Eric Li

At the GSB, I see fellow students proud of what makes them unique, and I can’t help but feel inspired. I’m just getting used to being seen for what makes me unique, feeling exposed in a world that’s only ever pressured me to assimilate.

ERIC'S STORY

My grandpa, Ye Ye, always lights up when he recounts how quickly I picked up his language at a young age. He was so proud. I was born in Ohio, but my parents sent me to live with Ye Ye and Nai Nai (grandma) in China for a few years as they sought better lives in America, toiling through graduate school and trying to make ends meet. My grandparents raised me in the meantime, teaching me their language, nurturing my love of moving around, and, of course, feeding me spicy food to build my tolerance. When my parents were ready to take me “home,” they spared no effort in ensuring I had a comfortable—and American—childhood.

Yet being caught between “homes” continued to color my upbringing. I lived in three states growing up and had to make new friends at each step, feeling like an outsider in predominantly white environments. The only consistencies related to my family’s cultural rooting: I attended Chinese school on weekends, where I attempted to retain a quickly fading language. My parents held Chinese parties with their friends, where us second-gen kids would play GameCube and talk life at the kids’ table. I was part of a special community—one that wanted me, but one that I was not always happy to be in the other five days of the week as I tried to fit in at school.

College was an opportunity to share my background in a more diverse and welcoming environment. And after graduation, working late nights in finance, I never hesitated to lead group dinner orders from local Chinese restaurants, even teaching others how to use chopsticks. Yet with constant adaptations to new environments that weren’t originally built for me, I was conflicted in calling these places “home.”

I’m grateful that the GSB has been so incredibly inclusive—and one step closer to “home.” I see fellow students proud of what makes them unique, in both background and personality, and I can’t help but feel inspired. This is the first time I’ve been happy to join—and lead—organizations representing my various identities (ABSA and Pride). However, I’m just getting used to being seen for what makes me unique, feeling exposed in a world that’s only ever pressured me to assimilate. And, as I look toward a future in business, I’m starting to dread that the efforts I take to break the “bamboo ceiling” will only get more difficult.

My journey for “home” continues, but I live with reminders that it can be everywhere. My middle name, Alan, is Western, but it comes from the Ohio man that gave my parents a home when they were struggling students from China. My family has hot pot every Thanksgiving, drawing from two worlds as we all celebrate coming home.

When I speak to Ye Ye and Nai Nai today, I struggle—my Mandarin, once their pride and joy, is now barely intelligible. I hope to communicate with them how I once could. In the meantime, the lessons from them live on—the love of being in different places, the appreciation of their culture, and, well, how good their food is. At the GSB and beyond, I’ll find bits of home everywhere. And I’ll hold close the mantra that it’s not how I fit in that will help me find meaning and success, it’s how I stand out.