I am writing about the wondrous, inspiring and sometimes painful experience of living between different cultural identities in our current world.

This experience is shared by many people today. I assume that you have come to this blog because something about this particular experience resonates with you as well, because it has brushed you too –  no doubt you have crossed cultural boundaries either in your hometown or on your travels, or you have more than one culture and language permanently etched into yourself; you can temporarily be ‘one of them’ in various societies and yet often feel like a stranger in all of them; you juggle a concert of multiple voices and languages in your head during each social encounter…

I was born in Changsha, the capital city of Hunan province in Southern China. My parents then moved to Germany in the late 80s, when I was two years old. I grew up in a couple of small Bavarian towns, speaking German with a rural Bavarian accent and a Changsha dialect-laden Chinese. We then moved to one of Germany’s most multicultural cities, Cologne, where I began to speak both standard German and Mandarin Chinese and realized suddenly that a) I was not the only minority around and b) that there was life beyond Bavarian Pünktlichkeit and the stomaching of beer and sausages.

When I turned 13, we temporarily moved ‘back’ to China as German citizens and I attended the German Embassy School in Beijing. I finished high school there and then went to study political philosophy at the University of Cambridge, England, for my B.A.. I had chosen England as the next place because I imagined it as a neutral place that would allow me to digest the by then rather confusing identity experiences I had had.

On those warm Beijing summer nights whilst walking along East Changan Avenue in that mind-boggling city, I had imagined Cambridge as a peaceful and tranquil place where people would debate the existential meaning of life at every street corner, where I could get a moment’s respite from the identity dilemmas in my life. I was wrong, of course, on both accounts – living in Britain added yet another layer of cultural complexity to the unfolding story.

I am now located in New York City, where I am writing my PhD dissertation at Columbia University. I investigate the mechanisms underlying our identity experiences (such as in-group favoritism, out-group exclusion, dehumanization, the multicultural and cosmopolitan mind) through insights derived from the relatively novel field of social neuroscience. Eventually, I hope to contribute to a way of looking at political questions that is based on the capabilities and weaknesses of our shared social brain, and move away from an exclusively postmodern or universalist-liberal idea of the political self.

My blog posts feature some of the research on identity, the brain and politics that I come across during my dissertation writing (in which case I provide a reference list). It also features my own and other observed identity stories in New York City and my journey between the cultures. Occasionally, I will post some fiction as well.

Liya Yu

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