(gacked from jandjsalmon - ta!)
A is for Australia.
I lived in Canberra and studied at The Australian National University during the 1990 academic year. In other words, I was on exchange at the uni. It was a little awkward academically since classes ran from January to December, hence the second half of my junior year and the first half of my senior year. Quite a few of my friends did study abroad in places with the standard northern hemisphere year so we didn't see each other for a year and a half.
Why did I choose Australia? Well. I wanted to go somewhere that I wouldn't normally go to as a tourist. I wanted to continue studying Japanese. (A very painful endeavor indeed.) Australia - why not? Plus I'd gotten a University of California Pacific Rim scholarship which sweetened the deal.
It was an interesting year. I traveled quite a bit. I had a ticket on Air New Zealand so I traveled around NZ on the way to and from Australia. I went up all the way north to Cairns and as far east as Adelaide. It was fun. It was great to study at ANU where there were students from all over the country. But it was also the year that I felt really, really American. Plus there wasn't much of a language barrier so everything that people were saying to me really was what they were saying. I think the difference with racism in Australia was that, at least from what I experienced, it was benign. I don't think people really meant it. When my friend's father yelled out upon my arrival at their farm, "Mary! Sylvia's here! Get out the chow mein!" he wasn't being mean-spirited, just being what he thought was funny. It was also a little strange for me, coming from California, that people didn't really have a concept of a hyphenate identity. You were either Chinese or Australian, not Chinese-Australian. There was one student whose family had immigrated from the Philippines the same time we moved to the US, and she didn't seem to have any sense of loyalty or interest in her home country. At the same time she and I were different from the foreign students who were paying full fees and taking away places from deserving Aussies. And the Asians (hyphenate or not) were definitely better than the Aborigines.
I'm sure Australia has changed a lot since I was there. I'd like to go back and see what's changed. In the meantime I live vicariously through friends (real life and not) and movies like Flirting and books like Almost French. I retain a lot of affection for Australia (and New Zealand). And in the end, my year away was a rehearsal for longer and longer sojourns.
I feel like the hyphenated identity is not very common in the US anymore either. I have friends and co-workers (and even BKL) that were born in the US (or moved at a very young age), have American passports and only American citizenship (if they come from a country that forces them to choose, like Korea or Sweden), have never tralleved to their ancestral country, and may not even speak the language, yet identify themselves as that only, specifically excluding any American-ness from their self-identification.
I think this is new. Most of my high school friends were hyphenated (I'm a hyphenated American), but there is something different these days about being American; it's no longer viewed with pride, perhaps. I find it very strange too.