• Craft and Criticism
  • Fiction and Poetry
  • News and Culture
  • Lit Hub Radio
  • Reading Lists

essay on american experience

  • Literary Criticism
  • Craft and Advice
  • In Conversation
  • On Translation
  • Short Story
  • From the Novel
  • Bookstores and Libraries
  • Film and TV
  • Art and Photography
  • Freeman’s
  • The Virtual Book Channel
  • Behind the Mic
  • Beyond the Page
  • The Cosmic Library
  • The Critic and Her Publics
  • Emergence Magazine
  • Fiction/Non/Fiction
  • First Draft: A Dialogue on Writing
  • Future Fables
  • The History of Literature
  • I’m a Writer But
  • Just the Right Book
  • Lit Century
  • The Literary Life with Mitchell Kaplan
  • New Books Network
  • Tor Presents: Voyage Into Genre
  • Windham-Campbell Prizes Podcast
  • Write-minded
  • The Best of the Decade
  • Best Reviewed Books
  • BookMarks Daily Giveaway
  • The Daily Thrill
  • CrimeReads Daily Giveaway

essay on american experience

What Makes a Great American Essay?

Talking to phillip lopate about thwarted expectations, emerson, and the 21st-century essay boom.

Phillip Lopate spoke to Literary Hub about the new anthology he has edited, The Glorious American Essay . He recounts his own development from an “unpatriotic” young man to someone, later in life, who would embrace such writers as Ralph Waldo Emerson, who personified the simultaneous darkness and optimism underlying the history of the United States. Lopate looks back to the Puritans and forward to writers like Wesley Yang and Jia Tolentino. What is the next face of the essay form?

Literary Hub: We’re at a point, politically speaking, when disagreements about the meaning of the word “American” are particularly vehement. What does the term mean to you in 2020? How has your understanding of the word evolved?

Phillip Lopate : First of all, I am fully aware that even using the word “American” to refer only to the United States is something of an insult to Latin American countries, and if I had said “North American” to signify the US, that might have offended Canadians. Still, I went ahead and put “American” in the title as a synonym for the United States, because I wanted to invoke that powerful positive myth of America as an idea, a democratic aspiration for the world, as well as an imperialist juggernaut replete with many unresolved social inequities, in negative terms.

I will admit that when I was younger, I tended to be very unpatriotic and critical of my country, although once I started to travel abroad and witness authoritarian regimes like Spain under Franco, I could never sign on to the fear that a fascist US was just around the corner.  I came to the conclusion that we have our faults, but our virtues as well.

The more I’ve become interested in American history, the more I’ve seen how today’s problems and possible solutions are nothing new, but keep returning in cycles: economic booms and recessions, anti-immigrant sentiment, regional competition, racist Jim Crow policies followed by human rights advances, vigorous federal regulations and pendulum swings away from governmental intervention.

Part of the thrill in putting together this anthology was to see it operating simultaneously on two tracks: first, it would record the development of a literary form that I loved, the essay, as it evolved over 400 years in this country. At the same time, it would be a running account of the history of the United States, in the hands of these essayists who were contending, directly or indirectly, with the pressing problems of their day. The promise of America was always being weighed against its failure to live up to that standard.

For instance, we have the educator John Dewey arguing for a more democratic schoolhouse, the founder of the settlement house movement Jane Addams analyzing the alienation of young people in big cities, the progressive writer Randolph Bourne describing his own harsh experiences as a disabled person, the feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton advocating for women’s rights, and W. E. B. Dubois and James Weldon Johnson eloquently addressing racial injustice.

Issues of identity, gender and intersectionality were explored by writers such as Richard Rodriguez, Audre Lorde, Leonard Michaels and N. Scott Momaday, sometimes with touches of irony and self-scrutiny, which have always been assets of the essay form.

LH : If a publisher had asked us to compile an anthology of 100 representative American essays, we wouldn’t know where to start. How did you? What were your criteria?

PL : I thought I knew the field fairly well to begin with, having edited the best-selling Art of the Personal Essay in 1994, taught the form for decades, served on book award juries and so on. But once I started researching and collecting material, I discovered that I had lots of gaps, partly because the mandate I had set for myself was so sweeping.

This time I would not restrict myself to personal essays but would include critical essays, impersonal essays, speeches that were in essence essays (such as George Washington’s Farewell Address or Martin Luther King, Jr’s sermon on Vietnam), letters that functioned as essays (Frederick Douglass’s Letter to His Master).

I wanted to expand the notion of what is  an essay, to include, for instance, polemics such as Thomas Paine’s Common Sense , or one of the Federalist Papers; newspaper columnists (Fanny Fern, Christopher Morley); humorists (James Thurber, Finley Peter Dunne, Dorothy Parker).

But it also occurred to me that fine essayists must exist in every discipline, not only literature, which sent me on a hunt that took me to cultural criticism (Clement Greenberg, Kenneth Burke), theology (Paul Tillich), food writing (M.F. K. Fisher), geography (John Brinkerhoff Jackson), nature writing (John Muir, John Burroughs, Edward Abbey), science writing (Loren Eiseley, Lewis Thomas), philosophy (George Santayana). My one consistent criterion was that the essay be lively, engaging and intelligently written. In short, I had to like it myself.

Of course I would need to include the best-known practitioners of the American essay—Emerson, Thoreau, Mencken, Baldwin, Sontag, etc.—and was happy to do so.  As it turned out, most of the masters of American fiction and poetry also tried their hand successfully at essay-writing, which meant including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Walt Whitman, Theodore Dreiser, Willa Cather, Flannery O’Connor, Ralph Ellison. . .

But I was also eager to uncover powerful if almost forgotten voices such as John Jay Chapman, Agnes Repplier, Randolph Bourne, Mary Austin, or buried treasures such as William Dean Howells’ memoir essay of his days working in his father’s printing shop.

Finally, I wanted to show a wide variety of formal approaches, since the essay is by its very nature and nomenclature an experiment, which brought me to Gertrude Stein and Wayne Koestenbaum. Equally important, I was aided in all these searches by colleagues and friends who kept suggesting other names. For every fertile lead, probably four resulted in dead ends.  Meanwhile, I was having a real learning adventure.

LH: Do you have a personal favorite among American essayists? If so, what appeals to you the most about them?

PL : I do. It’s Ralph Waldo Emerson. He was the one who cleared the ground for US essayists, in his famous piece, “The American Scholar,” which called on us to free ourselves from slavish imitation of European models and to think for ourselves.  So much American thought grows out of Emerson, or is in contention with Emerson, even if that debt is sometimes unacknowledged or unconscious.

What I love about Emerson is his density of thought, and the surprising twists and turns that result from it. I can read an essay of his like “Experience” (the one I included in this anthology) a hundred times and never know where it’s going next.  If it was said of Emily Dickenson that her poems made you feel like the top of your head was spinning, that’s what I feel in reading Emerson. He has a playful skepticism, a knack for thinking against himself.  Each sentence starts a new rabbit of thought scampering off. He’s difficult but worth the trouble.

I once asked Susan Sontag who her favorite American essayist was, and she replied “Emerson, of course.” It’s no surprise that Nietzsche revered Emerson, as did Carlyle, and in our own time, Harold Bloom, Stanley Cavell, Richard Poirier. But here’s a confession: it took me awhile to come around to him.

I found his preacher’s manner and abstractions initially off-putting, I wasn’t sure about the character of the man who was speaking to me. Then I read his Notebooks and the mystery was cracked: suddenly I was able to follow essays such as “Circles” with pure pleasure, seeing as I could the darkness and complexity underneath the optimism.

LH: You make the interesting decision to open the anthology with an essay written in 1726, 50 years before the founding of the republic. Why?

PL : I wanted to start the anthology with the first fully-formed essayistic voices in this land, which turned out to belong to the Puritans. Regardless of the negative associations of zealous prudishness that have come to attach to the adjective “puritanical,” those American colonies founded as religious settlements were spearheaded by some remarkably learned and articulate spokespersons, whose robust prose enriched the American literary canon.

Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards were highly cultivated readers, familiar with the traditions of essay-writing, Montaigne and the English, and with the latest science, even as they inveighed against witchcraft. I will admit that it also amused me to open the book with Cotton Mather, a prescriptive, strait-is-the-gate character, and end it with Zadie Smith, who is not only bi-racial but bi-national, dividing her year between London and New York, and whose openness to self-doubt is signaled by her essay collection title, Changing My Mind .

The next group of writers I focused on were the Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, and a foundational feminist, Judith Sargent Murray, who wrote the 1790 essay “On the Equality of the Sexes.” These authors, whose essays preceded, occurred during or immediately followed the founding of the republic, were in some ways the opposite of the Puritans, being for the most part Deists or secular followers of the Enlightenment.

Their attraction to reasoned argument and willingness to entertain possible objections to their points of view inspired a vigorous strand of American essay-writing. So, while we may fix the founding of the United States to a specific year, the actual culture and literature of the country book-ended that date.

LH: You end with Zadie Smith’s “Speaking in Tongues,” published in 2008. Which essay in the last 12 years would be your 101st selection?

PL : Funny you should ask. As it happens, I am currently putting the finishing touches on another anthology, this one entirely devoted to the Contemporary (i.e., 21st century) American Essay. I have been immersed in reading younger, up-and-coming writers, established mid-career writers, and some oldsters who are still going strong (Janet Malcolm, Vivian Gornick, Barry Lopez, John McPhee, for example).

It would be impossible for me to single out any one contemporary essayist, as they are all in different ways contributing to the stew, but just to name some I’ve been tracking recently: Meghan Daum, Maggie Nelson, Sloane Crosley, Eula Biss, Charles D’Ambrosio, Teju Cole, Lia Purpura, John D’Agata, Samantha Irby, Anne Carson, Alexander Chee, Aleksander Hemon, Hilton Als, Mary Cappello, Bernard Cooper, Leslie Jamison, Laura Kipnis, Rivka Galchen, Emily Fox Gordon, Darryl Pinckney, Yiyun Li, David Lazar, Lynn Freed, Ander Monson, David Shields, Rebecca Solnit, John Jeremiah Sullivan, Eileen Myles, Amy Tan, Jonathan Lethem, Chelsea Hodson, Ross Gay, Jia Tolentino, Jenny Boully, Durga Chew-Bose, Brian Blanchfield, Thomas Beller, Terry Castle, Wesley Yang, Floyd Skloot, David Sedaris. . .

Such a banquet of names speaks to the intergenerational appeal of the form. We’re going through a particularly rich time for American essays: especially compared to, 20 years ago, when editors wouldn’t even dare put the word “essays” on the cover, but kept trying to package these variegated assortments as single-theme discourses, we’ve seen many collections that have been commercially successful and attracted considerable critical attention.

It has something to do with the current moment, which has everyone more than a little confused and therefore trusting more than ever those strong individual voices that are willing to cop to their subjective fears, anxieties, doubts and ecstasies.


essay on american experience

The Glorious American Essay , edited by Phillip Lopate, is available now.

  • Share on Facebook (Opens in new window)
  • Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)
  • Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)
  • Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)
  • Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)
  • Click to share on Tumblr (Opens in new window)
  • Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)
  • Click to share on Pocket (Opens in new window)

Phillip Lopate

Phillip Lopate

Previous article, next article, support lit hub..

Support Lit Hub

Join our community of readers.

to the Lithub Daily

Popular posts.

essay on american experience

Follow us on Twitter

essay on american experience

Recent History: Lessons From Obama, Both Cautionary and Hopeful

  • RSS - Posts

Literary Hub

Created by Grove Atlantic and Electric Literature

Sign Up For Our Newsletters

How to Pitch Lit Hub

Advertisers: Contact Us

Privacy Policy

Support Lit Hub - Become A Member

Become a Lit Hub Supporting Member : Because Books Matter

For the past decade, Literary Hub has brought you the best of the book world for free—no paywall. But our future relies on you. In return for a donation, you’ll get an ad-free reading experience , exclusive editors’ picks, book giveaways, and our coveted Joan Didion Lit Hub tote bag . Most importantly, you’ll keep independent book coverage alive and thriving on the internet.

essay on american experience

Become a member for as low as $5/month

  • The Deerslayer

James Fenimore Cooper

  • Literature Notes
  • The American Experience
  • Book Summary
  • About The Deerslayer
  • Character List
  • Summary and Analysis
  • Chapters 1-2
  • Chapters 3-4
  • Chapters 5-6
  • Chapters 7-8
  • Chapters 9-10
  • Chapters 11-12
  • Chapters 13-14
  • Chapters 15-16
  • Chapters 17-18
  • Chapters 19-20
  • Chapters 21-22
  • Chapters 23-24
  • Chapters 25-26
  • Chapters 27-28
  • Chapters 29-30
  • Chapters 31-32
  • Character Analysis
  • Chingachgook
  • Hurry" Harry March"
  • Judith Hutter
  • Hetty Hutter
  • Captain Warley
  • Le Loup Cervier, Le Sumac, Briarthorn, Catamount, and The Panther
  • James Fenimore Cooper Biography
  • Critical Essays
  • Plot and Setting
  • The Epic Hero and the Code
  • The Frontier Myth
  • Cooper's Indians
  • Cooper's Style and Literary Techniques
  • Essay Questions
  • Cite this Literature Note

Critical Essays The American Experience

In The Deerslayer, Cooper sought to give final expression in the "Leatherstocking Tales" to his reactions and fears about America, especially after his long stay in Europe. Cooper is also preoccupied with the role of Christianity and Christian teachings in the American experience. Although he is a moralist and a defender of the Christian ideas, Cooper is not necessarily optimistic about the acceptance of the religious message by his compatriots. He particularly expresses the dilemma between the lofty ideals of ethical and moral teachings and the present practices on the frontier. The treatment of the Indians is his first fear about the lack of a humane policy, and the realization that the natural surroundings are being changed quickly and extensively by settlements is his second nightmare. Cooper does not argue against progress and change, but he wants morality and beauty preserved as men advance into the territories.

The return of Natty Bumppo 15 years after the events of the romance takes only a few pages; but the melancholy nostalgia at the ruins of time is Cooper's source of anguish and concern. Hetty symbolizes the role of religion and morality, but Cooper does not depict Hetty's ideas as victorious against the Mingos and against her own race. She inspires those who know her, and her death will be a constant reminder of the presence of a nobler set of values. But Hetty has not put a halt to the violence and atrocities of the frontier by her example.

Instead of answers to his questions, Cooper tries to define the problems, to examine possible courses of conduct, and to persuade the other characters, through Natty Bumppo in particular, to accept idealism and nobility of action. However, the advance of white civilization is inexorable and the Indian nations are in decline. Never a racist, Cooper strives to call attention to the terrible conflict between the white man and the Indian. He wants a brotherhood based on the recognition and acceptance of distinct gifts to each race, but once again Cooper is not optimistic about the implementation of such hopes. He knows that the white men, superior in modern techniques, will triumph; he also knows that the baggage they bring with them contains conflict, vulgarity, and destruction of the natives and of nature.

This tension between the love for his homeland and the disenchantment with the present development of the nation is tempered only by the hope that Natty Bumppo may be a model for the pioneers and settlers. The "Leatherstocking Tales," then, are Cooper's contribution to an interpretation of the American dream and experience. The books are, in the words of the English novelist, D. H. Lawrence, "a sort of American Odyssey, with Natty Bumppo for Odysseus." The tales are, accepting this definition, the epic and the myth of America.

Previous Cooper's Style and Literary Techniques

Introduction : Curriculum Components

Writing: Skills-Based Writing Instruction

  • Routines: Instruction
  • For All Learners : Access

Unit 1: Identity

  • Unit 2: Personality
  • Unit 3: Society and its Structure
  • Unit 4: Otherness
  • Unit 5: Challenging Truths/Coming-of-Age
  • Unit 6: Establishing Truths/Coming-of-Age
  • Unit 1: The Quest
  • Unit 2: The Unlikely Hero
  • Unit 3: Dystopia
  • Unit 4: The Anti-Hero
  • Unit 5: The Monster
  • Unit 6: The Tragic Hero

Unit 1: The Contemporary American Experience

  • Unit 2: The Creation of the American
  • Unit 3: The American and the Changing Landscape
  • Unit 4: The Reawakening of the American
  • ELA Regents: Resources
  • ELA Regents: Multiple Choice
  • ELA Regents: Writing from Sources Essay
  • ELA Regents : Text Analysis Essay
  • Find Resources

The Contemporary American Experience


In this unit, students will unpack the American experience in contemporary literature in order to make connections between the characters they read about and their own experiences.  Students will use Literary Abstracts to practice composing  literary analysis,  unpacking the four levels of Exploding Analysis in writing. Students will use their understanding of the American experience identified in this unit and apply it to the year-long sequence following this introductory unit. 


Unit Outline

Unit plans see 2 items hide 2 items.

The American Experience Archive

Full Unit Plan with Resources : The Contemporary American Experience Unit Plan

Teacher Feedback

Please comment below with questions, feedback, suggestions, or descriptions of your experience using this resource with students.

Identity Archive

Full Unit Plan with Resources : Unit One Plan Revised for Blended Instruction

Text Types and Purposes Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

Text Types and Purposes Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research. Apply grade 9/10 Reading standards to both literary and informational text, where applicable.

Text Types and Purposes Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research. Apply grade 11/12 Reading standards to both literary and informational text, where applicable.

Unit Assessments See 3 items Hide 3 items

Unit Assessment : Literary Analysis Essay for the Contemporary American Experience

Unit Assessment : Literary Analysis Skills Based Rubric

Unit Assessment : Reading Circles for the Contemporary American Experience

Exploring the Theme See 4 items Hide 4 items

Exploring the Theme : Analyzing the American Experience and Making Connections

Exploring the Theme : Thematic Essential Questions for the American Experience

Exploring the Theme : 11th Grade Text List

Exploring the Theme : Accessible Analyzing the American Experience and Making Connections

Developing Skills See 8 items Hide 8 items

Getting Started

Baseline Assessment: 11th Grade ELA Baseline Assessment

Developing Skills: What are Literary Abstracts?

Developing Skills: Exploding Analysis

Developing Skills: Literary Abstract Formative Assessment

Developing Skills: The Literary Techniques Diagram

Sentences : Expanding Sentences

Coherence : Building Coherent Paragraphs

Weekly Learning Plans See 3 items Hide 3 items

Weekly Learning Plan: Week 1 Learning Plan

Weekly Learning Plan: Week 2 Learning Plan

Weekly Learning Plan: Week 3 Learning Plan


Supported by

Books of The Times

‘The Glorious American Essay,’ From Benjamin Franklin to David Foster Wallace

By John Williams

  • Nov. 25, 2020
  • Share full article

essay on american experience

No sane person will read this book the way a reviewer has been conditioned to read books: straight through. And that’s just fine, because “The Glorious American Essay,” though it does contain glories, gets off to a starchy start. The book is organized chronologically, which means it begins with an extended browse through the powdered wig section. Even among dead white men, Cotton Mather, Jonathan Edwards and Thomas Paine are particularly dead and particularly white.

But push through — or save for later — the textbooklike feel of the first 100 pages or so, which also include one of Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Papers; that still leaves about 800 pages of mostly delight and edification to go. This anthology, which presents 100 exemplary essays from colonial times onward, really gets into gear with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Experience,” from 1844. It’s a remarkably extended fusillade of aphoristic provocation and insight, inspired in part by the death of his son. “There are moods in which we court suffering,” he wrote, “in the hope that here, at least, we shall find reality, sharp peaks and edges of truth. But it turns out to be scene-painting and counterfeit. The only thing grief has taught me, is to know how shallow it is.”

Phillip Lopate, the book’s editor, writes in his introduction that the essay form has been valued for the freedom it offers to “explore, digress, acknowledge uncertainty.” He quotes Cynthia Ozick judging that “a genuine essay has no educational, polemical or sociopolitical use.” But Lopate isn’t so strict. “Why should a piece of writing,” he asks, “be excluded from the essay kingdom simply because it follows a coherent line of reasoning?” Lopate, especially before he gets to the 20th century, relies heavily on such works of reasoning, pieces of public rhetoric and persuasion, like those by Margaret Fuller, Sarah Moore Grimké and Elizabeth Cady Stanton on the standing and treatment of women in America.

For long stretches this book seems intended as a kind of essay-built history of America, as opposed to a history of American essays — though Lopate points out that those histories are naturally intertwined. And naturally echoing. Many of these essays “speak vividly to our present moment,” he writes, about issues that “keep recurring on the national stage.”

