I honestly had no idea what she was talking about, but I nodded my head anyways and smiled.
My friend had just confided in me about something that’s been bothering her, something that made her question about life.
“You know… I honestly think that maybe America isn’t for me. I just feel like I don’t fit in with the culture, you know?”
As much as I wanted to understand her, I couldn’t. I was born and raised in America and didn’t feel out of place at all, despite being Chinese. And while I wanted to make her feel better, I wasn’t sure what to say so I ended up saying something like, “Things will get better soon. Don’t worry.”
Looking back, this was probably the least thoughtful response I could’ve given my friend. Instead of encouraging her to talk about her feelings and giving her space to think things through, I unintendedly stopped the conversation by offering general words of encouragement — words that don’t really mean much but you say anyways to show that you care.
And over the years, it made me think: Could I have done better? Could I have done something differently?
At the time, she had been vulnerable and had confided in me, perhaps as a desperate way of looking for help. But because I was so unaware and didn’t understand where she was coming from, I could only give a generic response.
It wasn’t until I had started living in China when I finally felt what she had felt — lost and alone in a culture that I didn’t really want to be in for long. People would smoke in the buildings, drink until they’re drunk, talk outloud on their phone, and many other things I wasn’t used to and didn’t like.
People would tell me I would get used to the culture eventually but the truth was, I never did — even after living there for 2 years. If anything, I felt more lost about who I was and what I stood for and it made me think back on how my friend must’ve felt at the time — the loneliness of having no one understanding you or the struggles you’re going through.
That’s why I wrote a personal note to my friend telling her about how I felt.
I’m not sure if it’ll change anything or if it’s already too late, but at least I’ve tried to make up for my past mistakes; that’s what really matters.
The past, while it’s impossible to change, can still be freed from any guilt or regret you might have. All you have to do is take the initiative to make things right; it’ll be the best decision you could ever do for yourself and for those you care about.