Guest Post: Being Proactive When It's Not Common in Your Culture

Submitted by: Yi Min Teo

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When it comes to pursuing your passions, do you choose to be passive and conform because of all the stereotypes and from judgement from other people? Or do you choose to be persistent and proactive?

I grew up in a Chinese household in Singapore which is where my love for food and culture developed. Food always plays a big part in cultural customs, celebrations, relationships, and bonding communities. This is especially true with the Chinese culture and Traditional Chinese Medicine where foods are used to connect, heal and represent people. It is also through food where we share emotions and memories. Thinking about my grandma’s char bee hoon, or stir-fried vermicelli noodles, reminds me of all her other delicious meals, her tiny kitchen, old stories about younger times, and food experiments we’ve done together. Those regular cooking sessions allowed me to better understand her perspectives, beliefs, experiences and why she thinks or eats the way she does. PS: This is a very important perspective to consider during nutrition counseling!

With my passion for cooking and learning about cultures, it was pretty clear that food and nutrition would be the direction I wanted to pursue. With no nutrition degree available in Singapore at that time, I decided to fly halfway across the globe to the United States for college. Many relatives and friends expressed their concerns about the unknown. “Why would you pursue change when it is uncomfortable?” “Are you truly sure that is what you want?” “Just find something local and get a stable job.”

For many Asian communities, ‘success’ meant intelligence, job stability, wealth, titles, and other tangible goals. Acing exams in top schools while juggling extracurricular classes meant you are a ‘model’ student – which can potentially lead to future success and reassures many Asian parents. Being proactive about achieving such defined “success” is great, but it may not compliment your journey into the unknown to pursue your passions. So how can everyone achieve the same level of success given that everyone has different backgrounds, skills and beliefs? Success needs to be personalized.

To me, I knew that I needed to be proactive in searching for what aligns with my beliefs and passion for my career, and not what others define them to be.

So off I went to take my first big step into the unfamiliar lands of the United States.  I had to embrace the mentality shift from being passive and reserved to being proactive and independent. It was extremely challenging at first, but doing so unlocked many doors and allowed for many opportunities, which I thought was never possible. Little things like raising my hand in class and asking questions turned into to volunteering and networking with others. I started my dietetics journey in Green River College up in Washington in 2012, completed Oregon State University’s DPD program in 2015 and graduated with my Master of Science in Nutritional Sciences/Dietetic Internship at California State University, Long Beach in 2017. The combination of my cultural background and [my new skill of] being proactive made me a better learner and a better healthcare provider, especially when it comes to nutrition education among diverse communities.

I recently became a nutrition/ESL educator for Cambodian immigrants with the MAYE center in Long Beach, CA. Through nutrition classes and constant Khmer-English translations, I was able to explore the underlying ties between culture and food and identify the health concerns among the community. I hope to be able to help alleviate the cultural gaps in healthcare access and resources in the near future.

At the end of the day, you need to ask yourself what is your purpose and why you are doing what you are doing. While you’re exploring that, stay true to your roots and don’t forget those valuable cultural values that you grew up with. There is no need to fit into any predefined molds. Embrace and honor YOU while you pursue your goals and advocate what you are passionate in.

Yi Min Teo is currently a Clinical Dietitian located in Los Angeles, CA. She hikes, bikes, and is always on the search for cheap vegetarian eats and boba. Follow her on Instagram to join her food adventures and exploration into Traditional Chinese Medicine, culture, and community health.