It takes no straining to see his point, repeatedly.

“The moral purity of the white woman is deeply contaminated,” Grimké wrote in 1837, because she looks “without horror” upon the crimes committed against her “enslaved sister.”

An essay from 1890 by Sui Sin Far is, as Lopate describes it, a “pioneering effort by a biracial Asian-American woman to examine the enigma of identity, and the conflict between a minority member’s racial pride and her ability to pass, however inadvertently, as part of the white majority.”

Among the most bracing entries is a speech, barely three pages long, given by John Jay Chapman in 1912, in a small Pennsylvania town, one year after a Black man had been murdered by a mob there. No one had been punished for the crime. Chapman rented a hall for the event but delivered his speech, Lopate writes, “to the two people who bothered to show up.” “The whole community, and in a sense our whole people, are really involved in the guilt,” Chapman said. “The failure of the prosecution in this case, in all such cases, is only a proof of the magnitude of the guilt, and of the awful fact that everyone shares in it.” (In one of the anthology’s most pleasing internal rhymes, a long biographical sketch of Chapman by the literary critic Edmund Wilson pops up later.)

Some of the writers mentioned so far are no longer well known, but the great majority of the essays have august bylines: Douglass, Whitman, Poe, Hawthorne, Melville, Du Bois, Twain, Wharton, Mencken, Fitzgerald, Baldwin, Sontag, Didion.

Only occasionally do we freshly re-encounter a neglected author like Mary Austin. “Maybe it is not too late to celebrate her,” Lopate writes, “as one of the pioneering American nature writers and environmentalists,” alongside Thoreau and company. (Thoreau is here, of course; as are John James Audubon, Rachel Carson and Edward Abbey, among others.)

Few people are more qualified than Lopate to assemble this lineup. He has written in nearly every form known to humankind but is perhaps most highly acclaimed for his own collections of personal essays and as a curator of top-shelf anthologies, including “The Art of the Personal Essay” (1994) and “American Movie Critics” (2006).

Lopate tells us in the introduction that he plans two more volumes in this project: one that will focus on the years 1945-70 and another devoted to works from the 21st century. It’s not exactly clear, then, why this book stretches as far as it does. Two-thirds of its essays predate the end of World War II and, at nearly 600 pages, would make a substantial volume of their own. And only five of its selections are from after 2000. Why not end this book at 1945 and save the later essays for the subsequent volumes?

Then again, those extra years allow Lopate to include Ralph Ellison, Vivian Gornick and David Foster Wallace, to name just three. It’s hard to begrudge him that. What does rankle is his decision to order the essays rigidly by year, which sometimes lends an unguided, survey-like feel to the material. One example will suffice: Right between a terrifically coruscating letter from Frederick Douglass to a man who had enslaved him and Martin R. Delany’s “Comparative Condition of the Colored People of the United States” (written just four years later) comes a lengthy review-essay about Hawthorne by Melville. While it’s true that readers will hop around in a collection like this anyway, a bit more navigation would have appealed.

But that’s a quibble, which the substance of this book does plenty to silence. Give in to its choral quality for stretches of time, and it’s easy to feel not just the sweep of our centuries but the dialogical nature of our grandest ideas and most persistent struggles — a notion reflected in an essay by Katharine Fullerton Gerould, another writer to whom I was introduced by this book. In 1935, in “An Essay on Essays,” she wrote in favor of nonpolemical work. A good essay, she said, “inevitably sets the reader to thinking,” and “meditation is highly contagious.”

Follow John Williams on Twitter: @johnwilliamsnyt .

The Glorious American Essay: One Hundred Essays From Colonial Times to the Present Edited and with an introduction by Phillip Lopate 906 pages. Pantheon Books. $40.

Explore More in Books

Want to know about the best books to read and the latest news start here..

James McBride’s novel sold a million copies, and he isn’t sure how he feels about that, as he considers the critical and commercial success  of “The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store.”

How did gender become a scary word? Judith Butler, the theorist who got us talking about the subject , has answers.

You never know what’s going to go wrong in these graphic novels, where Circus tigers, giant spiders, shifting borders and motherhood all threaten to end life as we know it .

When the author Tommy Orange received an impassioned email from a teacher in the Bronx, he dropped everything to visit the students  who inspired it.

Do you want to be a better reader?   Here’s some helpful advice to show you how to get the most out of your literary endeavor .

Each week, top authors and critics join the Book Review’s podcast to talk about the latest news in the literary world. Listen here .

Have a language expert improve your writing

Check your paper for plagiarism in 10 minutes, generate your apa citations for free.

  • Knowledge Base
  • College essay

US College Essay Tips for International Students

Published on September 21, 2021 by Kirsten Courault . Revised on December 8, 2023.

Beyond your test scores and grades, the college essay is your opportunity to express your academic and personal character, writing skills, and ability to self-reflect.

You should use your unique culture and individual perspective to write a compelling essay with specific stories, a conversational tone, and correct grammar. Here are some basic guidelines on how to write a memorable college essay as an international student.

Table of contents

Research: how applying to us colleges is different, stories: show your strengths, tone: be conversational, but respectful, culture: write about what you know, language: use correct grammar, word choices, and sentence structures, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about college application essays.

The US college experience offers not only academic growth, but also campus community. While admissions officers use your grades and test scores as a baseline, they also use the college essay to further evaluate if you can add value to the academic community, student body, and campus culture.

The college essay, or personal statement, is a creative, personal piece of writing in its own genre. Rather than providing a broad overview of your life, personal essays are often centered around a specific narrative or theme.

The college essay may be the deciding factor in a student’s application, especially for competitive schools where most applicants have exceptional grades, test scores, and extracurriculars. Many students spend weeks一even months一brainstorming, workshopping, writing, and revising their essays to produce an original, compelling story.

Before starting your essay, you should take time to brainstorm topics and research your desired schools’ academic programs and campus cultures. Then, you can start outlining why you’re a good fit for a particular university.

Some colleges also require supplemental essays (e.g. diversity essays , “Why this college?” essays ), which must be submitted along with the college application. Scholarship essays are also worth writing, as many students overlook this opportunity. Research deadlines early, and create a college application timeline and checklist . Or check out our guide to writing fast if you’re running low on time.

Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.

Just being an international student isn’t enough to be competitive in a pool of both US and international applicants. To write a memorable essay, share specific stories that illustrate your strengths not only as an international student, but also as an individual within your culture. You should add details about your life that aren’t apparent in your application.

In South Korea, school is war. Similar to Battle Royale , students viciously compete, not for their life, but for their futures. From 6 a.m. to 1 a.m., I study either in school, an after-school academy, or my room. With no time to spare, I eat my meals over my textbooks while memorizing chemical compounds or geometry theorems. My bathroom breaks are like short breaths before I dive back underwater into the vast sea of knowledge that I must conquer before it drowns me. Among this chaos, I find solace twice a week with my online English tutor, Catherine. Her stories of college in Boston help me to imagine a reality where classmates can be collaborators, not competitors. Rather than memorization drills and one-sided lectures, I imagine a lively discussion between pupil and professor. As we converse in English about my future dreams, I get a taste of what it’s like to be not a prisoner to knowledge, but a friend.

American student-teacher relationships are much less formal than those in many other countries. US universities value student-professor discussion, debate, and collaboration.

Similarly, college application essays are less formal than other kinds of academic writing. You should use a conversational yet respectful tone, as if speaking with a teacher or mentor. Be honest about your feelings, thoughts, and experiences to connect with the admissions officer. To improve the tone of your essay you can use a paraphrasing tool .

  • Firstly, I would like to elaborate on how my family moved from Xizhou to Beijing.
  • When I was just five, my family and I left behind our tranquil village in southwest China to make a new home in the vast, bustling capital of Beijing.

As an international student, you have a wealth of culture that you can share with admissions officers. Instead of potentially using American idioms and cultural references awkwardly, write in detail about yourself within your own culture.

Make sure to explain any words, customs, or places that an American admissions officer might not be familiar with. Provide context to help your reader understand the significance of what you’re writing about.

While drowsiness still clouds my thoughts and vision, I trudge over to the bathroom to wash before Fajr , the Islamic dawn prayer. While my mouth still reeks of last night’s kabsa , a Saudi dish of rice and meat, my older sister prances out of the bathroom with sleek, long hair, flawless makeup, and a TikTok-ready outfit. While softly humming BTS’s “DNA,” she picks up a comb and begins to skillfully tackle the labyrinth that has taken over my head. Twenty minutes later, she manages to tame my wild, frizzy mane into an elegant French braid. Sara always knows how to make beauty out of chaos.

Admissions officers don’t expect your English writing skills to be perfect, but your essay should demonstrate a strong command of grammar, vocabulary, and sentence structures. Remember to use US English rather than UK English .

Choose your words carefully. You can be creative in your word choice, but don’t use elaborate vocabulary to impress admissions officers; focus on language that you know well so that your writing sounds natural and genuine. Prioritize simple sentence structures for clarity.

If English is not your first language, it’s a good idea to have a native speaker check your essay. You can also use our essay checker .

If you want 100% accuracy, you may want to consider working with a qualified editor or essay coach who can check your grammar, tone, cultural references, and content. Scribbr’s college essay editors can help.

Explore the essay editing service

If you want to know more about academic writing , effective communication , or parts of speech , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

Academic writing

  • Writing process
  • Transition words
  • Passive voice
  • Paraphrasing


  • How to end an email
  • Ms, mrs, miss
  • How to start an email
  • I hope this email finds you well
  • Hope you are doing well

 Parts of speech

  • Personal pronouns
  • Conjunctions

Admissions officers use college admissions essays to evaluate your character, writing skills , and ability to self-reflect . The essay is your chance to show what you will add to the academic community.

The college essay may be the deciding factor in your application , especially for competitive schools where most applicants have exceptional grades, test scores, and extracurriculars.

Some colleges also require supplemental essays about specific topics, such as why you chose that specific college . Scholarship essays are often required to obtain financial aid .

College application essays are less formal than other kinds of academic writing . Use a conversational yet respectful tone , as if speaking with a teacher or mentor. Be vulnerable about your feelings, thoughts, and experiences to connect with the reader.

Aim to write in your authentic voice , with a style that sounds natural and genuine. You can be creative with your word choice, but don’t use elaborate vocabulary to impress admissions officers.

If you’re an international student applying to a US college and you’re comfortable using American idioms or cultural references , you can. But instead of potentially using them incorrectly, don’t be afraid to write in detail about yourself within your own culture.

Provide context for any words, customs, or places that an American admissions officer might be unfamiliar with.

Cite this Scribbr article

If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the “Cite this Scribbr article” button to automatically add the citation to our free Citation Generator.

Courault, K. (2023, December 08). US College Essay Tips for International Students. Scribbr. Retrieved April 2, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/college-essay/international-us-college-essay/

Is this article helpful?

Kirsten Courault

Kirsten Courault

Other students also liked, how to apply for college | timeline, templates & checklist, how to revise your college admissions essay | examples, how to write a scholarship essay | template & example, unlimited academic ai-proofreading.

✔ Document error-free in 5minutes ✔ Unlimited document corrections ✔ Specialized in correcting academic texts

essay on american experience

  • Books, Articles, & More
  • Curriculum Library
  • Archives & Special Collections
  • Scholars Crossing
  • Research Guides
  • Student Support
  • Faculty Support
  • Interlibrary Loan

History Research Guide: American Experience

  • Books & E-books
  • HIUS Resources
  • HIEU Resources
  • HIWD Resources
  • Public History
  • Videos and Media
  • Military Studies and Strategic Intelligence
  • British History
  • World War 1

American Experience

  • Presidential Studies
  • United States Civil War
  • Faculty Favorites

Research resources that focus primarily on the impact, influence, and events related to various people groups in the United States.  Some resources may be a bit more broad, but are included because of their extensive coverage.  As we grow our resources in this area, we hope to be able to expand the list and groups beyond what's currently shown.

People Groups

  • General Resources
  • African Americans
  • Hispanic Americans
  • Asian Americans
  • Native Americans

We've highlighted resources that have a certain focus in the adjoining tabs, but want to stress the importance of also searching some of our more general collections.

For archival material, please be aware of the need to potentially use certain words, phrases, or expressions that while common then, are considered highly inappropriate or offensive today. 

  • ProQuest Historical Newspapers This link opens in a new window Single-search of the full-text of The New York Times (1851-2014), The Washington Post (1877-2002), The Baltimore Sun (1837-1993), The Guardian ‎(1791-2003), The Observer‎ (1791-2003), and Chicago Defender (1909-2010), including full page and article images For more information, here is a brief tutorial on using ProQuest Historical Newspapers
  • Sabin Americana: History of the Americas, 1500-1926 This link opens in a new window Full-text books, pamphlets, broadsides, and documents providing firsthand accounts of more than 400 years of history in the Americas, including North, Central, and South America and the West Indies, drawn from Joseph Sabin's famed bibliography, Bibliotheca Americana
  • HathiTrust Digital Library This link opens in a new window Digital repository of books, journals, and documents from major academic and research institutions and other sources in more than 400 languages with publication dates from 1500-present, including pre-1926 U.S. publications, U.S. Federal Government Documents, and non-U.S. works published more than 140 years ago
  • Biography (Gale in Context) This link opens in a new window Full-text biographies, including magazine, journal, and newspaper articles as well as videos, audio selections, images, and primary sources, of the world’s most influential people from all time periods and areas of study
  • Kanopy The Kanopy platform has a number of films / documentaries under the subject heading Race, Ethnicity, and Identity. These titles are leased for a year at a time, and the collection will expand and contract over time.
  • Films on Demand There are a number of good streaming documentaries from Films on Demand. One commonly requested is:

Eyes on the Prize

Produced by Blackside, Eyes on the Prize tells the definitive story of the civil rights era from the point of view of the ordinary men and women whose extraordinary actions launched a movement that changed the fabric of American life, and embodied a struggle whose reverberations continue to be felt today. Winner of numerous Emmy Awards, a George Foster Peabody Award, an International Documentary Award, and a Television Critics Association Award, Eyes on the Prize is the most critically acclaimed documentary on civil rights in America.

General Studies

Peer-reviewed journals, biographies, primary and secondary sources, and media covering the African American experience from its African origins to the present day

Periodicals and primary source material related to the history of African American religious life and culture between 1829 and 1922, including reports and annuals from African American religious organizations

  • African Americans and Jim Crow: Repression and Protest, 1883-1922 This link opens in a new window Primary source materials from the beginning of the Jim Crow period through World War I, including works by African-American writers; the portrayal of African Americans in art and literature; religion; race; early histories of slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction; and related topics
  • Black Short Fiction and Folklore: African, African American, and Diaspora This link opens in a new window Works of short fiction produced by writers from Africa and the African ancestry from the earliest times to the present, including materials from early literary magazines, archives, and the personal collections of the authors, many of which have never been previously published For more information, here is a brief tutorial on using Black Short Fiction and Folklore
  • Oxford African American Studies Center This link opens in a new window Articles from reference works along with primary source documents, images, maps, charts and tables, and commentaries that focus on the lives and events which have shaped African American and African history and culture
  • African American Communities -- AM Explorer Focuses predominantly on Atlanta, Chicago, New York, and towns and cities in North Carolina
  • African American Perspectives -- Library of Congress "African American Perspectives" gives a panoramic and eclectic review of African American history and culture and is primarily comprised of the African American Pamphlet Collection and the Daniel A.P. Murray Collection with a date range of 1822 through 1909.
  • Race Relations in America -- AM Explorer Documenting three pivotal decades in the fight for civil rights, this resource showcases the speeches, reports, surveys and analyses produced by the Department’s staff and Institute participants, including Charles S. Johnson, Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., and Thurgood Marshall.
  • African American Studies -- Gale Primary Sources This is a collection of thirteen focused collections on the African American Experience.
  • Papers of Fannie Lou Hamer The Fannie Lou Hamer papers contain more than three thousand pieces of correspondence plus financial records, programs, photographs, newspaper articles, invitations, and other printed items. The papers are arranged in the following series: Personal, Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, Freedom Farms Corporation, Delta Ministry, Mississippians United to Elect Negro Candidates, Delta Opportunities Corporation, and Collected Materials.
  • Papers of Booker T. Washington The Rotunda Digital Edition includes the full contents of the 14-volume letterpress edition, including speeches, correspondence, major autobiographical writing, and cumulative index.
  • William A. Gladstone Afro-American Military Collection The William A. Gladstone Afro-American Military Collection (ca. 500 items) spans the years 1773 to 1987, with the bulk of the material dating from the Civil War period, 1861-1865. This collection documents African Americans in military service, especially the United States Corps d'Afrique and the United States Colored Troops, which were organized during the Civil War.
  • NAACP Our work and our activists carrying the civil rights torch forward are our legacy. Since our founding in 1909, we have been, and continue to be, on the front lines of the fight for civil rights and social justice.

Slavery and Reconstruction

  • African Americans and Reconstruction: Hope and Struggle, 1865-1883 This link opens in a new window Primary source materials from the end of the American Civil War to the end of Reconstruction, including works by African-American writers on race, slavery, and civil rights; the portrayal of African Americans in the arts; early histories of the Civil War and slavery; and related topics
  • Slavery in America (Hein Online) This HeinOnline collection brings together a multitude of essential legal materials on slavery in the United States and the English-speaking world. This includes every statute passed by every colony and state on slavery, every federal statute dealing with slavery, and all reported state and federal cases on slavery. Our cases go into the 20th century, because long after slavery was ended, there were still court cases based on issues emanating from slavery.
  • Slavery and Anti-Slavery: A Transnational Archive Slavery and Anti-Slavery: A Transnational Archive is devoted to the study and understanding of the history of slavery in America and the rest of the world from the 17th century to the late 19th century
  • Slavery, Abolition, and Social Justice -- AM Explorer Bringing together primary source documents from archives and libraries across the Atlantic world, this resource allows students and researchers to explore and compare unique material relating to the complex subjects of slavery, abolition and social justice.
  • Eyes on the Prize Eyes on the Prize tells the definitive story of the civil rights era from the point of view of the ordinary men and women whose extraordinary actions launched a movement that changed the fabric of American life, and embodied a struggle whose reverberations continue to be felt today. Winner of numerous Emmy Awards, a George Foster Peabody Award, an International Documentary Award, and a Television Critics Association Award, Eyes on the Prize is the most critically acclaimed documentary on civil rights in America. The 14-part series recounts the fight to end decades of discrimination and segregation
  • King: A Filmed Record from Montgomery to Memphis Part 1 1970 Academy Award Nominee Best Documentary Constructed from a wealth of archival footage, KING: A FILMED RECORD...MONTGOMERY TO MEMPHIS is a monumental documentary that follows Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from 1955 to 1968, in his rise from regional activist to world-renowned leader of the Civil Rights movement.
  • King: A Filmed Record from Montgomery to Memphis, Part 2 1970 Academy Award Nominee Best Documentary Constructed from a wealth of archival footage, KING: A FILMED RECORD...MONTGOMERY TO MEMPHIS is a monumental documentary that follows Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from 1955 to 1968, in his rise from regional activist to world-renowned leader of the Civil Rights movement.

