Being Different - It's a GOOD Thing!

March 04, 2013

Chinese girls in school uniforms at Mandarin school plus one American

On a recent morning, just past dawn, I watched 1000 uniformed Asian kids in a Chinese school, orderly gather for weekly assembly along with one tiny blond American girl who is younger and smaller than the rest and the only Caucasian. Being different can be a good thing, even and perhaps because of the challenges and lessons learned.

I was touched by how brave my little girl is and how she doesn't even realize it. She not only survived her first day at 10 when both teachers and students stared at her all day, but she has thrived. We have purposely, thoughtfully and carefully, put her in challenging positions from birth, but especially, in the last 7-plus years of non-stop travel and worldschooling.


Not just unschool things like swimming with dolphins in Portugal at eight or climbing Bhutan's risky Tiger's Nest at ten, but also being the only American in her class in Spain at six, this Chinese school at 10 and recently at 12, a Chinese school in Beijing where she even bordered there 24/7 for the immersion benefits in her 3 languages and literacy.

"To be nobody but yourself in a world doing its best to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle any human can ever fight and never stop fighting." - e. e. cummings

We think it is an excellent thing to be different and to do challenging things and will always support her growing in expansive ways. No matter what the environment, humans often feel different, but of course, that is magnified in areas where one IS clearly different, but that doesn't have to be a bad thing.  One has a choice of either embracing it and making the most out of it, or allowing oneself to wallow in negativity and fear. I am so proud that my exuberant child chooses the former and gains strength by doing.

I believe in Gatto's theory that when kids are in schools, parents are allowing strangers to adopt your child during those long hours and that is even more challenging when it is with a different culture and language. As homeschoolers by nature, it's been a stretch for all of us to trust schools by dipping into them from time to time for language and cultural immersion, but worth the effort and challenges.

cute, happy girl and heavy backpack and book bag

Mozart skipped several grades with this Chinese school, so that adds to the challenge as well. She was use to a world with lots of homeschooling freedom, but adapted quickly to the daily heavy backpack and book bag shown in this photo, getting up at 5 or 6 AM in the dark for the hour commute by van, after school tutoring, tests, physics and algebra in Mandarin, long hours and 6 days of week of Chinese school.

We are also into organic healthy food, don't do any vaccinations, or corporal punishment and other out-of-the box thinking, quite different than the cultural norm here, so the Chinese view of this American student, perhaps makes her stand out even more.

"Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary."
- Cecil Beaton

As a parent, one never knows what is the right thing or best thing to do, one just tries to trust your heart, inner guidance and trust your child. We're grateful to have more time together than most and we work together as a team, supporting her and also reassuring her that it is awesome to make unique choices and it's okay to participate in a different culture, while still keeping her own culture and beliefs.

beautiful girl playing piano in Beijing at the Fairmont Hotel


This is really an ode to my daughter who I am so proud of as she inspires me! She knows how to make good friends around the world in several languages, she volunteered to be the monitor on her first day of school at ten, won the English elocution contest at 10, sang several solos in the large school choir in front of thousands, chosen for Earth Day poem, was the youngest finalist in the singing competition with a very difficult Mandarin song and has done truly great in this school despite the challenges.

This fall she will be 13, so on the cusp of some fabulous teen years ahead, where one needs more than ever, the willingness to trust yourself, do hard things and be unafraid to be unique and different. 

I've gathered some favorite quotes as good reminders from wise minds about why this is such an important topic.

visiting an ancient Chinese temple in Shanghai


"Each second we live is a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that will never be again  And what do we teach our children? We teach them that two and two make four, and that Paris is the capital of France. When will we also teach them what they are?

We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique.  In all the years that have passed, there has never been another child like you. Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers, the way you move. You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything.

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."- Henry David Thoreau


"In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different." Coco Chanel


"If God intended us all to be the same, he'd have given all of us braces on our legs. Momma always had a way of explaining things so I could understand them." - Forrest Gump


When we allow ourselves to exist truly and fully, we sting the world with our vision and challenge it with our own ways of being. " - Thomas Moore

  beautiful girl and globe living a global citizen life

"The hardest struggle of all is to be something different from what the average man is."
- Charles M. Schwab


"Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else." - Margaret Mead



"My great mistake, the fault for which I can't forgive myself is that one day I ceased my obstinate pursuit of my own individuality." - Oscar Wilde


"At bottom every man knows well enough that he is a unique being, only once on this earth; and by no extraordinary chance will such a marvelously picturesque piece of diversity in unity as he is, ever be put together a second time."  - Friedrich Nietzsche


"We are all born originals - why is it so many of us die copies?" - Edward Young

Do you think it is a good thing to be different? Why or why not?

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Tess Russo

Couldn't agree more! Well done to you as parents too for 'breaking the mould' and creating the opportunities. Thanks for the inspiration!

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Thanks heaps Tess! Happy to know we are not the only ones who think like this. ;)

Sonia Perez

I have cried many tears because of rejection. Many people classify me a 'being different'. Your post inspired me to celebrate my uniqueness and accept that those that criticize it are not seeing the real me. I know who I am and God loves me. In reality, nothing else matters. Thanks for the beautiful post! :-)

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Aw, thanks Sonia for sharing and your kind words!!

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