This month, we decided to interview a young French-born Chinese: Elisabeth Wu.
Elisabeth is currently studying for her last year of master’s degree at ISIT (she will graduate in 2012) with French, English, Spanish and Chinese as her working languages. She is also doing an apprenticeship at Lafarge as an E-marketing and communications project officer for Ductal®, an ultra-high performance concrete.
Her specialities include web-marketing, social media and search engine optimization. During her studies at ISIT, she went to Asia a few times, notably in Taiwan for a 6-month exchange semester and in Singapore for a one-year internship.
Her detailed profile is available here.
First of all, can you tell us what links you to interculturality? Why is it important for you?
Interculturality plays an integral part in my life. My parents are Chinese but I was born and I grew up in France. I have been immersed in interculturality since childhood; one could say I am at the crossroad of the East and the West. Nowadays I also get to experience interculturality everyday in my personal life. Before joining ISIT and travelling to Asia, I was not really aware of the part interculturality played in my life and my interactions with people. Of course interculturality is important. You can understand lots of things about how people think and react by analysing the culture of their country of origin.
Have you ever watched or experienced intercultural conflicts or misunderstanding in your personal or professional life?
I experience it every day in my life, for example in my love life as my boyfriend is German. France and China both have strong implicit cultures, whereas Germany adopts a direct and explicit communication. Sometimes Tim is a bit lost when we chat.
In my familial life, I often note cultural discrepancies, especially with my mother because she has kept a very Chinese point of view on some subjects. But since I can detect and explain these elements that are characteristic of the Chinese culture, I got used to it.
You have chosen to study Chinese, to transform a particularity into your specialty. Why?
I began to study Chinese in my fourth year of secondary school. My mother forced me to attend classes provided by an association in the third district of Paris. Since I have never had a rebellious nature, I went. At that time, China was beginning to emerge on the international stage. I continued studying Chinese after my A-level, at ISIT that had opened a Chinese department just a year before. Although it was difficult sometimes, I managed to do it. I hope that from now on I will have plenty of opportunities to use my linguistic skills in my professional life.
What are your feelings towards the Chinese language?
Chinese is the language of my ancestors, so I took an interest in it and I began studying it. In addition, the social pressure and my Asian features made it obvious I should learn Chinese.
How do you define yourself? As a French girl from a Chinese background, as a French-Chinese girl, as a French-born Chinese or does it simply not matter to you? Does it matter to people?
I would say I am a chameleon because I can pose as “anything and everything”. First and foremost, I am French, but it does not bother me to be described with those three expressions.
French and Westerners in general do not care about that. When I tell people I am French, they ask me about my origins and start chatting about Chinese topics. With China’s increasing media exposure, people get more and more interested in this country and want to talk about it with me. I keep up with Chinese news in order to develop my point of view and my knowledge of China, and to stand as an “expert” on the matter.
However I often have to give proof of my nationality in Asia. I feel like people do not believe me when I tell them that I am French! In fact, it is important to remember that the words “French” and “Chinese” can have different meanings depending on the cultures: for a Chinese from China, a Chinese expatriate or the descendants of an expatriate remains first and above all a Chinese. Therefore those people will not understand if I present myself as French.
On a funny note, when I travel in Asia, people sometimes start to talk to me in their local dialects extremely quickly; it is quite embarrassing when you have no idea what they are speaking about.
What advice would you give to a French person who would like to learn Chinese or to emigrate in China?
Learning Chinese requires discipline as well as motivation passion and rigour.
If you are going to emigrate and already know a few things about China, forget about them, get rid of your prejudices. Once there, keep your mind open. Also be careful not to idealize China. Just like any other country, it has its good and bad sides.