Additional Titles

  • Martin Luther King Mountaintop Speech (Partial) This video features Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'Mountaintop' speech from 1968.
  • African Americans -- Films on Demand A selection of some of the titles from Films on Demand that focus on the people and events relating to the African American experience.
  • Shadow Ball -- From Ken Burns Series on Baseball Although previous episodes of Ken Burns’ Baseball series also deal with African-American contributions to the game, much of this program is devoted to the Negro Leagues and the vast number of talented black players barred from competing in the Majors. The film’s title refers to a common pre-game feature in which players staged a mock game with an imaginary ball—an unintended yet apt metaphor for the discriminatory policies of the era.
  • Music Online: African American Music Reference This link opens in a new window Full-text of reference works, biographies, chronologies, sheet music, images, lyrics, liner notes, and discographies chronicling the history and culture of the African American experience through music, including blues, jazz, spirituals, civil rights songs, slave songs, minstrels, rhythm and blues, gospel, and other forms of black American musical expression For more information, here is a brief tutorial on using Music Online: African American Music Reference
  • Jackie Robinson -- Part 1, Ken Burns Robinson rises from humble origins to integrate Major League Baseball, performing brilliantly despite the threats and abuse he faces on and off the field and, in the process, challenges the prejudiced notions of what a black man can achieve.
  • Jackie Robinson -- Part 2, Ken Burns Robinson uses his fame to speak out against injustice, alienating many who had once lauded him for “turning the other cheek.” After baseball, he seeks ways to fight inequality, but as he faces a crippling illness, he struggles to remain relevant.
  • A Promised Land -- Barack Obama In the stirring, highly anticipated first volume of his presidential memoirs, Barack Obama tells the story of his improbable odyssey from young man searching for his identity to leader of the free world, describing in strikingly personal detail both his political education and the landmark moments of the first term of his historic presidency—a time of dramatic transformation and turmoil.
  • Frederick Douglass "Extraordinary...a great American biography" (The New Yorker) of the most important African-American of the nineteenth century: Frederick Douglass, the escaped slave who became the greatest orator of his day and one of the leading abolitionists and writers of the era.
  • Frederick Douglass: In Five Speeches -- HBO Inspired by David Blight’s Pulitzer Prize winning biography, this documentary brings to life the words of our country’s most famous anti-slavery activist.
  • The Souls of Black Folks -- W. E. B. DuBois "The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line," writes Du Bois, in one of the most prophetic works in all of American literature. First published in 1903, this collection of fifteen essays dared to describe the racism that prevailed at that time in America—and to demand an end to it. Du Bois' writing draws on his early experiences, from teaching in the hills of Tennessee, to the death of his infant son, to his historic break with the conciliatory position of Booker T. Washington.
  • Devil in the Grove Arguably the most important American lawyer of the twentieth century, Thurgood Marshall was on the verge of bringing the landmark suit Brown v. Board of Education before the U.S. Supreme Court when he became embroiled in a case that threatened to change the course of the civil rights movement and cost him his life.
  • Becoming -- Michelle Obama In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms.
  • Eyes on the Prize Interviews The Eyes on the Prize I Interviews Collection consists of 127 raw interviews conducted with participants in the American Civil Rights movement, covering the years from the mid-1950s through to 1965. The interviews were recorded by Henry Hampton and the Blackside production company as part of the acclaimed documentary series Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965.
  • Malcom X: A Life of Reinvention Manning Marable's biography of Malcolm is a stunning achievement. Filled with new information and shocking revelations that go beyond the Autobiography, Malcolm X unfolds a sweeping story of race and class in America, from the rise of Marcus Garvey and the Ku Klux Klan to the struggles of the civil rights movement in the fifties and sixties.
  • All That She Carried A renowned historian traces the life of a single object handed down through three generations of Black women to craft a “deeply layered and insightful” (The Washington Post) testament to people who are left out of the archives.
  • Wilmington's Lie From Pulitzer Prize winner David Zucchino comes a searing account of the Wilmington riot and coup of 1898, an extraordinary event unknown to most Americans By the 1890s, In Wilmington's Lie, Pulitzer Prize winner David Zucchino uses contemporary newspaper accounts, diaries, letters, and official communications to create a gripping and compelling narrative that weaves together individual stories of hate and fear and brutality. This is a dramatic and definitive account of a remarkable but forgotten chapter of American history.
  • Parting the Waters Taylor Branch provides an unsurpassed portrait of Martin Luther King's rise to greatness and illuminates the stunning courage and private conflict, the deals, maneuvers, betrayals, and rivalries that determined history behind closed doors, at boycotts and sit-ins, on bloody freedom rides, and through siege and murder.
  • Voice of Freedom Follow the story of singer Marian Anderson, whose talent broke down barriers around the world. Narrated by Renée Elise Goldsberry (Hamilton), Voice of Freedom explores questions about talent, race, fame, democracy and the American soul.
  • Making Black America -- PBS Documentary This four-hour series, hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., chronicles the vast social networks and organizations created by and for Black people-beyond the reach of the “White gaze.” Gates takes viewers into an extraordinary world that showcases Black people’s ability to collectively prosper, defy white supremacy and define Blackness in ways that transformed America itself.
  • Latino American Experience: The American Mosaic This link opens in a new window Primary source documents and media as well as peer-reviewed essays covering the heritage and culture of Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Guatemalans, Cubans, Dominicans, Colombians, Ecuadorians, and other Hispanic groups in the United States from pre-16th century to the present, including speeches, maps, songs, audio clips, interviews, and photographs For more information, here is a brief tutorial on using this database: Latino American Experience
  • Border and Migration Studies Online This link opens in a new window Text, video, and images related to border and migration issues of key worldwide border areas including U.S. and Mexico, the European Union, Afghanistan, Israel, Turkey, the Congo, Argentina, China, Thailand, and more
  • Fuente Académica This link opens in a new window Full-text scholarly journals from Latin America, Portugal, and Spain For more information, here is a brief tutorial on using this EBSCO database
  • MedicLatina This link opens in a new window Full-text, peer-reviewed medical and scientific journals from renowned Latin American and Spanish publishers (Updated weekly) For more information, here is a brief tutorial on using this EBSCO database
  • Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino The Friends of the National Museum of Latinos in the United States strive to create a museum in our nation's capital in order to educate, inspire, and encourage respect and understanding of the richness and diversity of the U.S. Latino experience in the country and its territories.
  • Museum of Latin American Art The Museum of Latin American Art expands knowledge and appreciation of modern and contemporary Latin American and Latino art through its Collection, ground-breaking Exhibitions, stimulating Educational Programs, and engaging Cultural Events.
  • Smithsonian Latino Center The Smithsonian Latino Center unlocks dynamic U.S. Latino stories that shape our national experience and identity.
  • Hispanic Heritage Month -- National Park Service More than 500 years of Hispanic and Latino history and heritage can be found in national parks or shared through National Park Service programs and partners in communities across the country.
  • National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference We exist to unify, serve and represent the Hispanic Evangelical Community with the divine (vertical) and human (horizontal) elements of the Christian message all while advancing the Lamb’s agenda.
  • Final Accountability Rosters of Asian American Relocation Centers 1944-1946 This collection provides demographic information on the "evacuees" resident at the various relocation camps.
  • Japanese American Relocation Camp Newspapers This collection, consisting of 25 individual titles, documents life in the internment camps.
  • Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center is a migratory museum that brings history, art and culture to you through innovative community-focused experiences.
  • Japanese American National Museum JANM is dedicated to promoting greater understanding and appreciation of America's ethnic and cultural diversity by sharing the richness and range of the Japanese American experience.
  • Chinese American Museum The Chinese American Museum in Washington, DC (CAMDC) is a bold undertaking, currently underway, to establish the first and only museum in our nation’s capital dedicated to the Chinese American story – its history, culture, and voice.
  • Korean American National Museum The Korean American National Museum's mission is to preserve and interpret the history, experiences, culture and achievements of Americans of Korean ancestry.
  • Korean American Historical Society Founded in 1985, Korean American Historical Society (KAHS) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to enriching the collective memory of Korean Americans through collecting, maintaining, and transmitting the heritage and achievements of Koreans living in the United States and abroad.
  • Asian Americans -- Pew Research Center Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. We conduct public opinion polling, demographic research, content analysis and other data-driven social science research.
  • American Indian Experience: The American Mosaic This link opens in a new window Primary source documents and media covering historical and contemporary issues of Native American tribes from all regions of North America, including captivity narratives, traditional stories, treaties, speeches, maps, images, and videos as well as articles and essays from Native American authors and contributors For more information, here is a brief tutorial on using American Indian Experience: The American Mosaic
  • American Indian Histories and Cultures Explore manuscripts, artwork and rare printed books dating from the earliest contact with European settlers right up to photographs and newspapers from the mid-twentieth century. Browse through a wide range of rare and original documents from treaties, speeches and diaries, to historic maps and travel journals.
  • American Indian Newspapers
  • Indigenous Peoples of North Amreica From historic pressings to contemporary periodicals, explore nearly 200 years of Indigenous print journalism from the US and Canada. With newspapers representing a huge variety in publisher, audience and era, discover how events were reported by and for Indigenous communities.
  • National Museum of the American Indian The NMAI cares for one of the world's most expansive collections of Native artifacts, including objects, photographs, archives, and media covering the entire Western Hemisphere, from the Arctic Circle to Tierra del Fuego.
  • Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (Audio Book) Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is Dee Brown's classic, eloquent, meticulously documented account of the systematic destruction of the American Indian during the second half of the nineteenth century. Using council records, autobiographies, and firsthand descriptions, Brown allows great chiefs and warriors of the Dakota, Ute, Sioux, Cheyenne, and other tribes to tell us in their own words of the series of battles, massacres, and broken treaties that finally left them and their people demoralized and decimated.
  • Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (Documentary) Beginning just after the bloody Sioux victory over General Custer at Little Big Horn, this epic 'HBO Films' adaptation of Dee Alexander Brown's nonfiction masterpiece intertwines the unique perspectives of three characters--Charles Eastman, Sitting Bull and Senator Henry Dawes.
  • Native Americans -- PBS Nova Video Native America challenges everything we thought we knew about the Americas before and since contact with Europe. It travels through 15,000-years to showcase massive cities, unique systems of science, art, and writing, and 100 million people connected by social networks and spiritual beliefs spanning two continents. The series reveals some of the most advanced cultures in human history and the Native American people who created it and whose legacy continues, unbroken, to this day.
  • << Previous: Holocaust
  • Next: Presidential Studies >>
  • Last Updated: Feb 27, 2024 11:39 AM
  • URL: https://libguides.liberty.edu/history
  • Free Samples
  • Premium Essays
  • Editing Services Editing Proofreading Rewriting
  • Extra Tools Essay Topic Generator Thesis Generator Citation Generator GPA Calculator Study Guides Donate Paper
  • Essay Writing Help
  • About Us About Us Testimonials FAQ

Essays on american experience

  • Studentshare
  • American Experience

Home — Essay Samples — Life — Life Experiences — Personal Experience

one px

Personal Experience Essays

Personal experiences are the threads that weave the fabric of our lives. Writing a personal experience essay isn't just about storytelling; it's about finding meaning, connecting with others, and leaving your mark on the world. So, why should you write an essay about your personal experiences? Let's explore the importance together! 🌟

Personal Experience Essay Topics 📝

Selecting the right essay topic is key to crafting a compelling narrative. Here's how to pick one:

Personal Experience Argumentative Essay 🤨

Argumentative essays based on personal experiences require you to defend a viewpoint or argument. Here are ten intriguing topics:

  • 1. Argue for or against the idea that personal experiences are the most influential factors shaping an individual's personality.
  • 2. Defend your perspective on whether overcoming adversity through personal experiences builds stronger character.
  • 3. Debate the impact of personal experiences on shaping one's political beliefs and values.
  • 4. Argue for the significance of sharing personal experiences in order to promote empathy and understanding among diverse communities.
  • 5. Defend the idea that personal experiences play a crucial role in career development and decision-making.
  • 6. Debate the ethical implications of sharing deeply personal experiences in the era of social media and oversharing.
  • 7. Argue for the therapeutic benefits of writing about and reflecting on personal experiences.
  • 8. Defend your perspective on whether personal experiences should be a central part of school curricula.
  • 9. Debate the influence of personal experiences on an individual's approach to health and wellness.
  • 10. Argue for or against the notion that personal experiences can serve as catalysts for social change and activism.

Personal Experience Cause and Effect Essay 🤯

Cause and effect essays based on personal experiences explore the reasons behind events and their consequences. Here are ten topics to consider:

  • 1. Analyze the causes and effects of a life-changing personal experience on your academic or career choices.
  • 2. Examine how personal experiences can lead to personal growth, increased self-awareness, and improved well-being.
  • 3. Investigate the effects of travel experiences on personal perspectives and cultural understanding.
  • 4. Analyze the causes and consequences of sharing personal experiences with others, including its impact on relationships.
  • 5. Examine how personal experiences can influence one's hobbies, interests, and leisure activities.
  • 6. Investigate the impact of a significant personal experience on your family dynamics and relationships.
  • 7. Analyze the causes of personal transformation through exposure to diverse cultures and environments.
  • 8. Examine how personal experiences can shape one's attitude toward risk-taking and adventure.
  • 9. Investigate the effects of sharing personal experiences through writing, art, or storytelling on your personal well-being.
  • 10. Analyze the causes and consequences of personal experiences that challenge societal norms and expectations.

Personal Experience Opinion Essay 😌

Opinion essays based on personal experiences allow you to express your subjective viewpoints. Here are ten topics to consider:

  • 1. Share your opinion on the importance of documenting personal experiences for future generations.
  • 2. Discuss your perspective on whether personal experiences should be kept private or shared openly.
  • 3. Express your thoughts on how personal experiences have shaped your sense of identity and self-worth.
  • 4. Debate the significance of personal experiences in fostering empathy and compassion among individuals and communities.
  • 5. Share your views on the role of personal experiences in building resilience and coping with life's challenges.
  • 6. Discuss the impact of personal experiences on your approach to decision-making and problem-solving.
  • 7. Express your opinion on the therapeutic benefits of writing or talking about personal experiences.
  • 8. Debate the influence of personal experiences on your sense of purpose and life goals.
  • 9. Share your perspective on how personal experiences can inspire creativity and artistic expression.
  • 10. Discuss your favorite personal experience and the lessons or insights it has provided.

Personal Experience Informative Essay 🧐

Informative essays based on personal experiences aim to educate readers. Here are ten informative topics to explore:

  • 1. Provide an in-depth analysis of the impact of a specific personal experience on your career choices and aspirations.
  • 2. Explore the therapeutic benefits of journaling and writing about personal experiences for mental health and well-being.
  • 3. Investigate the history and significance of storytelling as a means of preserving personal experiences and cultural heritage.
  • 4. Analyze the connection between personal experiences and the development of emotional intelligence.
  • 5. Examine the influence of personal experiences on decision-making processes and risk assessment.
  • 6. Investigate the role of personal experiences in shaping cultural perceptions and worldviews.
  • 7. Provide insights into the art of crafting compelling narratives based on personal experiences.
  • 8. Analyze the impact of personal experiences on an individual's resilience and ability to adapt to change.
  • 9. Examine how personal experiences can serve as valuable life lessons and sources of wisdom.
  • 10. Investigate the therapeutic benefits of group discussions and support networks for individuals sharing similar personal experiences.

Personal Experience Essay Example 📄

Personal experience thesis statement examples 📜.

Here are five examples of strong thesis statements for your personal experience essay:

  • 1. "Through the lens of personal experiences, we uncover the profound impact that seemingly ordinary moments can have on our lives, reshaping our perspectives and guiding our journeys."
  • 2. "Personal experiences serve as powerful mirrors reflecting our growth, resilience, and capacity to navigate life's challenges, ultimately shaping the narratives of our existence."
  • 3. "The sharing of personal experiences is an act of vulnerability and courage, fostering connections, empathy, and a deeper understanding of the human condition."
  • 4. "Our personal experiences are the brushstrokes on the canvas of our identity, influencing our choices, values, and the stories we tell ourselves and others."
  • 5. "In exploring personal experiences, we embark on a journey of self-discovery, unlocking the untold stories that shape our uniqueness and enrich our shared human tapestry."

Personal Experience Essay Introduction Examples 🚀

Here are three captivating introduction paragraphs to kickstart your essay:

  • 1. "Amid the chaos of everyday life, our personal experiences are the constellations that guide us, the moments that define us. As we embark on this essay journey into the depths of our own stories, we unravel the threads of our existence, each tale a testament to the power of the personal."
  • 2. "Picture a canvas where the brushstrokes are the chapters of your life—a canvas waiting for you to paint your experiences, thoughts, and emotions. The personal experience essay is your opportunity to create a masterpiece that reflects the colors of your journey."
  • 3. "In a world of noise and distractions, our personal experiences are the melodies that resonate within us. As we venture into the heart of this essay, we uncover the symphony of our lives—a composition of highs, lows, and the beauty in between."

Personal Experience Conclusion Examples 🌟

Conclude your essay with impact using these examples:

  • 1. "As we close the chapter on this exploration of personal experiences, we are reminded that our stories are the threads that connect us all. The journey continues, and each experience, no matter how small, contributes to the tapestry of our shared humanity."
  • 2. "In the final brushstroke of our personal experience essay, we recognize that our stories are not finite; they are ever-evolving, ever-inspiring. The canvas of life awaits, ready for us to create new narratives and continue shaping our destinies."
  • 3. "As the echoes of our personal experiences linger, we stand at the intersection of past, present, and future. The essay's conclusion is but a pause in the symphony of our lives, with countless more notes to be played and stories to be written."

Autoethnography: Investigating Personal Experiences

A story about losing a loved one, made-to-order essay as fast as you need it.

Each essay is customized to cater to your unique preferences

+ experts online

Personal Narrative on Winning The Lottery

An unforgettable experience in my life, my background: life story as a definition of you, personal experience that made me better than before, let us write you an essay from scratch.

  • 450+ experts on 30 subjects ready to help
  • Custom essay delivered in as few as 3 hours

Motivation Through Failure: My Life Experience

The role of memorable memories in our lives, the time my uncle died, the importance and role of hard work and efforts in your success, get a personalized essay in under 3 hours.

Expert-written essays crafted with your exact needs in mind

My Most Embarrassing Moment

Memories of happiness and accomplishments in my life, life experience that made me who i am, how i have learnt to appreciate people, the importance of positive people around you, a narrative about regrets in life, the influence of grandmother on my life, mistakes made and lessons learned, my experience in learning to read and write, personal writing: my childhood story, personal writing: experience at the mall, basketball court – my second home, the lessons i have learnt from my life experience, the best travel experience of my life - burma, changing my view of life, the beginning of my nightmare: first day of high school, a personal experience of a course of multicultural education, the lessons i’ve learned in middle school, shyness is not always a curse, relevant topics.

  • Law of Life
  • Life Changing Experience
  • Overcoming Obstacles
  • Personal Growth and Development
  • Professionalism
  • Childhood Memories
  • Overcoming Challenges

By clicking “Check Writers’ Offers”, you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy . We’ll occasionally send you promo and account related email

No need to pay just yet!


We use cookies to personalyze your web-site experience. By continuing we’ll assume you board with our cookie policy .

  • Instructions Followed To The Letter
  • Deadlines Met At Every Stage
  • Unique And Plagiarism Free

essay on american experience

Find anything you save across the site in your account

How Chinese Students Experience America

By Peter Hessler

Panels showing a person traveling to different places.

Listen to this article.

In my composition class at Sichuan University, in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu, the first assignment was a personal essay. I gave some prompts in case students had trouble coming up with topics. One suggestion was to describe an incident in which the writer had felt excluded from a group. Another was to tell how he or she had responded when some endeavor went unexpectedly wrong. For the third prompt, I wrote:

Have you ever been involved in a situation that was extremely threatening, or dangerous, or somehow dramatic? Tell the story, along with what you learned.

It was September, 2019, and the class consisted of engineering majors who were in their first month at university. Like virtually all Chinese undergraduates, they had been admitted solely on the basis of scores on the gaokao , the national college-entrance examination. The gaokao is notorious for pressure, and most of my students chose to write about some aspect of their high-school experience. One girl described a cruel math instructor: “He is the person whose office you enter happily and exit with pain and inferiority.” Edith, a student from northern Sichuan Province, wrote about feeling excluded from her graduation banquet, because her father and his male work colleagues hijacked the event by giving long-winded speeches that praised one another. “That’s what I hate, being hypocritical as some adults,” she wrote.

Few students chose the third prompt. Some remarked that nothing dangerous or dramatic had ever happened, because they had spent so much of their short lives studying. But one boy, whom I’ll call Vincent, submitted an essay titled “A Day Trip to the Police Station.”

The story began with a policeman calling Vincent’s mother. The officer said that the police needed to see her son, but he wouldn’t explain why. After the call, Vincent tried to figure out if he had committed some crime. He was the only student who wrote his essay in the third person, as if this distance made it easier to describe his mind-set:

He was tracing the memory from birth to now, including but not limited to [the time] he broke a kid’s head in kindergarten, he used V.P.N. to browse YouTube to see some videos, and talked with his friends abroad in Facebook and so on. Suddenly he thought of the most possible thing that happened two years ago. In the summer vacation in 2017, he bought an airsoft gun in the Internet, which is illegal in mainland China but legal in most countries or regions. Although it had been two years since then, he left his private information such as the address and his phone number. In modern society, it is possible to trace every information in the Internet and [especially] easy for police.

Vincent’s parents both worked tizhinei , within the government system. The boy approached his father for advice, and the older man didn’t lecture his son about following the rules. Vincent described their exchange:

“If you are asked about this matter,” dad said, “you just tell him that the seller mailed a toy gun and you were cheated. And then you felt unhappy and threw it away.” Sure enough, two policemen came to his home the next day.

