This piece came from a 13-year-old, whose parents are from New Zealand but who grew up in China…
There is a story my mother loves to tell. I don’t know why she likes to tell it because it makes her look like a terrible mother. She loves to say, “My 2 year old child signed himself up for a Chinese pre-school in mandarin and I didn’t even know.” This is how that happened.
My name is Alex Marinkovich-Josey. When I was two I lived in Beijing, China. Both My parents came from New Zealand but had been living in China for two years before my birth. Their names are Tina and Simon.
We lived in a small housing compound called EuroVillage. It had 50-100 homes. There was also a small school. Many of the children my age who lived there went to the school. I didn’t though, and that made me jealous. I wondered how come my friends and other kids would walk to school together and spent the whole day together and have fun together but without me?
One Day I decided to follow them. Both my parents had left for work. I was at home with my Ayi and I told her I was allowed to go to school from then on. So she helped me pack and walked me to school. I told the front desk I was a new student. My Ayi signed a form and I was allowed to stay at the school. I could now have fun with all the kids in my compound, and no one could tell me I couldn’t.
My parents didn’t know that I was going to the school, and my Ayi assumed I had permission from my parents so she didn’t tell them. I was happily going to the school for a month when the bill arrived. I had brought home the bill and gave it to Ayi to give to my parents. When she did she was surprised to see their reaction. My mum always says she was both horrified and proud. She was horrified because she didn’t know I’d been secretly going to school while she was at work and proud because I signed myself up to the school in Mandarin. It was the only language I could speak with ayi, she didn’t speak english.
When I was 3 and a half we moved to Taiwan. This time my mum signed me up for school. She thought as I was so good at mandarin that I could go to a Taiwanese school. I arrived and was shocked to find out that the way people spoke Mandarin was different to me. I would later find out this was an accent. The school said I had a ugly peasant’s accent and only wanted me to speak English. Turns out the Taiwanese don’t like the Mainland Chinese, especially not Beijingers, and I had the misfortune to speak with a thick, perfect Beijing accent, which made me very unpopular. I went to that school for only two weeks, at the end of the second week I asked Mum what language we spoke in New Zealand, she said English, so I asked to go to an English school. So my parents pulled me out and sent me to the British school. Within months I had traded my Beijing accent for a British accent. I left Mandarin behind and was an English speaker from then on.
Then when I was 5 we moved to the Philippines. I went to an American school called Brent. I was taught by mostly American teachers and quickly lost my British accent. I now have an American accent. I still spell the British way, but I speak like an American.
Now I live in Singapore. I go to the German European School. I do 5 hours a week of German. I can speak it very well now although don’t ask me about my accent. I also study 4 hours of Mandarin a week. People always say it’s good to explore your roots, I feel like I have lots of roots.
I still sound American; when I make friends people think I am American. When I visit New Zealand, the place I’m supposed to feel most at home at, I sound like an outsider. My voice is out of place and people also ask me where I’m from. They don’t believe me when I say I was born in Whangarei.
But I’m proud of my history. I sound like an outsider almost everywhere except at my school where no one sounds the same, we all have different voices, accents and languages. Inside I feel at home there as anywhere else I’ve lived. Feeling at home is about the connections you make, and that’s what I do. I love exploring different places. My life is my favourite story I don’t remember. I keep on asking, what’s next?