Can you tell us a little bit about yourself
I’m Birney. My background is Chinese, Australian born and I speak 3 languages- English, French, Mandarin. I am a max level extrovert and I absolutely love people; I’m extremely curious and interested in others’ experiences. Lyon in France is my second home. I feel intensely nostalgic about this beautiful city, as I had some of the most fateful and amazing experiences there.
Paint a picture for us on your experience growing up
I grew up in an area of South Sydney where the community is Australian as Sydney gets. I was the only Chinese person in my whole primary and high school. I loved it. Interestingly, people often ask me if I was bullied at school but that was not the case at all. In year 10 formal, Gangnam Style came on and I was egged on to have a dance-off with a mate, of which I obviously smashed him. That became a tradition in our year. Embracing my ethnicity enabled me to be one of the ‘popular’ kids.
My identity is largely more ‘Australian’ than it is ‘ABC (Australian Born Chinese)’. I had a proper culture shock when I started Uni at UNSW and saw the diversity of people on campus. It was the first time I heard about things like k-pop, the unbridled use of the word bro, and the importance of bubble milk tea. My Chinese identity is also a huge part of me. At home, I’ve always embraced it and I’ve come to more deeply appreciate the values of Chinese culture growing up, even though these cultural differences were salient.
What are your life and career ambitions?
Career-wise I would like to work in health as a practitioner, especially in Paediatrics. I also want to have some sort of project with languages whether that be a Youtube channel or a meetup event. My main goal in life is finding someone to spend it with- love & connection. I want to live an active life full of vivid and diverse experiences.
My interest towards Paediatrics stems from my being a cancer survivor. I feel a deeply personal passion for families that have gone through similar experiences. Incorporating languages into my career is a must. Learning languages has afforded me with absolutely incredible experiences, which have contributed largely to my identity. I understand the journey and I want to share mine with others as well as contributing to those of others. Love & connection is intrinsic to our nature. But for me specifically, having this as my main goal drives me to continuously grow so that I can have the capacity to find someone incredible.
To achieve any of my goals, I’m simply working to improve myself each day, building better habits, better relationships, saying yes to new experiences. Bigger things will develop naturally I reckon.
What does your culture mean to you and why are foreign languages important to you?
My culture is a huge part of my personality and has shaped my values. My experiences with Australian, Chinese, and French culture allow me to connect with a greater diversity of people, which is amazing. Foreign languages are important to me because learning them allows me to connect with more people and to understand cultures more deeply.
Foreign languages has enabled me to achieve deeper connections with those around me. When I was in France, I went to a weekly dinner hosted by an elderly French lady at her small, antique apartment. It was a social event for expats where everyone had to make a dish from their home country to share with everyone at dinner- it was such a nice environment. I brought a tin of delicious vegemite that my host-family surprisingly rejected as a present. Other people made pastas, german stews and cakes, so safe to say I felt quite proud to show off my dish. Through this event I met a French girl with whom I later started living with. It was such a fateful encounter. We were both extremely attracted to each other and we bonded largely through our differing cultural backgrounds as well as my keen interest towards French. We would often rode our bikes through Lyon, exploring the city, its cafes and ateliers.
What has been the most important factor in achieving the success you’ve had?
Consistency. If you put enough reps into something it eventually becomes part of who you are. Then, it will become hard not to succeed or get better at it because it becomes something you’re proud of and not willing to diminish. This is indeed the case for me in my journey with French.
What is one piece of advice you’d share to anyone who wants to become more like you?
Be open to experiences. Be curious and listen.
This article is an entry into Culturestride’s “Cross Borders” Article Series highlighting inspirational young people who are exploring international culture, language and opportunities.