Vincent stood about six feet tall, a handsome boy with close-cropped hair. He always sat in the front of the class, and he enjoyed speaking up, unlike many of the other engineers, who tended to be shy. On the first day of the term, I asked students to list their favorite authors, and Vincent chose Wang Xiaobo, a Beijing novelist who wrote irreverent, sexually explicit fiction.

As with many of his classmates, Vincent hoped to complete his undergraduate degree in the United States. I was teaching at the Sichuan University–Pittsburgh Institute, or SCUPI . All SCUPI classes were in English, and after two or three years at Sichuan University students could transfer to the University of Pittsburgh or another foreign institution. SCUPI was one of many programs and exchanges designed to direct more Chinese students to the U.S. In the 2019-20 academic year, Chinese enrollment at American institutions reached an all-time high of 372,532.

Nobody in Vincent’s section had previously studied in the U.S. Almost all of them were middle class, and they often said that their goal was to complete their bachelor’s degree in America, stay on for a master’s or a Ph.D., and then come back to work in China. A generation earlier, the vast majority of Chinese students at American universities had stayed in the country, but the pattern changed dramatically with China’s new prosperity. In 2022, the Chinese Ministry of Education reported that, in the past decade, more than eighty per cent of Chinese students returned after completing their studies abroad.

Vincent also intended to make a career in China, but he had specific plans for his time in the U.S. Once, during a class discussion, he remarked that someday he would purchase both a car and a real firearm. The illegal airsoft pistol that he had acquired in high school shot only plastic pellets. In 2017, when Vincent ordered the gun, it had been delivered to his home at the bottom of a rice cooker, as camouflage. At the time, such subterfuges were still possible, but the government had since cracked down, as part of a general tightening under Xi Jinping.

In Vincent’s essay, he was surprised that the two policemen who arrived at his home didn’t mention the forbidden gun. Instead, they accused him of a much more shocking crime: spreading terrorist messages.

“That’s ridiculous,” Vincent said. “I have never browsed such videos, not to mention posted them in the Internet. You must be joking.” “Maybe you didn’t post it by yourself,” the policeman said. “But the app may back up the video automatically.”

Vincent admitted that once, in a WeChat group, he had come across a terrorist video. The police instructed him to get his I.D. card and accompany them to the station. After they arrived, they entered a room labelled “Cybersecurity Police,” where Vincent was impressed by the officers’ politeness. (“It’s not scary at all, no handcuffs and no cage.”) The police informed him that they had found a host of sensitive and banned material on his cloud storage:

“But how interesting it is!” the policeman said. “They sent pornographic videos, traffic accident videos, [breaking news] videos, and funny videos.” “Yes,” he said helplessly, “so I am innocent.” “Yes, we believe you,” the policeman said. “But you have to [sign] the record because it is the fact that you posted the terrorism video in the Internet, which is illegal.”

On one level, the essay was terrifying—Chinese can be imprisoned for such crimes. But the calm tone created a strange sense of normalcy. The basic narrative was universal: a teen-ager makes a mistake, finds himself gently corrected, and gains new maturity. Along the way, he connects with the elders who love him. Part of this connection comes from what they share: the parents, rather than representing authority, are also powerless in the face of the larger system. The essay ended with the father giving advice that could be viewed as cynical, or heartwarming, or defeatist, or wise, or all these things at once:

“That’s why I always like to browse news [but] never comment on the Internet,” father said. “Because the Internet police really exist. And we have no private information, we can be easily investigated however you try to disguise yourself. So take care whatever you send on the Internet, my boy!” From this matter, Vincent really gained some experience. First, take care about your account in the Internet, and focus on some basic setting like automatic backup. Besides, don’t send some words, videos, or photos freely. In China, there is Internet police focus on WeChat, QQ, Weibo, and other software. As it is said in 1984 , “Big Brother is watching you.”

More than twenty years earlier, I had taught English at a small teachers’ college in a city called Fuling, less than three hundred miles east of Chengdu. The Fuling college was relatively low in the hierarchy of Chinese universities, but even such a place was highly selective. In 1996, the year that I started, only one out of twelve college-age Chinese was able to enter a tertiary educational institution. Almost all my students had grown up on farms, like the vast majority of citizens at that time.

In two years, I taught more than two hundred people, not one of whom went on to live abroad or attend a foreign graduate school. Most of them accepted government-assigned jobs in public middle schools or high schools, where they taught English, as part of China’s effort to improve education and engage with the outside world. Meanwhile, the government was expanding universities with remarkable speed. In less than ten years, the Fuling college grew from two thousand undergraduates to more than twenty thousand, a rate of increase that wasn’t unusual for Chinese institutions at that time. By 2019, the year that I returned, China’s enrollment rate of college-age citizens had risen, in the span of a single generation, from eight per cent to 51.6 per cent.

Man throwing frisbee to woman.

Link copied

When I had first arrived, in the nineties, I believed that improved education was bound to result in a more open society and political system. But in Fuling I began to understand that college in China might work differently than it did in the West. Students were indoctrinated by mandatory political classes, and Communist Party officials strictly controlled teaching materials. They were also skilled at identifying talent. In “River Town,” a book that I wrote about teaching in Fuling, I described my realization that the kind of young people I once imagined would become dissidents were in fact the most likely to be co-opted by the system: “The ones who were charismatic, intelligent, farsighted, and brave—those were the ones who had been recruited long ago as Party Members.”

This strategy long predated the Communists. China’s imperial examination system, the ancestor of the gaokao , was instituted in the seventh century and lasted for about thirteen hundred years. Through these centuries, education was closely aligned with political authority, because virtually all schooling was intended to prepare men for government service. That emphasis stood in sharp contrast with the West, where higher learning in pre-modern times often came out of religious institutions. Elizabeth J. Perry, a historian at Harvard, has described the ancient Chinese system as being effective at producing “educated acquiescence.” Perry used this phrase as the title for a 2019 paper that explores how today’s Party has built on the ancient tradition. “One might have expected,” she writes, “that opening China’s ivory tower to an infusion of scholars and dollars from around the world would work to liberalize the intellectual climate on Chinese campuses. Yet Chinese universities remain oases of political compliance.”

At Sichuan University, which is among the country’s top forty or so institutions, I recognized some tools of indoctrination that I remembered from the nineties. Political courses now included the ideas of Xi Jinping along with Marxism, and an elaborate system of Party-controlled fudaoyuan , or counsellors, advised and monitored students. But today’s undergraduates were much more skilled at getting their own information, and it seemed that most young people in my classes used V.P.N.s. They also impressed me as less inclined to join the Party. In 2017, a nationwide survey of university students showed decreased interest in Party membership. I noticed that many of my most talented and charismatic students, like Vincent, had no interest in joining.

But they weren’t necessarily progressive. In class, students debated the death penalty after reading George Orwell’s essay “A Hanging,” and Vincent was among the majority, which supported capital punishment. He described it as a human right—in his opinion, if a murderer is not properly punished, other citizens lose their right to a safe society. Another day, when I asked if political leaders should be directly elected, Vincent and most of his classmates said no. Once, I asked two questions: Does the Chinese education system do a good job of preparing people for life? Should the education system be significantly changed? Vincent and several others had the same answer to both: no.

The students rarely exhibited the kind of idealism that a Westerner associates with youth. They seemed to accept that the world is a flawed place, and they were prepared to make compromises. Even when Vincent wrote about his encounter with the Internet police, he never criticized the monitoring; instead, his point was that a Chinese citizen needs to be careful. In another essay, Vincent described learning to control himself after a rebellious phase in middle school and high school. “Now, I seem to know more about the world,” he wrote. “It’s too impractical to change a lot of things like the education system, the government policies.”

Vincent took another class with me the following fall, in 2020. That year, China had a series of vastly different responses to COVID . Early on, Party officials in Wuhan covered up reports of the virus, which spread unchecked in the city, killing thousands. By February, the national leadership had started to implement policies—strict quarantines, extensive testing, and abundant contact tracing—that proved highly effective in the pre-vaccination era. There wasn’t a single reported case at Sichuan University that year, and we conducted our fall classes without masks or social distancing. Our final session was on December 31st, and I asked students to write about how they characterized 2020. Vincent, like more than seventy per cent of his peers, wrote that it had been a good year. He described how his thinking had evolved after observing the initial mistakes in Wuhan:

Most people held negative attitudes to the government’s reaction, including me. Meanwhile, our freedom of expression was not protected and the supervision department did a lot to delete negative news, critical comments, and so on. I felt so sad about the Party and the country at that time. But after things got better and seeing other countries’ worse behaviors, I feel so fortunate now and change my idea [about] China and the Party. Although I know there are still too many existing problems in China, I am convinced that the socialist system is more advanced especially in emergency cases.

In 2021, after suspending visa services for Chinese students during the pandemic, the U.S. resumed them. Throughout the spring, I fielded anxious questions from undergraduates who were thinking about going to America. One engineer itemized his concerns in an e-mail:

1. How to feel or deal with the discrimination when the two countries’ relationship [is] very nervous? 2. What are the root causes [in] America to cause today’s situation (drugs; distrust of the government, unemployment, and the most important, racial problem)?

They generally worried most about COVID , although guns, anti-Asian violence, and U.S.-China tensions were all prominent issues. One student who eventually went to America told me that in his home town, in northeastern China, ideas about the U.S. had changed dramatically since his childhood. “When people in the community went to America, the family was proud of them,” he said. “But this time, before I went, some family members came and they said, ‘You are going to the U.S.—it’s so dangerous!’ ”

Vincent’s mother was on a WeChat group for SCUPI parents, and that spring somebody posted an advisory from the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C.:

Since the COVID pandemic, there have been successive incidents of discrimination and violent crimes against Asians in some cities in the United States. . . . On March 16, three shooting incidents occurred in Atlanta and surrounding areas, killing 8 people, of whom 6 were Asian women, including 1 Chinese and 1 Chinese citizen. . . . When encountering such a situation, you must remain calm, deal with it properly, try to avoid quarrels and physical conflicts, and ensure your own safety.

That month, Vincent told me that he planned to buy a .38 revolver after arriving in Pittsburgh. He had already researched how to acquire a hunting license and a firearm-safety certificate. In July, a month before he was scheduled to leave, I had dinner with his mother. She said that she worried about gun violence and racial prejudice. “Lots of people say that now in America you can’t rise to the highest level if you are Chinese,” she said.

Vincent’s mother was born in 1974, the same year as many of the people I had taught in Fuling. Like them, she had benefitted from a stable government job during the era of China’s economic boom. She and her husband weren’t rich, but they were prepared to direct virtually all their resources toward Vincent’s education, a common pattern. Edith, the girl who wrote about her graduation banquet, told me that her parents were selling their downtown apartment and moving to the suburbs in order to pay her tuition at Pittsburgh—more than forty thousand dollars a year. Like Vincent, and like nearly ninety per cent of the people I taught, Edith was an only child. Her mother had majored in English in the nineties, when it was still hard to go overseas. After reading “Gone with the Wind” in college, she had dreamed of going abroad, and now she wanted her daughter to have the opportunity.

At dinner with Vincent’s mother, I asked how his generation was different from hers.

“They have more thoughts of their own,” she said. “They’re more creative. But they don’t have our experience of chiku , eating bitterness.”

Even so, she described Vincent as hardworking and unafraid of challenges. I saw these qualities in many students, which in some ways seemed counterintuitive. As only children from comfortable backgrounds who had spent high school in a bubble of gaokao preparation, they could have come across as sheltered or spoiled. But the exam is so difficult, and a modern Chinese childhood is so pressured, that even prosperous young people have experienced their own form of chiku .

They often seemed eager for a change of environment. In my classes, I required off-campus reporting projects, which aren’t common at Chinese universities. Some students clearly relished the opportunity to visit places that otherwise may have seemed illicit or inappropriate: Christian churches, gay bars, tattoo parlors. Occasionally, they travelled far afield. One boy in Vincent’s year who called himself Bruce, after Bruce Lee, rode a motorcycle several hundred miles into the Hengduan Mountains, at the edge of the Tibetan Plateau, to research a road that had been constructed as part of China’s supply chain during the Second World War.

Vincent liked interacting with people from different backgrounds, and he researched a massage parlor, a seedy pool hall, and an outdoor marriage market in Chengdu’s People’s Park. At the marriage market, singles tried to find partners, often with the help of parents and various middlemen. In Vincent’s opinion, Chinese parents were too controlling, and young people had spent so much time studying that they had no dating experience. He wrote:

Because of one-child policy and traditional ideology, many parents consider their children as their treasure which belongs to the parents instead of the children themselves. . . . I hope the future Chinese children can have genuine liberty.

Vincent’s mother told me that she and her husband had made a point of allowing their son to decide for himself whether to go to America. But many parents were nervous, including Bruce’s father, who didn’t want his son to go to the U.S. because of the political tensions with China. In the end, Bruce decided to take a gap year before leaving. The delay was probably fortunate, because while researching the highway in the mountains he drove his motorcycle around a blind curve and was hit by a thirteen-ton dump truck. Bruce and the motorcycle slid beneath the truck; by some miracle, the vehicle came to a halt before killing the boy. I didn’t hear about the accident from the police, or the hospital, or anybody at the university. It was characteristic of these hardworking students that the news arrived in the form of an e-mailed request for an extension:

Dear Prof. Hessler, I had an accident on my way to the Lexi Highway. I was turning a corner when I was hit by a truck. Now I have a fracture in my left hand and a piece of flesh has been grinded off my left hand. Then the ligaments and nerves were damaged, and the whole left hand was immobile. My left foot was also injured. It was badly bruised. The whole foot was swollen and couldn’t move. I’m in hospital now. I’ll have to stay in the hospital for a while before I can come back. So I may not be able to write the article about the Lexi Highway. I don’t know what to do now. Can I write the article at a later date? Because I can’t do my research right now. And it’s really hard for me to type with one hand. Best wishes, Bruce

The first time I saw Vincent in Pittsburgh, in October, 2021, he had lived in America for only eighty-two days, but already he had acquired a used Lexus sedan, a twelve-gauge Winchester shotgun, a Savage Axis XP 6.5 Creedmoor bolt-action rifle, and a Glock 19 handgun. “It’s the Toyota Camry of guns,” he said, explaining that the Glock was simple and reliable.

Vincent had studied the gun laws in Pennsylvania, learning that an applicant for a concealed-carry permit must be at least twenty-one, so he applied on his birthday. The permit cost twenty dollars and featured a photograph of Vincent standing in front of an American flag. He had also researched issues of jurisdiction. “I can use it in Ohio,” he said. “But not in California. I don’t like California.” One reason he disliked California was that state law follows the Castle Doctrine, which, in Vincent’s opinion, provides inadequate protection for gun owners. “Pennsylvania has Stand Your Ground,” he said, referring to a law that allows people to defend themselves with deadly force in public spaces. “They made some adjustments to the Castle Doctrine.”

Vincent was thriving in his engineering classes, and he said that some of the math was easier than what he had studied in high school in China. His views about his home country were changing, in part because of the pandemic. Vaccines were now widespread, but the Party hadn’t adjusted its “zero COVID ” strategy. “Their policy overreacts,” Vincent told me. “You should not require the government to do too many things and restrict our liberties. We should be responsible for ourselves. We should not require the government to be like our parents.”

Snail looks down at cinnamon role it has just taken a bite out of.

A couple of times, he had attended Sunday services at the Pittsburgh Chinese Church Oakland, an evangelical congregation that offered meals and various forms of support for students. In China, Vincent had never gone to church, but now he was exploring different denominations. He had his own way of classifying faiths. “For example, a church with all white Americans,” he said, referring to his options. “One of my classmates joined that. I think he likes it. He goes every week. He can earn so many profits. Even the Chinese church, they can pick you up from the airport, free. They can help you deliver furniture from some store, no charge. They do all kinds of things!”

In 2021, there were more than fifteen hundred Chinese at the University of Pittsburgh, and around three thousand at Carnegie Mellon, whose campus is less than a mile away. I came to associate the city with Sichuanese food, because I almost never ate anything else while meeting former students. Some of them, like Vincent, were trying to branch out into American activities, but for the most part they found it easy to maintain a Chinese life. Many still ordered from Taobao, which in the U.S. is slower than Amazon but has a much better selection of Chinese products. They also used various Chinese delivery apps: Fantuan, HungryPanda, FreshGoGo. The people I taught still relied heavily on V.P.N.s, although now they used them to hop in the other direction across China’s firewall. They needed the Chinese Internet in order to access various streaming apps and pop-music services, as well as to watch N.B.A. games with cheaper subscription fees and Mandarin commentary.

For students who wanted to play intercollegiate basketball, the Chinese even had their own league. An athletic boy named Ethan, who had been in my composition class at Sichuan University, was now the point guard for the Pittsburgh team. Ethan told me that about forty students had tried out and seventeen had made the cut. I asked if somebody like me could play.

“No white people,” Ethan said, laughing.

“What about hunxue’er ?” The term means a person of mixed race.

“I think that works.”

One weekend in 2022, I watched Pitt play Carnegie Mellon. Or, more accurately, I watched “UPitt,” because that was the name on the jerseys. My father attended Pitt in the late sixties, and I had grown up wearing school paraphernalia, but I had never heard anybody refer to the place as UPitt. The colors were also different. Rather than using Pitt’s royal and gold, the Chinese had made up uniforms in white and navy blue, which, in this corner of Pennsylvania, verged on sacrilege: Penn State colors.

The team received no university funding, so it had found its own sponsors. Moello, a Chinese-owned athletic-clothing company in New York, made the uniforms, and Penguin Auto, a local dealership, paid to have its logo on the back, because Chinese students were reliable car buyers.

The Northeastern Chinese Basketball League, which is not limited to the Northeast, has more than a hundred teams across the U.S. On the day that I watched, the Pitt team played a fast, guard-dominated game, running plays that had been named for local public bus lines. “ Qishiyi B!” the point guard would call out: 71B, a bus that runs to Highland Park. It was the first time I had attended a college basketball game in which the starting forward hit a vape pen in the huddle during time-outs.

The forward was originally from Tianjin, and his girlfriend was the team manager. She told me that she was trying to get him to stop vaping during games. Her name was Ren Yufan, and she was friendly and talkative; she went by the English name Ally. Ally had grown up in Shanghai and Nanjing, but she had attended high school at Christ the King Cathedral, a Catholic school in Lubbock, Texas, where she played tennis. “I was state sixth place in 2A,” she said. She noted that she had also been elected prom queen.

Ally often answered questions with “Yes, sir” or “No, sir,” and her English had a slight Texas twang. Her parents had sent her to Lubbock through a program that pairs Chinese children with American host families. Ally’s host family owned a farm, where she learned to ride a horse; she enjoyed Lubbock so much that she still returned for school holidays. In the past ten or so years, more Chinese have found ways to enroll their kids in U.S. high schools, in part to avoid gaokao agony. In Pittsburgh, my Sichuan University students described these Chinese as a class apart: typically, they come from wealthy families, and their English is better than that of the Chinese who arrive in college or afterward. Their work patterns are also different. Yingyi Ma, a Chinese-born sociologist at Syracuse University, who has conducted extensive surveys of students from the mainland, has observed that the longer the Chinese stay in the U.S. the less they report working harder than their American peers. Like any good Chinese math problem, this distinctly American form of regression toward the mean can be quantified. In Ma’s book “Ambitious and Anxious,” she reports on her survey results: “Specifically, one additional year of time in the United States can reduce the odds of putting in more effort than American peers by 14 percent.”

Ally’s boyfriend had attended a private high school in Pennsylvania that cost almost seventy thousand dollars a year, and he drove a Mercedes GLC. “We are using our parents’ money, but we can’t be as successful as our parents,” Ally said. Neither her father nor her mother had attended university, but they had thrived in construction and private business during the era of China’s rapid growth. Now the country’s economy was struggling, and Ally accepted the fact that her career opportunities would likely be worse than those of the previous generation. Nevertheless, she planned to return to China, because she wanted to be close to her parents. I asked if anything might make it hard to fit in after spending so many formative years in America.

“My personality,” she said. “I’m too outgoing.”

“There are no prom queens in China, right?”

