When counting down the days until summer vacation, some of the residents of the Sunshine State think about going to the beach and getting a tan. After living in Florida for nineteen years, this mentality has persevered and I find that I cannot wait to get a little bit of color. My roommate, Yushi Huang, is from China and the first day that the weather got warmer her first instinct was not the same as mine as she did not want to go outside and soak up the sun. The amount of sun exposure that is considered normal is drastically different between China and the state of Florida causing Yushi to exhibit unusual behaviors that impede her integration process in the United States.
The amount of air pollution in China has contributed to the amount of time that Yushi has spent outdoors. She mentioned that looking back at her childhood experiences after coming to America, she realizes how polluted the air is back in China (Huang). Yushi also said, "There are lots of factories and the particles worsen UV light" (Huang). I believe that she was trying to say that the extra particles or contaminants that were in the air directly affected the amount of time that she was allowed to be outside. As soon as the weather began to cool down a little bit during the month of October, Yushi and I began to open the windows and enjoy the fresh air. This is something that she never would have been able to do back at home due to the high levels of air pollution. After the first time we had the windows open, she said, "My arm is a different color and it must be from the windows" (Huang). I tried to explain to her that this is what Americans call a tan and she said, "What is a tan? I don't think I like it" (Huang). She was very unhappy and upset that her arm had gotten a little tan and blamed it on her new experience of having the windows open. Therefore, she did not want to have the blinds open because of the sunlight and because her mom would be upset if she saw that her skin color was changing (Huang). The amount of air pollution has caused Yushi to not want the windows open, something very common in Florida. Yushi is forced to maintain the behaviors that she has grown up with rather than accept and integrate new behaviors that correspond to her new surroundings.
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Yushi's mother has greatly influenced Yushi's perceptions of sun exposure and has taught her what to do to remain true to her culture. When Yushi's mom came to visit her this semester she carried an umbrella with her wherever she went. This does not seem uncommon around the University of Florida campus, but Yushi's mother used the umbrella for the sun instead of the rain. Throughout the duration of her mother's visit, Yushi always wore a hat, sunglasses and modeled her mother's desire for constant sun protection. I asked Yushi's mom about the umbrella she was carrying as the material of the umbrella looked different from a regular umbrella. The material looked like the same reflecting material that is used to shield the interior of a car from the sun. Yushi said, "When we [are] under the umbrella, there is a cooling sensation because it has UV protection" (Huang). She also told me that people of royalty, like the Emperor of China, would always shield himself from the sun and women used umbrellas to hide their faces to protect the makeup they wore (Huang). Yushi's mother was influenced by these royalty figures as one always strives to attain the highest level of status possible. Since Yushi's mother was so adamant in her practices of safe sun protection, Yushi has developed her mother's values. Yushi's observation of her mother's sun exposure behaviors has caused her to have sensitivity to the sun.
The rates of skin cancer in China and the United States are drastically different due to the different emphasis that the societies place on sun exposure. The Sunshine State is just what it implies, a state full of sunshine and unfortunately, a state full of skin cancer. Yushi will conceal herself constantly in order to primarily ensure that she does not damage her skin by exposing it to the sun but an added bonus to this cautious behavior is a lower rate of skin cancer. Skin cancer is more prevalent here, as "one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime" (Skin Cancer). In the United States, there are roughly 800,000 people that have had melanoma at some point in their life (Skin Cancer). Skin cancer has become more common than any other type of cancer as, "more than 3.5 million skin cancers in over two million people are diagnosed annually" (Skin Cancer). When comparing these astounding numbers to those of the Asian culture, "Skin cancer represents approximately 2-4 percent of all cancers in Asians" (Skin Cancer). Even though skin cancer is unavoidable as the sun is part of every individual's life, the amount of people with skin cancer in the United States is much more than the number of Asians who have skin cancer.
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Yushi's cultural beliefs have caused her to have an entirely different college experience that the rest of her peers. Yushi would constantly deny any invitation to engage in outdoor activities. She would not go play soccer, go to any football or baseball games and especially not go outside to tan. Eventually, she agreed to go to Lake Wauburg. When we went, I wore a swimsuit and flip-flops (what any Floridian would wear), and Yushi wore full length pants, a t-shirt, sunglasses, a hat and tons of sunscreen. Other people stared at her a little bit which I am sure made her feel uncomfortable and more like an outsider than a regular student. I think that this huge difference in the amount of sun exposure has truly hindered her experience at the University of Florida. She has not wanted to do what the majority of students do because she does not like to be exposed to the sun due to her strong cultural beliefs.
The large emphasis placed on education in Yushi's culture causes American's to develop stereotypes surrounding the Asian culture. Although Yushi has had a different childhood and experience with the outdoors, she still is the same age as other college students. What did she spend her time doing instead of playing outside? Yushi was encouraged to read and study (Huang). Maybe this is why American's have the stereotype that Asian's are extremely intelligent. If American children spend less time outdoors would they then be forced to spend more time studying? Yushi spends an exuberant amount of her time studying because this is what she was raised to do. Other fellow Americans may assume that it is a part of her culture to study constantly and have refused to befriend her because they do not feel they would have much in common with her. Every time she brings friends back to our room they are always Asian. I think the majority of her friends are Asian due to their shared values in regard to education and sun exposure. Since Yushi tends to associate with only other Asians, the stereotypes created by other non-Asians students are only confirmed and reinforced.
The United States and China drastically differ in the amount of sun exposure deemed appropriate. Members of the United States will go outside to tan and engage in outdoor activities starting at a young age. On the other hand, members of China would highly forbid these behaviors and place more emphasis on education. Some of the contributing factors to the differences between the countries sun exposure levels include the amount of air pollution present and societal pressures from biological relatives and ancestors. The rates of skin cancer are drastically different between the two countries reflecting the differing values. The differences placed upon sun exposure has caused Yushi Huang to not have the same college experience as fellow peers and has also caused stereotypes to impact her daily life. It is astounding how one belief can cause so many different behaviors and cause Yushi's integration process to be severely restricted.
Huang, Yushi. Personal Interview. 10 April. 2011.
"Skin Cancer Facts." http://www.skincancer.org/Skin-Cancer-Facts/ Skin Cancer Foundation, 2011. Web. 12 April. 2011