Opinion & Analysis

From Taiwan to New Zealand: Being a migrant’s child

In the latest from our New Voices series, we hear from Stacey Liu on her experiences moving to New Zealand from Taiwan when she was young and the hard lessons she learned.

The news of moving to another country had lit a spark of hope in my world, but I should’ve known that all that glittered was not gold. My parents had once said that moving from Taiwan to New Zealand meant less homework, less strict teachers, and less pollution. And in a way, my parents kept all these promises, but not in the way I imagined.

Sitting in the classroom as an eight-year-old on my first day of school in Aotearoa, I struggled to understand anything the blonde teacher standing at the front of the classroom was saying, or why the children around me were happily sitting on the ground near the front of the class, since that was a method of punishment for misbehaving students in my previous school. All I could do was try to interpret everyone’s expressions and fight the urge to run away from the childrens’ curious gazes, while trying and failing to understand why everyone was serious one moment and laughing in the next, where everyone was going all of a sudden, or what the teacher aide was trying to tell me as she led me from one place to another.

Stacey Liu moved to New Zealand from Taiwan when she was eight years old. Image: Supplied

I remember taking my very first math test. Math was my favourite subject back in Taiwan, so I was excited as the questions flashed on the screen, but because they were word questions, I couldn’t answer most of them. So out of the 100 questions I answered only two, and to make an even bigger joke out of myself, neither of my answers were correct. I had never had such a bad grade in my entire life, least of all in math. I was unable to contain myself any longer as tears ran down my cheeks. The teacher aide led me outside and tried to comfort me, but I only cried more because I could not even understand what she was saying.

My only friend at school was Zoe, who would always tell me that she would play with me tomorrow before running off to play with her own friends. I took her word, grateful for the friendship in this foreign land, and I waited day after day – only to hear the same thing, that she would play with me tomorrow. Days bled into weeks, weeks into months, and my hope faded as I waited for that one day when she would finally say that I could play with her. That day never came.

In the years that followed, I received many names like “The Japanese/Chinese/Korean Girl”, “That Kid Who Never Speaks”, and the most common one amongst children, “Ching Chong Chinaman”. As time went by, the truth slowly dawned on me. My new school was not Hogwarts where every day was a wonder, nor was I in Narnia where good friends were so easily found. I was in a world where my old dreams turned into mockery, a place that turned my fantasies to a nightmare.

Fast-forward to a few years later, I was finally able to blend in with the other student in my high school, but there were still moments when I was reminded that I didn't belong.

From the teenagers who lifted the corners of their eyes mockingly with their hands, to the elderly people who often reminded me how rude it was of me to speak Chinese with my family in public, I learned that there are those who may never truly accept the likes of me. I had once thought that going back to Taiwan would make everything all right, but after my last visit, I realised it was not the case.

I was fifteen when I visited Taiwan. Seeing my relatives and old friends was a thrill, and the conversations we had seemed like they could go on forever. But when we began talking about our past, I realised that even though we had played together as children, we did not belong in the same world. While I could not imagine living in the crowded and polluted city I once loved as a child, they were unable to imagine what it would be like to chase back runaway calves and lock them back in their pens, or to collect firewood the way my family and I did every winter.

I was home, but it was no longer my home.

Looking back on it now, I realise how naïve it was of me to believe that immigration was a dream come true, and the way I had hoped that the people here would accept my family and me with open arms when we were uninvited is absurd. But after all these years of being a misfit, I must admit that I really am beyond lucky to have had this opportunity as a child, because it has taught me how to be strong and independent at a young age, and that I can overcome any barriers through perseverance. While there are still countless uncertainties in my life, I can finally say that I’m no longer afraid of the unforeseeable hardship because, from my experience, I know that nothing can hold me down.

- Asia Media Centre