By my second visit to Pittsburgh, in November, 2022, Vincent had decided to stay permanently in the U.S., been baptized in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and added an AK-47 and two Sig Sauer handguns to his arsenal. He had also downgraded to a less expensive car, because the Lexus had been damaged in a crash. Rather than getting the Glock 19 of automobiles, Vincent decided on the Camry’s cousin, a used Toyota Prius. He picked me up in the Prius, and we headed out for a traditional Steel City meal of lajiao and prickly ash. Vincent wore a Sig Sauer P365 XL with a laser sight in a holster on his right hip. The car radio was playing “Water Tower Town,” a country song by Scotty McCreery:

In a water tower town, everybody waves Church doors are the only thing that’s open on Sundays Word travels fast, wheels turn slow. . . .

Earlier in the year, some Mormon missionaries had struck up a conversation with Vincent on campus. “Their koucai is really good,” he told me, using a word that means “eloquence.” “It helps me understand how to interact with people. They say things like ‘Those shoes are really nice!’ And they start talking, and then they ask you a question: ‘Are you familiar with the Book of Mormon?’ ” Now Vincent had a Chinese app for the Book of Mormon on his phone, and he attended services every Sunday. He had been baptized on July 23rd, which was also the day that he had quit drinking and smoking cigarettes, a habit he’d had since Sichuan University. He thought that the church might be a good place to meet a girlfriend. He had a notion that someday he’d like to have a big family and live in a place like Texas, whose gun laws appealed to him.

Corn grows high, crime stays low There’s little towns everywhere where everybody knows. . . .

During the winter of Vincent’s first academic year in the U.S., his political transformation had been rapid. “I watched a lot of YouTube videos about things like June 4th,” he told me, referring to the date of the Tiananmen Square massacre, in 1989. He began to question the accommodationist views that he had previously held. “Young people are like this in China,” he said. “They tend to support the system.”

In the spring of 2022, Vincent became dismayed by the excessive COVID lockdown in Shanghai. He posted a series of critical remarks on social media, and in May he sent me an e-mail:

In recent months, I make some negative comments on WeChat on the humanitarian crisis caused by the lockdown in Shanghai and some other issues. My parents got nervous and asked me to delete these contents because their colleagues having me in their contact lists in WeChat read my “Pengyou Quan” [friends’ circle] and reminded my parents of potential risks of “Ju Bao” [political reporting] that would affect my parents’ jobs.

One day, a man who may have been from the Chinese security apparatus phoned Vincent’s parents. Unlike in the call from years before, this man didn’t identify himself as the police. But he said that Vincent’s actions could cause trouble for the family. Such anonymous warnings are occasionally made to the parents of overseas Chinese, and they weigh heavily on students.

Vincent deleted his WeChat comments. But he also decided that he couldn’t imagine returning to China. “I would say something and get arrested,” he told me. “I need to be in a place where I have freedom.” An older Chinese friend in Pittsburgh had made a similar decision, and he advised Vincent on how to eventually apply for a green card.

Vincent told his parents that he planned to stay in America for at least five years, but initially he didn’t say that his decision was permanent, because he worried that they would be upset. In the meantime, he didn’t want to waste their money, so he earned cash on the side by teaching Chinese students how to drive. Professional garages charged at least five hundred dollars to install a passenger brake, but Vincent found one on Taobao for about eighty-five dollars, including shipping from China. “I don’t know if it’s legal,” he told me. With his engineering skills, he was able to install the brake in the Prius.

Man talking to woman in kitchen full of dirty dishes.

The number of Chinese studying in the U.S. had dropped to the lowest level in nearly a decade. But there were still almost three hundred thousand, and many of them arrived in places like Pittsburgh and realized that qishiyi B and other public buses weren’t adequate for their needs. They preferred to hire driving instructors who spoke Mandarin, and Vincent’s rate was eighty dollars an hour. He charged even more for the use of his car during exams. Vincent told me that a Chinese-speaking driving instructor who hustled could earn at least two hundred thousand dollars a year. In my own business, the Chinese political climate had made it almost impossible for American journalists to get resident visas, and specialists of all sorts no longer had access to the country. Sometimes I envisioned a retraining program for old China hands: all of us could buy passenger brakes on Taobao and set up shop as mandarins of parallel parking.

I knew of only a few former students who, like Vincent, had already decided to make a permanent home outside China. It was viewed as an extreme step, and most of them preferred to keep their options open. But virtually all my former students in the U.S. planned to apply to graduate school here.

They were concerned about the economic and political situation in China, but they also often felt out of place in Pittsburgh. American racial attitudes sometimes mystified them. One engineer had taken a Pitt psychology class that frequently touched on race, and he said that it reminded him of the political-indoctrination classes at Sichuan University. In both situations, he felt that students weren’t supposed to ask questions. “They’re just telling you how to play with words,” he said. “Like in China when they say socialism is good. In America you will say, ‘Black lives matter.’ They are actually the same thing. When you are saying socialism is good, you are saying that capitalism is bad. You are hiding something behind your words. When you say, ‘Black lives matter,’ what are you saying? You are basically saying that Asian lives don’t matter, white lives don’t matter.”

It wasn’t uncommon for Chinese students to have been harassed on the streets. They often said, with some discomfort, that those who targeted them tended to be Black. Many of these incidents involved people shouting slurs from passing cars, but occasionally there was something more serious. One group of boys was riding a public bus at night when a passenger insulted them and stole some ice cream that they had just bought. Afterward, one of the students acquired a Beretta air pistol. He was wary of buying an actual gun, but he figured that the Beretta looked real enough to intimidate people.

One evening, I went out for Sichuanese food with four former students, including a couple who had been involved in that incident. They seemed to brush it off, and they were much more concerned about Sino-U.S. tensions. One mentioned that if there were a war over Taiwan he would have only three options. “I can go back to China, or I can go to Canada, or I can go somewhere else,” he said. “I won’t be able to stay here.”

“Look at what happened to the Japanese during World War Two,” another said. “They put them into camps. It would be the same here.”

They all believed that war was unlikely, although Xi Jinping made them nervous. Back in China, my students had generally avoided mentioning the leader by name, and in Pittsburgh they did the same.

“It all depends on one person now,” a student said at the dinner. “In the past, it wasn’t just one person. When you have a group of people, it’s more likely that somebody will think about the cost.”

I asked whether they would serve in the Chinese military if there were a war.

“They wouldn’t ask people like us to fight,” one boy said. He explained that, in a war, he wouldn’t return home if his country was the aggressor. “If China fires the first shot, then I will stay in America,” he said.

I asked why.

“Because I don’t believe that we should attack our tongbao , our compatriots.”

I knew of only one Pitt student who planned to return to China for graduate school. The student, whom I’ll call Jack, was accepted into an aerospace-engineering program at Jiao Tong University, in Shanghai. Jack was one of the top SCUPI students, and in an earlier era he would have had his pick of American grad schools. But Chinese aerospace jobs are generally connected to the military, and American institutions had become wary of training such students. Even if a university makes an offer of admission, it can be extremely difficult to get a student visa approved. “Ten years ago, it would have been fine,” Jack told me. “My future Ph.D. adviser got his Ph.D. at Ohio State in aerospace engineering.” He continued, “Everybody knows you can’t get this kind of degree in the U.S. anymore.”

When I met Jack for lunch, I initially didn’t recognize him. He had lost twenty pounds, because in Pittsburgh he had adopted a daily routine of a four-mile run. “In middle school and high school, my parents and grandparents always said you should eat a lot and study hard,” he said. “I became kind of fat.”

He had assimilated to American life more successfully than most of his peers, and his English had improved dramatically. He told me shyly that he had become good friends with a girl in his department. “Some of my friends from SCUPI are jealous because I have a friend who is a foreign girl, a white girl,” he said. “They make some jokes.”

He said that he would always remember Pittsburgh fondly, but he expected his departure to be final. “I don’t think I’ll come to the U.S. again,” he said. “They will check. If they see that you work with rockets, with the military, they won’t let you in.”

On the afternoon of January 10, 2023, at around three o’clock, in the neighborhood of Homewood, Vincent was stopped behind another vehicle at a traffic light when he heard a popping sound that he thought was fireworks. He was driving the Prius, and a Chinese graduate student from Carnegie Mellon sat in the passenger seat. Vincent wore a Sig Sauer P365 subcompact semi-automatic pistol in a concealed-carry holster on his right hip. The Carnegie Mellon student was preparing to get his driver’s license, and Vincent was taking him to practice at a test course in Penn Hills, an area that was known for occasional crime problems.

At the traffic light, Vincent saw a car approach at high speed and run a red light. Then there were more popping sounds. Vincent realized that they weren’t fireworks when a bullet cracked his windshield.

He ducked below the dashboard. In the process, his foot came off the brake, and the Prius struck the vehicle ahead of him. The shooting continued for a few seconds. After it stopped, the Carnegie Mellon student said, “ Ge , brother, you just hit the car in front!”

“Get your head down!” Vincent shouted. He backed up, swerved around the other vehicle, and tore through a red light. After a block, he saw a crossing guard waiting for children who had just finished the day at Westinghouse Academy, a nearby public school.

“Shots fired, shots fired!” Vincent shouted. “Call 911!”

He parked on the side of the road, and soon he was joined by the driver whose car he had struck. They checked the bumpers; there wasn’t any damage. The driver, an elderly woman, didn’t seem particularly concerned about the shooting. She left before the police arrived.

A woman from a nearby house came out to talk with Vincent. She remarked that shootings actually weren’t so common, and then she walked off to pick up her child from Westinghouse Academy. After a while, a police officer drove up, carrying an AR-15. Vincent explained that he was also armed, and the officer thanked him for the information. He asked Vincent to wait until a detective arrived.

For more than two hours, Vincent sat in his car. The Carnegie Mellon student took an Uber home. When the detective finally showed up, his questions were perfunctory, and he didn’t seem interested in Vincent’s offer to provide dashboard-camera footage. A brief report about the incident appeared on a Twitter account called Real News and Alerts Allegheny County:

Shot Spotter Alert for 20 rounds Vehicles outside of a school shooting at each other. 1 vehicle fled after firing shots.

Later that year, Vincent took me to the site. He recalled that during the incident he had repeatedly said, “Lord, save me!,” like Peter the Apostle on the Sea of Galilee. The lack of police response had surprised Vincent. “I didn’t know they didn’t care about a shooting,” he said. For our visit, he wore a Sig Sauer P320-M17 on his right hip. “Normally, I don’t open-carry,” he said. “But this gun can hold eighteen rounds.”

It had been four years since Vincent arrived in my class at Sichuan University. Have you ever been involved in a situation that was extremely threatening, or dangerous, or somehow dramatic ? Back then, he had written about what happened when the Chinese Internet police came to his home. Now Vincent’s American story was one in which the police effectively didn’t come after twenty rounds had been fired near a school. But there was a similar sense of normalcy: everybody was calm; nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The following month, four students were shot outside Westinghouse Academy.

I asked Vincent if the incident had changed his opinion about gun laws.

“No,” he said. “That’s why we should carry guns. Carrying a gun is more comfortable than wearing body armor.”

At Sichuan University, I also taught journalism to undergraduates from a range of departments. Last June, I sent out a detailed survey to more than a hundred and fifty students. One question asked if they intended to make their permanent home in China. A few weren’t certain, but, of the forty-three who answered, thirty said that they planned to live in China. There was no significant difference in the responses of students who were currently in China versus those abroad.

Since the pandemic, there have been increasing reports of young Chinese engaged in runxue , or “run philosophy,” escaping the country’s various pressures by going abroad permanently. A number of my students pushed back against the idea that runxue had wide appeal. “I think that’s just an expression of emotion, like saying, ‘I want to die,’ ” one student who was studying in Pittsburgh told me. “I don’t take it very seriously.” He planned to go to graduate school in America and then return home. He said that in China it was easy for him to avoid politics, whereas in Pittsburgh he couldn’t avoid the fact that he was a foreigner. During his initial few months in the city, he had experienced three unpleasant anti-Asian incidents. As a result, he had changed the route he walked to his bus stop. “I think I don’t belong here,” he said.

Clothing store called “Big N Tall N Yet Somehow Not Impressive”.

Yingyi Ma, the sociologist at Syracuse who has surveyed Chinese students in the U.S., has observed that almost sixty per cent of her respondents intend to return to their homeland. She told me that young Chinese rarely connect with the political climate in the U.S. “But what makes America appealing is the other aspects,” she said. “The agency. The self-acceptance. Over time, as they stay in the U.S., they figure out that they don’t have to change themselves.”

One former student told me that she might remain in America in part because people were less likely to make comments about her body. She’s not overweight, but she doesn’t have the tiny frame that is common among young Chinese women, and people in China constantly remarked on her size. In Pittsburgh, I met with Edith, the student who had written about her graduation banquet. Now she had dyed some of her hair purple and green, and she avoided video calls with her grandparents, who might judge her. Once, she had gone to a shooting range with Chinese classmates, and she had attended church-group meetings out of curiosity. She told me that recently she had taken up skateboarding as a hobby.

It was typical for students to pursue activities that would have been unlikely or impossible in China, and several boys became gun enthusiasts. Nationwide, rising numbers of Asian Americans have purchased firearms since the start of the pandemic, a trend that scholars attribute to fears of racism. One afternoon, I arranged to meet a former student named Steven at a shooting range outside Wexford, Pennsylvania. I knew that I was in the right parking lot when, amid all the pickup trucks, I saw a car with a bumper sticker that said “E=mc 2 .” On the range, whenever the call came for a halt in shooting—“All clear!”—a bunch of bearded white guys in camo and Carhartt stalked out with staple guns to attach new paper covers to the targets. Steven, a shy, round-faced engineer in glasses, was the only Chinese at the range, and also the only person who used quilting pins for his target. He told me that the quilting pins were reusable and thus cheaper than staples. He had come with a Smith & Wesson M&P 5.7 handgun, a Ruger American Predator 6.5 Creedmoor bolt-action rifle, and a large Benchmade knife that he wore in a leather holster. At the range, he shot his rifle left-handed. When he was small, his father had thought that he was a natural lefty, but he was taught to write with his right hand, like all Chinese students. He told me that shooting was the first significant activity in which he had used his left.

On the same trip, I met Bruce for a classic Allegheny County dinner of mapo tofu and Chongqing chicken. After the accident in the Himalayas, Bruce had sworn off motorcycles. At Pitt, in addition to his engineering classes, he had learned auto repair by watching YouTube videos. He bought an old BMW, fixed it up, and sold it for a fifty-per-cent profit. He used the money to purchase a used Ford F-150 truck, which he customized so he could sleep in the cab for hiking and snowboarding excursions to the mountains. He had decorated the truck with two “thin blue line” American-flag decals and another pro-police insignia around the license plate. “That’s so it looks like I’m a hongbozi ,” Bruce said, using the Mandarin translation of “redneck.” “People won’t honk at me or mess with me.” He opened the door and pointed out a tiny Chinese flag on the back of the driver’s seat. “You can’t see it from the outside,” he said, grinning.

Over time, I’ve also surveyed the people I taught in the nineties, and last year I asked both cohorts of former students the same question: Did the pandemic change anything significant about your personal opinions, beliefs, or values? The older group reported relatively few changes. Most are now around fifty years old, with stable teaching jobs that have not been affected by China’s economic problems. They typically live in third- or fourth-tier provincial cities, which were less likely to suffer brutal lockdowns than places like Shanghai and Beijing.

But members of the younger generation, who are likelier to live in larger cities and generally access more foreign information, responded very differently. “I can’t believe I’m still reading Mao Zedong Thought and Socialism with Chinese Characteristics,” one graduate student at a Chinese university wrote. “In this collectivist ideology, there is no respect for the dignity and worth of the individual.” Another woman, who was in graduate school in the United Kingdom, wrote, “Now I’ve switched to an anarchist. It reduces the stress when I have to read the news.”

Their generation is unique in Chinese history in the scope of their education and in their degree of contact with the outside world. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that their concerns are broader. In my survey, I asked what they worried about most, and, out of forty-seven responses, three mentioned politics. Another three worried about the possibility of war with Taiwan. Only one cited environmental issues. The vast majority of answers were personal, with more than half mentioning job opportunities or problems with graduate school. This seemed to reflect the tradition of “educated acquiescence”: there’s no point in concerning yourself with big questions and systemic flaws.

Nevertheless, their worldliness makes it harder to predict long-term outcomes, and I sense a new degree of unease. On a recent trip to California, I interviewed a former student who commented that even when she and her Chinese boyfriend were alone they instinctively covered their phones if they talked about politics, as if this would prevent surveillance. I noticed that, like many other former students, she never uttered the name Xi Jinping. Afterward, I asked her about it over e-mail, and she replied:

I do find myself avoiding mentioning Xi’s name directly in [California], even in private conversations and in places where I generally feel “safe.” . . . I guess it’s a thing that has been reinforced millions of times to the point that it just feels uncomfortable and daunting to say his full name, as it has too much association with unrestrained power and punishment.

In the survey of my Sichuan University students, I was most struck by responses to a simple query: Do you want to have children someday? The most common answer was no, and the trend was especially pronounced for women, at seventy-six per cent. Other surveys and studies in China indicate a similar pattern. One former student explained:

I think that Chinese children are more stressed and profoundly confused, which will continue. We are already a confused generation, and children’s upbringing requires long periods of companionship and observation and guidance, which is difficult to ensure in the face of intense social pressure. The future of Chinese society is an adventure and children do not “demand to be born.” I am worried that my children are not warriors and are lost in it.

By my third visit to Pittsburgh, in November, 2023, Vincent had graduated, been baptized again, and embarked on his first real American job. The previous year, I had attended Sunday services with him at a Mormon church, but this time he took me to the Church of the Ascension, an Anglican congregation near campus. When I asked why he had switched, he used a Chinese word, qihou . “Environment,” he said. “They aren’t pushy. The Mormons are too pushy.”

He liked the fact that the Anglicans were conservative but reasonable. He saw politics in similar terms: he disliked Donald Trump, but he considered himself most likely to vote as a traditional Republican if he became a citizen. He had been baptized in the Anglican Church on Easter. “I told them that I had already been baptized,” he explained. “But they said that because it was Mormon it doesn’t count.”

The previous summer, Vincent’s mother had visited Pittsburgh, where, among other places, he took her to church and to the shooting range. During the trip, he told her about his plan to live permanently in the U.S. When I spoke with her recently by phone, she still held out hope that he would someday return to China. “I don’t want him to stay in America,” she said. “But if that’s what he wants I won’t oppose it.” She said that she was impressed by how much her son had matured since going abroad.

After receiving his degree in industrial engineering, Vincent decided not to work in the field. He believed that he was best suited for a career in business, because he liked dealing with all kinds of people. He had started working for his landlord, Nick Kefalos, who managed real-estate properties around Pittsburgh. One morning, I accompanied Vincent when he stopped by Kefalos’s office to drop off a check from a tenant.

Kefalos was a wiry, energetic man of around seventy. He told me that on a couple of occasions a roommate had left an apartment and Vincent was able to find a replacement. At one point, he persuaded a Japanese American, a Serbian, and a Dane to share a unit, and all of them had got along ever since. “We could see that he had a knack,” Kefalos said. “He was able to find unrelated people and make good matches.” Kefalos also liked having a Chinese speaker on staff. “We think a diverse population is ideal,” he said. Vincent was currently studying for his real-estate license, and he hoped to start his own business someday.

Kefalos’s grandfather had come from Greece, and his father had worked as an electrical engineer in the steel industry. Many of his current tenants were immigrants. “My personal experience is that they are relatively hardworking,” he said. “And I think that’s true with most immigrants who come into the country. Whether it’s for education or a better life.” He looked up at Vincent and said, “My sense is that most U.S. citizens born in the United States don’t have any idea how fortunate they are.” ♦

New Yorker Favorites

Searching for the cause of a catastrophic plane crash .

The man who spent forty-two years at the Beverly Hills Hotel pool .

Gloria Steinem’s life on the feminist frontier .

Where the Amish go on vacation .

How Colonel Sanders built his Kentucky-fried fortune .

What does procrastination tell us about ourselves ?

Fiction by Patricia Highsmith: “The Trouble with Mrs. Blynn, the Trouble with the World”

Sign up for our daily newsletter to receive the best stories from The New Yorker .

