Snowbell, Dreaming

Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

As January snow fluttered outside the window of the hospital where I was born, my mom carefully chose a Chinese name to give me. While I go by Carolyn in America, I am Xuě Líng in China. Years later, my mom told me that my second name translates to Snow Bell—a sound as delicate as the flower.

China and the stories my mom told me about it seemed like magical realms that carried the irresistible promise of belonging. I craved to be a part of them, especially in the years when I didn’t fit in my small, homogeneous middle school. Along with myths about dragons and foxes, my mom told me stories about her youth—of the love letters she received; the karaoke bars she frequented with her friends; the lush green of Nanjing; the relatives back in China with hearts as big as our family tree.

This summer, I transported inside those storybook retellings.

Despite my initial excitement for a trip to China, I feared, despite the wonderful stories my mom told me, that I wouldn’t belong. I hold my chopsticks like a pencil. I have an awkward American accent. I’m also vegetarian, so dishes like fish ball soup or salted duck, staples of the Nanjing diet, are off-limits. Most of all, I was terrified that my family would brand me as “just another...

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