believe the diverse cultures and ethnicities of each team member enabled us to examine the potential users of the kit, and the perspective and questions they may have.  Not only did each team member share the goal of furthering global empathy through Global Lives Project, but we also utilized our cultural experiences to work carefully, recognizing the different features and components we may need to include in the kit to be a truly universal tool. 

After a successful and empowering semester, I look forward to continuing my work with Global Lives. I hope to yet again utilize the perspectives my TCK status provides me on all future prospects, and embolden others to do the same.

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