By signing up, you agree to our User Agreement and Privacy Policy & Cookie Statement . This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

How an Enthusiast of Soviet Socialism Fell Afoul of the Authorities

By Benjamin Kunkel

Kafta as a Tool for Palestinian Diplomacy

By Hannah Goldfield

The Aftermath of China’s Comedy Crackdown

By Chang Che

Medieval Oxford’s Murder Problem

By Sam Knight

  • Paper Writer Free >
  • Essays Examples >
  • Essay Topics >
  • United States

Good Essay On An American Experience

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: United States , America , People , Life , Culture , Sense , Job , Workplace

Published: 2021/01/06

[Author Name(s), First M. Last, Omit Titles and Degrees] [Institutional Affiliation(s)] [Include any grant/funding information and a complete correspondence address.] America is one of the most prosperous and developed countries of the world. Life in America is anybody’s dream. People from around the world try their luck everyday of their life to make it in the land of opportunity. People who are American citizen have the added advantage to prosper in their lives than others. Every day, so many foreigners come to America to settle down, or earn money. Many of them succeeds, many of them fails. But this country is impartial to everyone. I also was one of these people; trying my best to go to America and try my luck. When I graduated from India, as an engineer, I was trying to get a job in the I.T. industry for quite a while. But, as a fresher, it was very difficult to make it in the industry. Since the childhood, American culture and movie industry had a very deep impression on my mind. I was almost addicted to watch every American movie, plays, serial, and shows. I learned speaking fluent English by constantly watching the American entertainment programs and films. Since then, I was fascinated by the American culture. A sense of respect and belongingness gathered inside me to go to America and live the life. Even after my graduation, I would dream about having an American cheese burger, going to the Yankee stadium, go to Niagara Falls, live in Manhattan, watch the super ball, and many more. All these small dreams were a part of my life. So, when I was struggling with a job in India, I decided to try my luck in America. I searched for the job opportunities in American companies. As the luck would have it, I got a job in an I.T. firm in Chicago, Illinois. I was very much excited. This became my one shot at the American dream. Without a moment’s hesitation, I packed my bags and just left. I couldn’t control my heart from pumping rigorously while I was flying over the American land. I reached to Chicago, I joined my work. I was very happy with the work culture, professionalism and friendliness of the common working class American people. They are modest and caring. They don’t have any partial feeling for an outsider. As long as I was friendly with them, they were all welcoming me with open hearts. I made some very good friends quickly. We enjoyed all the American ways of life together. It was going on very well. According to business insider, the American people’s lifestyle is filled with more leisure than other countries, (BLACKSTONE, SAMUEL. (2010, Sep 3). According to Taw Harold’s article, the person who is hard working and patient, America becomes a fruitful place for him. Story of Taw Harold is somewhat similar with mine. We both truly respect America for what she has given to us. (Taw, Harold.. (2005, Nov. 14) I realized that whatever I had seen so far in the movies about the American culture was just a small fraction of it. Actually, American culture and people have a lot more to offer. When I spent more time in this country, it became more evident. The sense of freedom and the depth of emotional values of American people are beyond one’s imagination. I had some wonderful time with American people. My colleagues became my family. I enjoyed and celebrated all the American festivals. I saw the pride of American people in the national occasions like Fourth of July. The sense of patriotism that the American have for their country, and the sense of respect for the founding father of this country is beautiful. While walking down the road in Chicago, I would feel the enhanced emotions in all my senses. I could taste everything better, I could see everything clearer, I could touch everything with more belongingness, and I could hear everything with clarity. My personality just transformed. This was my experience in America as an outside, but within no time I actually became an American in its true sense.

BLACKSTONE, SAMUEL. (2010, Sep 3 ). A Day In The Life Of The Average American Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/a-weekday-in-the-life-of-the-average-american-2012-8?op=1#ixzz3VpvjjGsR. Business Insider Taw, Harold.. (2005, Nov. 14 ). In Finding Prosperity by Feeding Monkeys. Retrieved Mar. 30, 2015, from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5009466

Share with friends using:

  • Good Example Of Argumentative Essay On Positions Of Modernist And Fundamentalist Discourses On Islam
  • Molding Research Papers
  • Spring Essays
  • Beach Essays
  • Pyramids Essays
  • Archaeology Essays
  • Slave Essays
  • Gandhi Essays
  • Mahatma Gandhi Essays
  • Western Civilization Essays
  • Rebellion Essays
  • Entirety Essays
  • Consistency Essays
  • Elephant Essays
  • Phobias Essays
  • Brand Management Essays
  • Handbook Essays
  • Dental Practice Essays
  • Toothpaste Essays
  • Dentist Essays
  • Aspirin Essays
  • Trouble Essays
  • Bangladesh Essays
  • Trap Essays
  • Warrior Essays
  • Military Personnel Essays
  • Air Flow Essays
  • Tower Essays
  • Absorbent Essays
  • Packing Material Essays
  • Drain Essays
  • Packing Essays
  • Graph Essays
  • Certainty Essays
  • Pleasure Essays
  • Patent Essays
  • Register Essays
  • Trademark Essays
  • Publicity Essays
  • Glance Essays
  • Balanced Budget Essays
  • Surplus Essays
  • Macroeconomics Essays
  • Borrowing Essays
  • Timeline Essays
  • Educator Essays
  • Enjoyment Essays

We use cookies to improve your experience with our site. Please accept before continuing or read our cookie policy here .

Wait, have you seen our prices?

Read our research on: Abortion | International Conflict | Election 2024

Regions & Countries

essay on american experience

What It Means To Be Asian in America

The lived experiences and perspectives of asian americans in their own words.

Asians are the fastest growing racial and ethnic group in the United States. More than 24 million Americans in the U.S. trace their roots to more than 20 countries in East and Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent.

The majority of Asian Americans are immigrants, coming to understand what they left behind and building their lives in the United States. At the same time, there is a fast growing, U.S.-born generation of Asian Americans who are navigating their own connections to familial heritage and their own experiences growing up in the U.S.

In a new Pew Research Center analysis based on dozens of focus groups, Asian American participants described the challenges of navigating their own identity in a nation where the label “Asian” brings expectations about their origins, behavior and physical self. Read on to see, in their own words, what it means to be Asian in America.

Table of Contents


No single experience defines what it means to be Asian in the United States today. Instead, Asian Americans’ lived experiences are in part shaped by where they were born, how connected they are to their family’s ethnic origins, and how others – both Asians and non-Asians – see and engage with them in their daily lives. Yet despite diverse experiences, backgrounds and origins, shared experiences and common themes emerged when we asked: “What does it mean to be Asian in America?”

In the fall of 2021, Pew Research Center undertook the largest focus group study it had ever conducted – 66 focus groups with 264 total participants – to hear Asian Americans talk about their lived experiences in America. The focus groups were organized into 18 distinct Asian ethnic origin groups, fielded in 18 languages and moderated by members of their own ethnic groups. Because of the pandemic, the focus groups were conducted virtually, allowing us to recruit participants from all parts of the United States. This approach allowed us to hear a diverse set of voices – especially from less populous Asian ethnic groups whose views, attitudes and opinions are seldom presented in traditional polling. The approach also allowed us to explore the reasons behind people’s opinions and choices about what it means to belong in America, beyond the preset response options of a traditional survey.

The terms “Asian,” “Asians living in the United States” and “Asian American” are used interchangeably throughout this essay to refer to U.S. adults who self-identify as Asian, either alone or in combination with other races or Hispanic identity.

“The United States” and “the U.S.” are used interchangeably with “America” for variations in the writing.

Multiracial participants are those who indicate they are of two or more racial backgrounds (one of which is Asian). Multiethnic participants are those who indicate they are of two or more ethnicities, including those identified as Asian with Hispanic background.

U.S. born refers to people born in the 50 U.S. states or the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, or other U.S. territories.

Immigrant refers to people who were not U.S. citizens at birth – in other words, those born outside the U.S., Puerto Rico or other U.S. territories to parents who were not U.S. citizens. The terms “immigrant,” “first generation” and “foreign born” are used interchangeably in this report.  

Second generation refers to people born in the 50 states or the District of Columbia with at least one first-generation, or immigrant, parent.

The pan-ethnic term “Asian American” describes the population of about 22 million people living in the United States who trace their roots to more than 20 countries in East and Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. The term was popularized by U.S. student activists in the 1960s and was eventually adopted by the U.S. Census Bureau. However, the “Asian” label masks the diverse demographics and wide economic disparities across the largest national origin groups (such as Chinese, Indian, Filipino) and the less populous ones (such as Bhutanese, Hmong and Nepalese) living in America. It also hides the varied circumstances of groups immigrated to the U.S. and how they started their lives there. The population’s diversity often presents challenges . Conventional survey methods typically reflect the voices of larger groups without fully capturing the broad range of views, attitudes, life starting points and perspectives experienced by Asian Americans. They can also limit understanding of the shared experiences across this diverse population.

A chart listing the 18 ethnic origins included in Pew Research Center's 66 focus groups, and the composition of the focus groups by income and birth place.

Across all focus groups, some common findings emerged. Participants highlighted how the pan-ethnic “Asian” label used in the U.S. represented only one part of how they think of themselves. For example, recently arrived Asian immigrant participants told us they are drawn more to their ethnic identity than to the more general, U.S.-created pan-ethnic Asian American identity. Meanwhile, U.S.-born Asian participants shared how they identified, at times, as Asian but also, at other times, by their ethnic origin and as Americans.

Another common finding among focus group participants is the disconnect they noted between how they see themselves and how others view them. Sometimes this led to maltreatment of them or their families, especially at heightened moments in American history such as during Japanese incarceration during World War II, the aftermath of 9/11 and, more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic. Beyond these specific moments, many in the focus groups offered their own experiences that had revealed other people’s assumptions or misconceptions about their identity.

Another shared finding is the multiple ways in which participants take and express pride in their cultural and ethnic backgrounds while also feeling at home in America, celebrating and blending their unique cultural traditions and practices with those of other Americans.

This focus group project is part of a broader research agenda about Asians living in the United States. The findings presented here offer a small glimpse of what participants told us, in their own words, about how they identify themselves, how others see and treat them, and more generally, what it means to be Asian in America.

Illustrations by Jing Li

Publications from the Being Asian in America project

  • Read the data essay: What It Means to Be Asian in America
  • Watch the documentary: Being Asian in America
  • Explore the interactive: In Their Own Words: The Diverse Perspectives of Being Asian in America
  • View expanded interviews: Extended Interviews: Being Asian in America
  • About this research project: More on the Being Asian in America project
  • Q&A: Why and how Pew Research Center conducted 66 focus groups with Asian Americans

This is how I view my identity

essay on american experience

One of the topics covered in each focus group was how participants viewed their own racial or ethnic identity. Moderators asked them how they viewed themselves, and what experiences informed their views about their identity. These discussions not only highlighted differences in how participants thought about their own racial or ethnic background, but they also revealed how different settings can influence how they would choose to identify themselves. Across all focus groups, the general theme emerged that being Asian was only one part of how participants viewed themselves.

The pan-ethnic label ‘Asian’ is often used more in formal settings

essay on american experience

“I think when I think of the Asian Americans, I think that we’re all unique and different. We come from different cultures and backgrounds. We come from unique stories, not just as a group, but just as individual humans.” Mali , documentary participant

Many participants described a complicated relationship with the pan-ethnic labels “Asian” or “Asian American.” For some, using the term was less of an active choice and more of an imposed one, with participants discussing the disconnect between how they would like to identify themselves and the available choices often found in formal settings. For example, an immigrant Pakistani woman remarked how she typically sees “Asian American” on forms, but not more specific options. Similarly, an immigrant Burmese woman described her experience of applying for jobs and having to identify as “Asian,” as opposed to identifying by her ethnic background, because no other options were available. These experiences highlight the challenges organizations like government agencies and employers have in developing surveys or forms that ask respondents about their identity. A common sentiment is one like this:

“I guess … I feel like I just kind of check off ‘Asian’ [for] an application or the test forms. That’s the only time I would identify as Asian. But Asian is too broad. Asia is a big continent. Yeah, I feel like it’s just too broad. To specify things, you’re Taiwanese American, that’s exactly where you came from.”

–U.S.-born woman of Taiwanese origin in early 20s

Smaller ethnic groups default to ‘Asian’ since their groups are less recognizable

Other participants shared how their experiences in explaining the geographic location and culture of their origin country led them to prefer “Asian” when talking about themselves with others. This theme was especially prominent among those belonging to smaller origin groups such as Bangladeshis and Bhutanese. A Lao participant remarked she would initially say “Asian American” because people might not be familiar with “Lao.”

“​​[When I fill out] forms, I select ‘Asian American,’ and that’s why I consider myself as an Asian American. [It is difficult to identify as] Nepali American [since] there are no such options in forms. That’s why, Asian American is fine to me.”

–Immigrant woman of Nepalese origin in late 20s

“Coming to a big country like [the United States], when people ask where we are from … there are some people who have no idea about Bhutan, so we end up introducing ourselves as being Asian.”

–Immigrant woman of Bhutanese origin in late 40s

But for many, ‘Asian’ as a label or identity just doesn’t fit

Many participants felt that neither “Asian” nor “Asian American” truly captures how they view themselves and their identity. They argue that these labels are too broad or too ambiguous, as there are so many different groups included within these labels. For example, a U.S.-born Pakistani man remarked on how “Asian” lumps many groups together – that the term is not limited to South Asian groups such as Indian and Pakistani, but also includes East Asian groups. Similarly, an immigrant Nepalese man described how “Asian” often means Chinese for many Americans. A Filipino woman summed it up this way:

“Now I consider myself to be both Filipino and Asian American, but growing up in [Southern California] … I didn’t start to identify as Asian American until college because in [the Los Angeles suburb where I lived], it’s a big mix of everything – Black, Latino, Pacific Islander and Asian … when I would go into spaces where there were a lot of other Asians, especially East Asians, I didn’t feel like I belonged. … In media, right, like people still associate Asian with being East Asian.”

–U.S.-born woman of Filipino origin in mid-20s

Participants also noted they have encountered confusion or the tendency for others to view Asian Americans as people from mostly East Asian countries, such as China, Japan and Korea. For some, this confusion even extends to interactions with other Asian American groups. A Pakistani man remarked on how he rarely finds Pakistani or Indian brands when he visits Asian stores. Instead, he recalled mostly finding Vietnamese, Korean and Chinese items.

Among participants of South Asian descent, some identified with the label “South Asian” more than just “Asian.” There were other nuances, too, when it comes to the labels people choose. Some Indian participants, for example, said people sometimes group them with Native Americans who are also referred to as Indians in the United States. This Indian woman shared her experience at school:

“I love South Asian or ‘Desi’ only because up until recently … it’s fairly new to say South Asian. I’ve always said ‘Desi’ because growing up … I’ve had to say I’m the red dot Indian, not the feather Indian. So annoying, you know? … Always a distinction that I’ve had to make.”

–U.S.-born woman of Indian origin in late 20s

Participants with multiethnic or multiracial backgrounds described their own unique experiences with their identity. Rather than choosing one racial or ethnic group over the other, some participants described identifying with both groups, since this more accurately describes how they see themselves. In some cases, this choice reflected the history of the Asian diaspora. For example, an immigrant Cambodian man described being both Khmer/Cambodian and Chinese, since his grandparents came from China. Some other participants recalled going through an “identity crisis” as they navigated between multiple identities. As one woman explained:

“I would say I went through an identity crisis. … It’s because of being multicultural. … There’s also French in the mix within my family, too. Because I don’t identify, speak or understand the language, I really can’t connect to the French roots … I’m in between like Cambodian and Thai, and then Chinese and then French … I finally lumped it up. I’m just an Asian American and proud of all my roots.”

–U.S.-born woman of Cambodian origin in mid-30s

In other cases, the choice reflected U.S. patterns of intermarriage. Asian newlyweds have the highest intermarriage rate of any racial or ethnic group in the country. One Japanese-origin man with Hispanic roots noted:

“So I would like to see myself as a Hispanic Asian American. I want to say Hispanic first because I have more of my mom’s culture in me than my dad’s culture. In fact, I actually have more American culture than my dad’s culture for what I do normally. So I guess, Hispanic American Asian.”

–U.S.-born man of Hispanic and Japanese origin in early 40s

Other identities beyond race or ethnicity are also important

Focus group participants also talked about their identity beyond the racial or ethnic dimension. For example, one Chinese woman noted that the best term to describe her would be “immigrant.” Faith and religious ties were also important to some. One immigrant participant talked about his love of Pakistani values and how religion is intermingled into Pakistani culture. Another woman explained:

“[Japanese language and culture] are very important to me and ingrained in me because they were always part of my life, and I felt them when I was growing up. Even the word itadakimasu reflects Japanese culture or the tradition. Shinto religion is a part of the culture. They are part of my identity, and they are very important to me.”

–Immigrant woman of Japanese origin in mid-30s

For some, gender is another important aspect of identity. One Korean participant emphasized that being a woman is an important part of her identity. For others, sexual orientation is an essential part of their overall identity. One U.S.-born Filipino participant described herself as “queer Asian American.” Another participant put it this way:

“I belong to the [LGBTQ] community … before, what we only know is gay and lesbian. We don’t know about being queer, nonbinary. [Here], my horizon of knowing what genders and gender roles is also expanded … in the Philippines, if you’ll be with same sex, you’re considered gay or lesbian. But here … what’s happening is so broad, on how you identify yourself.”

–Immigrant woman of Filipino origin in early 20s

Immigrant identity is tied to their ethnic heritage

A chart showing how participants in the focus groups described the differences between race-centered and ethnicity-centered identities.

Participants born outside the United States tended to link their identity with their ethnic heritage. Some felt strongly connected with their ethnic ties due to their citizenship status. For others, the lack of permanent residency or citizenship meant they have stronger ties to their ethnicity and birthplace. And in some cases, participants said they held on to their ethnic identity even after they became U.S. citizens. One woman emphasized that she will always be Taiwanese because she was born there, despite now living in the U.S.

For other participants, family origin played a central role in their identity, regardless of their status in the U.S. According to some of them, this attitude was heavily influenced by their memories and experiences in early childhood when they were still living in their countries of origin. These influences are so profound that even after decades of living in the U.S., some still feel the strong connection to their ethnic roots. And those with U.S.-born children talked about sending their kids to special educational programs in the U.S. to learn about their ethnic heritage.

“Yes, as for me, I hold that I am Khmer because our nationality cannot be deleted, our identity is Khmer as I hold that I am Khmer … so I try, even [with] my children today, I try to learn Khmer through Zoom through the so-called Khmer Parent Association.”

–Immigrant man of Cambodian origin in late 50s

Navigating life in America is an adjustment

Many participants pointed to cultural differences they have noticed between their ethnic culture and U.S. culture. One of the most distinct differences is in food. For some participants, their strong attachment to the unique dishes of their families and their countries of origin helps them maintain strong ties to their ethnic identity. One Sri Lankan participant shared that her roots are still in Sri Lanka, since she still follows Sri Lankan traditions in the U.S. such as preparing kiribath (rice with coconut milk) and celebrating Ramadan.

For other participants, interactions in social settings with those outside their own ethnic group circles highlighted cultural differences. One Bangladeshi woman talked about how Bengalis share personal stories and challenges with each other, while others in the U.S. like to have “small talk” about TV series or clothes.

Many immigrants in the focus groups have found it is easier to socialize when they are around others belonging to their ethnicity. When interacting with others who don’t share the same ethnicity, participants noted they must be more self-aware about cultural differences to avoid making mistakes in social interactions. Here, participants described the importance of learning to “fit in,” to avoid feeling left out or excluded. One Korean woman said:

“Every time I go to a party, I feel unwelcome. … In Korea, when I invite guests to my house and one person sits without talking, I come over and talk and treat them as a host. But in the United States, I have to go and mingle. I hate mingling so much. I have to talk and keep going through unimportant stories. In Korea, I am assigned to a dinner or gathering. I have a party with a sense of security. In America, I have nowhere to sit, and I don’t know where to go and who to talk to.”

–Immigrant woman of Korean origin in mid-40s

And a Bhutanese immigrant explained:

“In my case, I am not an American. I consider myself a Bhutanese. … I am a Bhutanese because I do not know American culture to consider myself as an American. It is very difficult to understand the sense of humor in America. So, we are pure Bhutanese in America.”

–Immigrant man of Bhutanese origin in early 40s

Language was also a key aspect of identity for the participants. Many immigrants in the focus groups said they speak a language other than English at home and in their daily lives. One Vietnamese man considered himself Vietnamese since his Vietnamese is better than his English. Others emphasized their English skills. A Bangladeshi participant felt that she was more accepted in the workplace when she does more “American” things and speaks fluent English, rather than sharing things from Bangladeshi culture. She felt that others in her workplace correlate her English fluency with her ability to do her job. For others born in the U.S., the language they speak at home influences their connection to their ethnic roots.

“Now if I go to my work and do show my Bengali culture and Asian culture, they are not going to take anything out of it. So, basically, I have to show something that they are interested in. I have to show that I am American, [that] I can speak English fluently. I can do whatever you give me as a responsibility. So, in those cases I can’t show anything about my culture.”

–Immigrant woman of Bangladeshi origin in late 20s

“Being bi-ethnic and tri-cultural creates so many unique dynamics, and … one of the dynamics has to do with … what it is to be Americanized. … One of the things that played a role into how I associate the identity is language. Now, my father never spoke Spanish to me … because he wanted me to develop a fluency in English, because for him, he struggled with English. What happened was three out of the four people that raised me were Khmer … they spoke to me in Khmer. We’d eat breakfast, lunch and dinner speaking Khmer. We’d go to the temple in Khmer with the language and we’d also watch videos and movies in Khmer. … Looking into why I strongly identify with the heritage, one of the reasons is [that] speaking that language connects to the home I used to have [as my families have passed away].”

–U.S.-born man of Cambodian origin in early 30s

Balancing between individualistic and collective thinking

For some immigrant participants, the main differences between themselves and others who are seen as “truly American” were less about cultural differences, or how people behave, and more about differences in “mindset,” or how people think . Those who identified strongly with their ethnicity discussed how their way of thinking is different from a “typical American.” To some, the “American mentality” is more individualistic, with less judgment on what one should do or how they should act . One immigrant Japanese man, for example, talked about how other Japanese-origin co-workers in the U.S. would work without taking breaks because it’s culturally inconsiderate to take a break while others continued working. However, he would speak up for himself and other workers when they are not taking any work breaks. He attributed this to his “American” way of thinking, which encourages people to stand up for themselves.

Some U.S.-born participants who grew up in an immigrant family described the cultural clashes that happened between themselves and their immigrant parents. Participants talked about how the second generation (children of immigrant parents) struggles to pursue their own dreams while still living up to the traditional expectations of their immigrant parents.

“I feel like one of the biggest things I’ve seen, just like [my] Asian American friends overall, is the kind of family-individualistic clash … like wanting to do your own thing is like, is kind of instilled in you as an American, like go and … follow your dream. But then you just grow up with such a sense of like also wanting to be there for your family and to live up to those expectations, and I feel like that’s something that’s very pronounced in Asian cultures.”

–U.S.-born man of Indian origin in mid-20s

Discussions also highlighted differences about gender roles between growing up in America compared with elsewhere.

“As a woman or being a girl, because of your gender, you have to keep your mouth shut [and] wait so that they call on you for you to speak up. … I do respect our elders and I do respect hearing their guidance but I also want them to learn to hear from the younger person … because we have things to share that they might not know and that [are] important … so I like to challenge gender roles or traditional roles because it is something that [because] I was born and raised here [in America], I learn that we all have the equal rights to be able to speak and share our thoughts and ideas.”

U.S. born have mixed ties to their family’s heritage

essay on american experience

“I think being Hmong is somewhat of being free, but being free of others’ perceptions of you or of others’ attempts to assimilate you or attempts to put pressure on you. I feel like being Hmong is to resist, really.” Pa Houa , documentary participant

How U.S.-born participants identify themselves depends on their familiarity with their own heritage, whom they are talking with, where they are when asked about their identity and what the answer is used for. Some mentioned that they have stronger ethnic ties because they are very familiar with their family’s ethnic heritage. Others talked about how their eating habits and preferred dishes made them feel closer to their ethnic identity. For example, one Korean participant shared his journey of getting closer to his Korean heritage because of Korean food and customs. When some participants shared their reasons for feeling closer to their ethnic identity, they also expressed a strong sense of pride with their unique cultural and ethnic heritage.

“I definitely consider myself Japanese American. I mean I’m Japanese and American. Really, ever since I’ve grown up, I’ve really admired Japanese culture. I grew up watching a lot of anime and Japanese black and white films. Just learning about [it], I would hear about Japanese stuff from my grandparents … myself, and my family having blended Japanese culture and American culture together.”

–U.S.-born man of Japanese origin in late 20s

Meanwhile, participants who were not familiar with their family’s heritage showed less connection with their ethnic ties. One U.S.-born woman said she has a hard time calling herself Cambodian, as she is “not close to the Cambodian community.” Participants with stronger ethnic ties talked about relating to their specific ethnic group more than the broader Asian group. Another woman noted that being Vietnamese is “more specific and unique than just being Asian” and said that she didn’t feel she belonged with other Asians. Some participants also disliked being seen as or called “Asian,” in part because they want to distinguish themselves from other Asian groups. For example, one Taiwanese woman introduces herself as Taiwanese when she can, because she had frequently been seen as Chinese.

Some in the focus groups described how their views of their own identities shifted as they grew older. For example, some U.S.-born and immigrant participants who came to the U.S. at younger ages described how their experiences in high school and the need to “fit in” were important in shaping their own identities. A Chinese woman put it this way:

“So basically, all I know is that I was born in the United States. Again, when I came back, I didn’t feel any barrier with my other friends who are White or Black. … Then I got a little confused in high school when I had trouble self-identifying if I am Asian, Chinese American, like who am I. … Should I completely immerse myself in the American culture? Should I also keep my Chinese identity and stuff like that? So yeah, that was like the middle of that mist. Now, I’m pretty clear about myself. I think I am Chinese American, Asian American, whatever people want.”

–U.S.-born woman of Chinese origin in early 20s

Identity is influenced by birthplace

essay on american experience

“I identified myself first and foremost as American. Even on the forms that you fill out that says, you know, ‘Asian’ or ‘Chinese’ or ‘other,’ I would check the ‘other’ box, and I would put ‘American Chinese’ instead of ‘Chinese American.'” Brent , documentary participant

When talking about what it means to be “American,” participants offered their own definitions. For some, “American” is associated with acquiring a distinct identity alongside their ethnic or racial backgrounds, rather than replacing them. One Indian participant put it this way:

“I would also say [that I am] Indian American just because I find myself always bouncing between the two … it’s not even like dual identity, it just is one whole identity for me, like there’s not this separation. … I’m doing [both] Indian things [and] American things. … They use that term like ABCD … ‘American Born Confused Desi’ … I don’t feel that way anymore, although there are those moments … but I would say [that I am] Indian American for sure.”

–U.S.-born woman of Indian origin in early 30s

Meanwhile, some U.S.-born participants view being American as central to their identity while also valuing the culture of their family’s heritage.

Many immigrant participants associated the term “American” with immigration status or citizenship. One Taiwanese woman said she can’t call herself American since she doesn’t have a U.S. passport. Notably, U.S. citizenship is an important milestone for many immigrant participants, giving them a stronger sense of belonging and ultimately calling themselves American. A Bangladeshi participant shared that she hasn’t received U.S. citizenship yet, and she would call herself American after she receives her U.S. passport.

Other participants gave an even narrower definition, saying only those born and raised in the United States are truly American. One Taiwanese woman mentioned that her son would be American since he was born, raised and educated in the U.S. She added that while she has U.S. citizenship, she didn’t consider herself American since she didn’t grow up in the U.S. This narrower definition has implications for belonging. Some immigrants in the groups said they could never become truly American since the way they express themselves is so different from those who were born and raised in the U.S. A Japanese woman pointed out that Japanese people “are still very intimidated by authorities,” while those born and raised in America give their opinions without hesitation.

“As soon as I arrived, I called myself a Burmese immigrant. I had a green card, but I still wasn’t an American citizen. … Now I have become a U.S. citizen, so now I am a Burmese American.”

–Immigrant man of Burmese origin in mid-30s

“Since I was born … and raised here, I kind of always view myself as American first who just happened to be Asian or Chinese. So I actually don’t like the term Chinese American or Asian American. I’m American Asian or American Chinese. I view myself as American first.”

–U.S.-born man of Chinese origin in early 60s

“[I used to think of myself as] Filipino, but recently I started saying ‘Filipino American’ because I got [U.S.] citizenship. And it just sounds weird to say Filipino American, but I’m trying to … I want to accept it. I feel like it’s now marry-able to my identity.”

–Immigrant woman of Filipino origin in early 30s

For others, American identity is about the process of ‘becoming’ culturally American

A Venn diagram showing how participants in the focus group study described their racial or ethnic identity overlaps with their American identity

Immigrant participants also emphasized how their experiences and time living in America inform their views of being an “American.” As a result, some started to see themselves as Americans after spending more than a decade in the U.S. One Taiwanese man considered himself an American since he knows more about the U.S. than Taiwan after living in the U.S. for over 52 years.

But for other immigrant participants, the process of “becoming” American is not about how long they have lived in the U.S., but rather how familiar they are with American culture and their ability to speak English with little to no accent. This is especially true for those whose first language is not English, as learning and speaking it without an accent can be a big challenge for some. One Bangladeshi participant shared that his pronunciation of “hot water” was very different from American English, resulting in confusions in communication. By contrast, those who were more confident in their English skills felt they can better understand American culture and values as a result, leading them to a stronger connection with an American identity.

“[My friends and family tease me for being Americanized when I go back to Japan.] I think I seem a little different to people who live in Japan. I don’t think they mean anything bad, and they [were] just joking, because I already know that I seem a little different to people who live in Japan.”

–Immigrant man of Japanese origin in mid-40s

“I value my Hmong culture, and language, and ethnicity, but I also do acknowledge, again, that I was born here in America and I’m grateful that I was born here, and I was given opportunities that my parents weren’t given opportunities for.”

–U.S.-born woman of Hmong origin in early 30s

This is how others see and treat me

essay on american experience

During the focus group discussions about identity, a recurring theme emerged about the difference between how participants saw themselves and how others see them. When asked to elaborate on their experiences and their points of view, some participants shared experiences they had with people misidentifying their race or ethnicity. Others talked about their frustration with being labeled the “model minority.” In all these discussions, participants shed light on the negative impacts that mistaken assumptions and labels had on their lives.

All people see is ‘Asian’

For many, interactions with others (non-Asians and Asians alike) often required explaining their backgrounds, reacting to stereotypes, and for those from smaller origin groups in particular, correcting the misconception that being “Asian” means you come from one of the larger Asian ethnic groups. Several participants remarked that in their own experiences, when others think about Asians, they tend to think of someone who is Chinese. As one immigrant Filipino woman put it, “Interacting with [non-Asians in the U.S.], it’s hard. … Well, first, I look Spanish. I mean, I don’t look Asian, so would you guess – it’s like they have a vision of what an Asian [should] look like.” Similarly, an immigrant Indonesian man remarked how Americans tended to see Asians primarily through their physical features, which not all Asian groups share.

Several participants also described how the tendency to view Asians as a monolithic group can be even more common in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The first [thing people think of me as] is just Chinese. ‘You guys are just Chinese.’ I’m not the only one who felt [this] after the COVID-19 outbreak. ‘Whether you’re Japanese, Korean, or Southeast Asian, you’re just Chinese [to Americans]. I should avoid you.’ I’ve felt this way before, but I think I’ve felt it a bit more after the COVID-19 outbreak.”

–Immigrant woman of Korean origin in early 30s

At the same time, other participants described their own experiences trying to convince others that they are Asian or Asian American. This was a common experience among Southeast Asian participants.

“I have to convince people I’m Asian, not Middle Eastern. … If you type in Asian or you say Asian, most people associate it with Chinese food, Japanese food, karate, and like all these things but then they don’t associate it with you.”

–U.S.-born man of Pakistani origin in early 30s

The model minority myth and its impact

essay on american experience

“I’ve never really done the best academically, compared to all my other Asian peers too. I never really excelled. I wasn’t in honors. … Those stereotypes, I think really [have] taken a toll on my self-esteem.” Diane , documentary participant

Across focus groups, immigrant and U.S.-born participants described the challenges of the seemingly positive stereotypes of Asians as intelligent, gifted in technical roles and hardworking. Participants often referred to this as the “model minority myth.”

The label “model minority” was coined in the 1960s and has been used to characterize Asian Americans as financially and educationally successful and hardworking when compared with other groups. However, for many Asians living in the United States, these characterizations do not align with their lived experiences or reflect their socioeconomic backgrounds. Indeed, among Asian origin groups in the U.S., there are wide differences in economic and social experiences. 

Academic research on the model minority myth has pointed to its impact beyond Asian Americans and towards other racial and ethnic groups, especially Black Americans, in the U.S. Some argue that the model minority myth has been used to justify policies that overlook the historical circumstances and impacts of colonialism, slavery, discrimination and segregation on other non-White racial and ethnic groups.

Many participants noted ways in which the model minority myth has been harmful. For some, expectations based on the myth didn’t match their own experiences of coming from impoverished communities. Some also recalled experiences at school when they struggled to meet their teachers’ expectations in math and science.

“As an Asian person, I feel like there’s that stereotype that Asian students are high achievers academically. They’re good at math and science. … I was a pretty mediocre student, and math and science were actually my weakest subjects, so I feel like it’s either way you lose. Teachers expect you to fit a certain stereotype and if you’re not, then you’re a disappointment, but at the same time, even if you are good at math and science, that just means that you’re fitting a stereotype. It’s [actually] your own achievement, but your teachers might think, ‘Oh, it’s because they’re Asian,’ and that diminishes your achievement.”

–U.S.-born woman of Korean origin in late 20s

Some participants felt that even when being Asian worked in their favor in the job market, they encountered stereotypes that “Asians can do quality work with less compensation” or that “Asians would not complain about anything at work.”

“There is a joke from foreigners and even Asian Americans that says, ‘No matter what you do, Asians always do the best.’ You need to get A, not just B-plus. Otherwise, you’ll be a disgrace to the family. … Even Silicon Valley hires Asian because [an] Asian’s wage is cheaper but [they] can work better. When [work] visa overflow happens, they hire Asians like Chinese and Indian to work in IT fields because we are good at this and do not complain about anything.”

–Immigrant man of Thai origin in early 40s

Others expressed frustration that people were placing them in the model minority box. One Indian woman put it this way:

“Indian people and Asian people, like … our parents or grandparents are the ones who immigrated here … against all odds. … A lot of Indian and Asian people have succeeded and have done really well for themselves because they’ve worked themselves to the bone. So now the expectations [of] the newer generations who were born here are incredibly unrealistic and high. And you get that not only from your family and the Indian community, but you’re also getting it from all of the American people around you, expecting you to be … insanely good at math, play an instrument, you know how to do this, you know how to do that, but it’s not true. And it’s just living with those expectations, it’s difficult.”

–U.S.-born woman of Indian origin in early 20s

Whether U.S. born or immigrants, Asians are often seen by others as foreigners

essay on american experience

“Being only not quite 10 years old, it was kind of exciting to ride on a bus to go someplace. But when we went to Pomona, the assembly center, we were stuck in one of the stalls they used for the animals.” Tokiko , documentary participant

Across all focus groups, participants highlighted a common question they are asked in America when meeting people for the first time: “Where are you really from?” For participants, this question implied that people think they are “foreigners,” even though they may be longtime residents or citizens of the United States or were born in the country. One man of Vietnamese origin shared his experience with strangers who assumed that he and his friends are North Korean. Perhaps even more hurtful, participants mentioned that this meant people had a preconceived notion of what an “American” is supposed to look like, sound like or act like. One Chinese woman said that White Americans treated people like herself as outsiders based on her skin color and appearance, even though she was raised in the U.S.

Many focus group participants also acknowledged the common stereotype of treating Asians as “forever foreigners.” Some immigrant participants said they felt exhausted from constantly being asked this question by people even when they speak perfect English with no accent. During the discussion, a Korean immigrant man recalled that someone had said to him, “You speak English well, but where are you from?” One Filipino participant shared her experience during the first six months in the U.S.:

“You know, I spoke English fine. But there were certain things that, you know, people constantly questioning you like, oh, where are you from? When did you come here? You know, just asking about your experience to the point where … you become fed up with it after a while.”

–Immigrant woman of Filipino origin in mid-30s

U.S.-born participants also talked about experiences when others asked where they are from. Many shared that they would not talk about their ethnic origin right away when answering such a question because it often led to misunderstandings and assumptions that they are immigrants.

“I always get that question of, you know, ‘Where are you from?’ and I’m like, ‘I’m from America.’ And then they’re like, ‘No. Where are you from-from ?’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, my family is from Pakistan,’ so it’s like I always had like that dual identity even though it’s never attached to me because I am like, of Pakistani descent.”

–U.S.-born man of Pakistani origin in early 20s

One Korean woman born in the U.S. said that once people know she is Korean, they ask even more offensive questions such as “Are you from North or South Korea?” or “Do you still eat dogs?”

In a similar situation, this U.S.-born Indian woman shared her responses:

“I find that there’s a, ‘So but where are you from?’ Like even in professional settings when they feel comfortable enough to ask you. ‘So – so where are you from?’ ‘Oh, I was born in [names city], Colorado. Like at [the hospital], down the street.’ ‘No, but like where are you from?’ ‘My mother’s womb?’”

–U.S.-born woman of Indian origin in early 40s

Ignorance and misinformation about Asian identity can lead to contentious encounters

essay on american experience

“I have dealt with kids who just gave up on their Sikh identity, cut their hair and groomed their beard and everything. They just wanted to fit in and not have to deal with it, especially [those] who are victim or bullied in any incident.” Surinder , documentary participant

In some cases, ignorance and misinformation about Asians in the U.S. lead to inappropriate comments or questions and uncomfortable or dangerous situations. Participants shared their frustration when others asked about their country of origin, and they then had to explain their identity or correct misunderstandings or stereotypes about their background. At other times, some participants faced ignorant comments about their ethnicity, which sometimes led to more contentious encounters. For example, some Indian or Pakistani participants talked about the attacks or verbal abuse they experienced from others blaming them for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Others discussed the racial slurs directed toward them since the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Some Japanese participants recalled their families losing everything and being incarcerated during World War II and the long-term effect it had on their lives.

“I think like right now with the coronavirus, I think we’re just Chinese, Chinese American, well, just Asian American or Asians in general, you’re just going through the same struggles right now. Like everyone is just blaming whoever looks Asian about the virus. You don’t feel safe.”

–U.S.-born man of Chinese origin in early 30s

“At the beginning of the pandemic, a friend and I went to celebrate her birthday at a club and like these guys just kept calling us COVID.”

–U.S.-born woman of Korean origin in early 20s

“There [were] a lot of instances after 9/11. One day, somebody put a poster about 9/11 [in front of] my business. He was wearing a gun. … On the poster, it was written ‘you Arabs, go back to your country.’ And then someone came inside. He pointed his gun at me and said ‘Go back to your country.’”

–Immigrant man of Pakistani origin in mid-60s

“[My parents went through the] internment camps during World War II. And my dad, he was in high school, so he was – they were building the camps and then he was put into the Santa Anita horse track place, the stables there. And then they were sent – all the Japanese Americans were sent to different camps, right, during World War II and – in California. Yeah, and they lost everything, yeah.”

–U.S.-born woman of Japanese origin in mid-60s

This is what it means to be home in America

essay on american experience

As focus group participants contemplated their identity during the discussions, many talked about their sense of belonging in America. Although some felt frustrated with people misunderstanding their ethnic heritage, they didn’t take a negative view of life in America. Instead, many participants – both immigrant and U.S. born – took pride in their unique cultural and ethnic backgrounds. In these discussions, people gave their own definitions of America as a place with a diverse set of cultures, with their ethnic heritage being a part of it.

Taking pride in their unique cultures

essay on american experience

“Being a Pakistani American, I’m proud. … Because I work hard, and I make true my dreams from here.” Shahid , documentary participant

Despite the challenges of adapting to life in America for immigrant participants or of navigating their dual cultural identity for U.S.-born ones, focus group participants called America their home. And while participants talked about their identities in different ways – ethnic identity, racial (Asian) identity, and being American – they take pride in their unique cultures. Many also expressed a strong sense of responsibility to give back or support their community, sharing their cultural heritage with others on their own terms.

“Right now it has been a little difficult. I think it has been for all Asians because of the COVID issue … but I’m glad that we’re all here [in America]. I think we should be proud to be here. I’m glad that our families have traveled here, and we can help make life better for communities, our families and ourselves. I think that’s really a wonderful thing. We can be those role models for a lot of the future, the younger folks. I hope that something I did in the last years will have impacted either my family, friends or students that I taught in other community things that I’ve done. So you hope that it helps someplace along the line.”

“I am very proud of my culture. … There is not a single Bengali at my workplace, but people know the name of my country. Maybe many years [later] – educated people know all about the country. So, I don’t have to explain that there is a small country next to India and Nepal. It’s beyond saying. People after all know Bangladesh. And there are so many Bengali present here as well. So, I am very proud to be a Bangladeshi.”

Where home is

When asked about the definition of home, some immigrant participants said home is where their families are located. Immigrants in the focus groups came to the United States by various paths, whether through work opportunities, reuniting with family or seeking a safe haven as refugees. Along their journey, some received support from family members, their local community or other individuals, while others overcame challenges by themselves. Either way, they take pride in establishing their home in America and can feel hurt when someone tells them to “go back to your country.” In response, one Laotian woman in her mid-40s said, “This is my home. My country. Go away.”

“If you ask me personally, I view my home as my house … then I would say my house is with my family because wherever I go, I cannot marry if I do not have my family so that is how I would answer.”

–Immigrant man of Hmong origin in late 30s

“[If somebody yelled at me ‘go back to your country’] I’d feel angry because this is my country! I live here. America is my country. I grew up here and worked here … I’d say, ‘This is my country! You go back to your country! … I will not go anywhere. This is my home. I will live here.’ That’s what I’d say.”

–Immigrant woman of Laotian origin in early 50s

‘American’ means to blend their unique cultural and ethnic heritage with that in the U.S.

essay on american experience

“I want to teach my children two traditions – one American and one Vietnamese – so they can compare and choose for themselves the best route in life.” Helen , documentary participant (translated from Vietnamese)

Both U.S.-born and immigrant participants in the focus groups shared their experiences of navigating a dual cultural environment between their ethnic heritage and American culture. A common thread that emerged was that being Asian in America is a process of blending two or more identities as one.

“Yeah, I want to say that’s how I feel – because like thinking about it, I would call my dad Lao but I would call myself Laotian American because I think I’m a little more integrated in the American society and I’ve also been a little more Americanized, compared to my dad. So that’s how I would see it.”

–U.S.-born man of Laotian origin in late 20s

“I mean, Bangladeshi Americans who are here, we are carrying Bangladeshi culture, religion, food. I am also trying to be Americanized like the Americans. Regarding language, eating habits.”

–Immigrant man of Bangladeshi origin in mid-50s

“Just like there is Chinese American, Mexican American, Japanese American, Italian American, so there is Indian American. I don’t want to give up Indianness. I am American by nationality, but I am Indian by birth. So whenever I talk, I try to show both the flags as well, both Indian and American flags. Just because you make new relatives but don’t forget the old relatives.”

–Immigrant man of Indian origin in late 40s

essay on american experience

About this project

Pew Research Center designed these focus groups to better understand how members of an ethnically diverse Asian population think about their place in America and life here. By including participants of different languages, immigration or refugee experiences, educational backgrounds, and income levels, this focus group study aimed to capture in people’s own words what it means to be Asian in America. The discussions in these groups may or may not resonate with all Asians living in the United States. Browse excerpts from our focus groups with the interactive quote sorter below, view a video documentary focused on the topics discussed in the focus groups, or tell us your story of belonging in America via social media. The focus group project is part of a broader research project studying the diverse experiences of Asians living in the U.S.

Read sortable quotes from our focus groups

Browse excerpts in the interactive quote sorter from focus group participants in response to the question “What does it mean to be [Vietnamese, Thai, Sri Lankan, Hmong, etc.] like yourself in America?” This interactive allows you to sort quotes from focus group participants by ethnic origin, nativity (U.S. born or born in another country), gender and age.

Video documentary

Videos throughout the data essay illustrate what focus group participants discussed. Those recorded in these videos did not participate in the focus groups but were sampled to have similar demographic characteristics and thematically relevant stories.

Watch the full video documentary and watch additional shorter video clips related to the themes of this data essay.

Share the story of your family and your identity

Did the voices in this data essay resonate? Share your story of what it means to be Asian in America with @pewresearch. Tell us your story by using the hashtag #BeingAsianInAmerica and @pewidentity on Twitter, as well as #BeingAsianInAmerica and @pewresearch on Instagram.

Methodological note

This cross-ethnic, comparative qualitative research project explores the identity, economic mobility, representation, and experiences of immigration and discrimination among the Asian population in the United States. The analysis is based on 66 focus groups we conducted virtually in the fall of 2021 and included 264 participants from across the U.S. More information about the groups and analysis can be found in this appendix .


Pew Research Center is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts, its primary funder. This data essay was funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, with generous support from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative DAF, an advised fund of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation; the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; the Henry Luce Foundation; The Wallace H. Coulter Foundation; The Dirk and Charlene Kabcenell Foundation; The Long Family Foundation; Lu-Hebert Fund; Gee Family Foundation; Joseph Cotchett; the Julian Abdey and Sabrina Moyle Charitable Fund; and Nanci Nishimura.

The accompanying video clips and video documentary were made possible by The Pew Charitable Trusts, with generous support from The Sobrato Family Foundation and The Long Family Foundation.

We would also like to thank the Leaders Forum for its thought leadership and valuable assistance in helping make this study possible. This is a collaborative effort based on the input and analysis of a number of individuals and experts at Pew Research Center and outside experts.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Fresh data delivered Saturday mornings

About Pew Research Center Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Pew Research Center does not take policy positions. It is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts .

Politically Incorrect Thinking

  • Another day and another war. And more.
  • The Hand that Giveth
  • War and Peace. Misunderstood
  • Other People Thoughts
  • Mid-Term Fraud
  • Breaking Up the Bad. Part II
  • Breaking Up the Bad. Part I
  • German Tank
  • A Divided Europe
  • The Dirty Business of War. Part III
  • The Dirty Business of War. Part II
  • The Dirty Business of War. Part I
  • The Long Arm of Corruption
  • Killing Two Birds with One Stone. Putin vs. Ukraine, January 2022
  • Fear In – Fear Out
  • Be Damned If You Do – And If You Don’t
  • It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Part III
  • It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Part II
  • It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Part I
  • Memories of the Covid Ward
  • Afghanistan Banana Stand
  • Freedom to Choose
  • Betting on the Wrong Horse. Part II
  • Betting on the Wrong Horse. Part I
  • The Oafs and Buffoons
  • Closed Circuit News
  • White and Black
  • The Other Side of Covid. Part II
  • The Other Side of Covid. Part I
  • Modern Doctor Faust, a.k.a. Doctor Fauci, et al
  • Path to Secondary Regress. Part II
  • Path to Secondary Regress. Part I
  • Decoding “White Supremacy Culture” Verbiage. Part IV
  • Decoding “White Supremacy Culture” Verbiage. Part III
  • Decoding “White Supremacy Culture” Verbiage. Part II
  • Decoding “White Supremacy Culture” Verbiage. Part I
  • The Silent Supreme Court of the United States
  • Antifa. The Movie
  • The Personal Cost of Politics
  • The Beginning of American Political Profiling
  • Are You Kidding? BLM is Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize
  • “Don’t Be Evil”. The Abandoned Promise.
  • The New Army of Citizen Detectives. A Terrible Escalation
  • The United States: Abject Failure in the Face of Evil
  • Deprived by the Depraved
  • The Lore of a Lonely Knight
  • Of Money and Power
  • End of Chapter, Sense of Loss
  • Lies That Lead to War
  • “Woke” Dissected
  • America. Very Large, Fast-Moving Ship
  • BLM – Democratic Party Stooges
  • The Parallel Worlds of America
  • Mutiny in America. Red vs. Blue
  • The China Syndrome of American Elections
  • Sliding Into War
  • American Revolution of the Year 2020 and beyond
  • Hey, NASDAQ – WTF?
  • White Actors Need Not Apply. Reverse Racism in Hollywood. Part 3
  • White Actors Need Not Apply. Reverse Racism in Hollywood. Part 2
  • White Actors Need Not Apply. Reverse Racism in Hollywood. Part 1
  • U.S. President Donald J. Trump: The Darkest Hour
  • What the Future Holds. Part II. November 2020 Version
  • What the Future Holds, Part I. November 2020 Version
  • Beyond the Biden Era
  • Democratic Party Agent Network Revealed. Right Here, In America
  • The Unfinished Business
  • American Liberal Press, Instigators of Racial Tensions
  • Surprise! Millenials Choose Marxism and Socialism
  • Woke Slang, Lingo of the Racist Revolution
  • Being white is a verdict
  • A Happy White Woman. Google’s Version
  • The Ohio State University Incident
  • The BLM Future for America. Part II
  • The BLM Future for America. Part I
  • BLM. Accomplishments-2020. Just the Facts (+ some mockery)
  • Are You White? It’s Not Your Fight
  • Monopolies That Must Be Broken Apart
  • Diversity Councils & Hiring Practices. Racism at its Worst
  • Political Correctness. A Gag on America
  • To My Fellow Black Americans
  • The Great Divide of the Year 2020
  • What Can We Do?
  • The Accomplices
  • A Very Different Race to the Bottom
  • The Vultures of the Cancel Culture
  • About Gastronomic Racism. And More…
  • The White Man’s World
  • About the Search Engines & Freedom of Expression
  • The Theory and Practice. Tip 2
  • The Theory and Practice. Tip 1
  • Theory and Practice
  • The True Cost of Censorship
  • Living through the times of riots and revolt Year 2020. The United States of America
  • The Bastards who Love Mayhem, a.k.a. BLM
  • The Affirmative Action. Time to Say Good Bye.
  • It Happens in My Town

Flag Counter

A Latina Harvard grad advised women to marry older men. The internet had thoughts.

When she was 20 years old and a junior at Harvard College, Grazie Sophia Christie had an epiphany. She could study hard and diligently pursue her “ideal existence” though years of work and effort.

Or she “could just marry it early.”

Christie chose the latter. 

In a column for New York magazine’s The Cut, the Cuban American editor and writer extolled the value of marrying an older, wealthier man as a shortcut to the life she desired. Christie’s March 27 story went viral, topping the magazine’s “most popular” list and inspiring hundreds of overwhelmingly negative comments online and on social media. As Miami New Times described it , “The essay hit the internet with a virtual thud heard round the world.”

Readers were taken aback by myriad aspects of Christie’s florid essay, which runs nearly 4,000 words. Though she was an undergraduate, Christie lugged “a heavy suitcase of books each Saturday to the Harvard Business School,” which she felt offered the best options for a suitable mate. “I had high breasts, most of my eggs, plausible deniability when it came to purity, a flush ponytail, a pep in my step that had yet to run out," she wrote. "Older men still desired those things.” 

She crashed an event at the Harvard Business School and met her future husband when she was 20, and they married four years later.

Many readers were struck by the fact that Christie had the benefit of an elite education — she also completed a fellowship at Oxford University — yet chose to enter into an unequal marriage. “My husband isn’t my partner. He’s my mentor, my lover, and, only in certain contexts, my friend,” she writes. “I’ll never forget it, how he showed me around our first place like he was introducing me to myself. This is the wine you’ll drink, where you’ll keep your clothes, we vacation here; this is the other language we’ll speak, you’ll learn it and I did.”

Christie, now 27, writes that she enjoys time “to read, to walk central London and Miami and think in delicious circles.”

There is, Christie writes, a downside to her monied existence: “I live in an apartment whose rent he pays and that shapes the freedom with which I can ever be angry with him. He doesn’t have to hold it over my head, it just floats there, complicating usual shorthands to explain dissatisfaction.”

By marrying so young — although as many social media users pointed out, her husband is only 10 years older — Christie was able to leave a “lucrative but deadening spreadsheet job to write full-time, without having to live like a writer.”

A recurring theme in the viral response to Christie’s article, ostensibly about age-gap relationships, is that it should have been titled “The Case for Marrying a Rich Man.”

Christie’s transactional approach to marriage and relationships resonated — negatively — with readers. An online parody of her original piece has already been posted by the literary magazine McSweeney’s. Her words have been dissected by a columnist at Slate, who called it “bad advice for most human beings, at least if what most human beings seek are meaningful and happy lives.”

Online, people who commented on Christie’s essay called it “an insult to women of any age,” “a sad piece of writing,” and “pitiful in so many ways.”  Some readers wondered if the article was a satire or a joke. One of the kinder comments on New York magazine’s website said: “This is one of the most embarrassing things I have ever read. I am truly mortified for the writer.”

Christie has so far not responded to media requests for interviews, and several attempts by NBC News to contact her were unsuccessful. Her Instagram account was recently switched from public to private.

According to her personal website , Christie is editor-in-chief of a new publication, The Miami Native, “a serious magazine about an unserious city.” Her website’s bio page, which appears to have been disabled, previously stated that she was “writing a novel between Miami, London, sometimes France.”

Christie grew up in Miami. Her parents,  Miami New Times has reported , are prominent in Florida’s conservative Catholic community. Her mother was appointed to the state Board of Education in March 2022. A senior fellow for The Catholic Association, she hosts a radio show , “Conversations with Consequences,” on the Eternal Word Television Network. Her father is a physician and an anti-abortion activist who, according to his website , lectures regularly on Catholic social issues, particularly marriage, family, and the dignity of life.”

For more from NBC Latino,  sign up for our weekly newsletter .

essay on american experience

Raul A. Reyes, a lawyer, is a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors. He has written for The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Christian Science Monitor, Texas Monthly and the Huffington Post.


  1. What Makes America Great Essay: What to Write About

    essay on american experience

  2. Incredible What Does Being An American Mean To You Essay ~ Thatsnotus

    essay on american experience

  3. Persuasive essay: American and french revolution essay

    essay on american experience

  4. College Essay Examples

    essay on american experience

  5. The American Experience from 1865 to 1945 Essay Example

    essay on american experience

  6. Critical Essay: Writing a personal experience essay

    essay on american experience


  1. My American Experience

    Decent Essays. 805 Words. 4 Pages. Open Document. My American ExperienceAmerica is home to millions of people. I have lived my life in America my entire sixteen years on this world, and have cherished every second of it. Through these sixteen years, I have been able to establish my own thoughts and feelings on what the American experience is ...

  2. PDF The American Dream and Experience in Literature

    The first week of the unit will include the reading of five essays expressing concepts about the American dream, the American experience and American values. "This Is an American" by Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, written in 1782 will be read first. This essay expresses ideas about the 18th century American

  3. What Makes a Great American Essay? ‹ Literary Hub

    November 17, 2020. Phillip Lopate spoke to Literary Hub about the new anthology he has edited, The Glorious American Essay. He recounts his own development from an "unpatriotic" young man to someone, later in life, who would embrace such writers as Ralph Waldo Emerson, who personified the simultaneous darkness and optimism underlying the ...

  4. The American Experience

    Critical Essays The American Experience. In The Deerslayer, Cooper sought to give final expression in the "Leatherstocking Tales" to his reactions and fears about America, especially after his long stay in Europe. Cooper is also preoccupied with the role of Christianity and Christian teachings in the American experience.

  5. The Contemporary American Experience

    In this unit, students will unpack the American experience in contemporary literature in order to make connections between the characters they read about and their own experiences. Students will use Literary Abstracts to practice composing literary analysis, unpacking the four levels of Exploding Analysis in writing. Students will use their ...

  6. 'The Glorious American Essay,' From Benjamin Franklin to David Foster

    The Glorious American Essay: One Hundred Essays From Colonial Times to the Present. Edited and with an introduction by Phillip Lopate. 906 pages. Pantheon Books. $40. A version of this article ...

  7. PDF The American Essay

    TOWARD THE CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN ESSAY (2000 2020) 31. The American Essay Film: A Neglected Genre 527 nora m. alter 32. Literary Theory, Criticism, and the Essay 545 carolina iribarren 33. Gender, Queerness, and the American Essay 565 david lazar 34. Disability and the American Essay 582 anne Þnger 35. The Radical Hybridity of the Lyric Essay ...

  8. Adapting to a New Lifestyle: My Experience in America [Free Essay

    In this essay, I will share my personal experience of adapting to the American lifestyle. From cultural nuances to everyday practices, I encountered various aspects that required adjustment. This essay explores the challenges, learning opportunities, and growth that came with embracing a new way of life. Cultural Differences and Adjustments

  9. Cambridge history american essay

    The experience of art: the essay in visual culture Tom Huhn 19. The essay in American music Kyle Gann Part III: Postwar Essays and Essayism (1945-2000) 20. ... The American essay film: a neglected genre Nora M. Alter 32. Literary theory, criticism, and the essay Carolina Iribarren 33.

  10. US College Essay Tips for International Students

    Tone: Be conversational, but respectful. American student-teacher relationships are much less formal than those in many other countries. US universities value student-professor discussion, debate, and collaboration. Similarly, college application essays are less formal than other kinds of academic writing. You should use a conversational yet ...

  11. History Research Guide: American Experience

    Sabin Americana: History of the Americas, 1500-1926. Full-text books, pamphlets, broadsides, and documents providing firsthand accounts of more than 400 years of history in the Americas, including North, Central, and South America and the West Indies, drawn from Joseph Sabin's famed bibliography, Bibliotheca Americana. HathiTrust Digital Library.

  12. My American Experience

    An American Childhood. In the novel An American Childhood, Annie Dillard, the daughter of a well- to-do Pittsburg family, conveys her social station in life to the reader through many examples. The activities she had as a child, such as piano lessons and dance class, show her family's wealth.

  13. Developing social and emotional aspects of learning: The American

    This reprinted article originally appeared in Research Papers in Education, 2012(Sept), Vol 27 (4), 423-434. Developments in American policy, research and professional development to promote social and emotional learning in schools have drawn on work carried out by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), encouraged by the popular and political catalyst of Daniel ...

  14. Free Essay: My American Experience

    The "American Experience" is one that is not only defined by historical events that take place throughout one's lifetime, but is an experience that can also be determined through one's own personal journey and how it reflects back on the American ideals, customs, and political/social aspects of their life. Through my own short lifetime ...

  15. Essay On American Experience

    4094 Words17 Pages. American Experience Well, as many of you might already now, I am here today to give you all some basic information about the USA and the daily life in the states. You all just saw a video with typical American things to give you all a first impression about the daily life in America. Content: 1.

  16. Essays on american experience

    The American experience is one of the most popular assignments among students' documents. If you are stuck with writing or missing ideas, scroll down and find inspiration in the best samples. American experience is quite a rare and popular topic for writing an essay, but it certainly is in our database.

  17. Personal Experience Essay Examples

    Essay grade: Good. 2 pages / 1728 words. This free personal narrative essay explores a life journey akin to a roller coaster ride, reflecting on financial struggles, encounters with racism, and the pursuit of the American dream. It emphasizes the importance of embracing one's roots and personal growth amid challenges.

  18. How Chinese Students Experience America

    How Chinese Students Experience America. COVID, guns, anti-Asian violence, and diplomatic relations have complicated the ambitions of the some three hundred thousand college students who come to ...

  19. Free Example Of An American Experience Essay

    Check out this awesome Perfect Essays On An American Experience for writing techniques and actionable ideas. Regardless of the topic, subject or complexity, we can help you write any paper!

  20. The Asian American Experience: Highlights from our focus groups

    The terms "Asian," "Asians living in the United States" and "Asian American" are used interchangeably throughout this essay to refer to U.S. adults who self-identify as Asian, either alone or in combination with other races or Hispanic identity. "The United States" and "the U.S." are used interchangeably with "America" for variations in the writing.

  21. Essays

    The China Syndrome of American Elections; Sliding Into War; American Revolution of the Year 2020 and beyond; Hey, NASDAQ - WTF? White Actors Need Not Apply. Reverse Racism in Hollywood. Part 3; White Actors Need Not Apply. Reverse Racism in Hollywood. Part 2; White Actors Need Not Apply. Reverse Racism in Hollywood. Part 1

  22. Alike Frederick Douglass Let America Be America Again

    The personal and social politics of racial identity in America are extremely complex as there are many intersections to the African American experience through history. I will be exploring these nuances through poems from the Harlem Renaissance including, 'Heritage' by Gwendolyn Bennett, 'Bottled' by Helen Johnson and 'Let America be ...

  23. Essay On African American Experience

    Essay On African American Experience. 846 Words4 Pages. Within the process of listening to the experiences of African Americans I learned and better understood the trials and tribulations they went through. I took away a lot from this project but three things jumped out at me. Frist African Americans are a very resilient group of people.

  24. Latina Harvard grad Grazie Sophia Christie advised women to marry older

    A Latina Harvard grad advised women to marry older men. The internet had thoughts. A Cuban American writer goes viral with her views in "The Case for Marrying an Older Man," which many on ...