My First Cross-Cultural Encounter in U.S. – Fall 1947

Billy Lee Sept. 2014

Fall 1947, I enrolled as a Freshman at Phillips Academy Andover,located at Andover Massachusetts just north of Boston. Since I was academically delayed one year, the school assigned me to a Lower-middlers’ ( sophomore ) dorm where the students would be mostly of the same age as I and were supposed to  be a bit more mature than the new-arriving Freshmen.

Green House, mastered by a History Teacher – Harold Howe III -with his wife and an one-year old baby – had six students from various parts of United States – plus myself from China, and another Indian-looking fella from South America. Many of them already knew each other after their Freshman year together. To them, I was the “New guy” and  that “Mysterious Specie” from the Orient “.

At first, my dorm mates did not know how to relate to me. They treated me courteously but with a somewhat mischievous curiosity. They were having great fun with each other and played joyously a game called “Got cha !” which to me seemed rather silly , cruel, and hurtful.  The game consists of two boys surprising a third. One of the two will move towards a third student and initiate a conversation. The second one will sneak behind the unsuspected and push an arm through between his legs. The first one will readily grab that hand and lift up together while cheering “Got cha !”.  The victim usually screams in pain but then laughs with the mischievors and the bystanders, as that was the accepted culture.

I was afraid that they may play that game on me, but luckily it never happened. One morning, however, when I was entering the common bathroom on the second floor, I did notice that the majority of my dorm mates were already gathered in the hallway –ready to leave together for  breakfast at the Commons. One of them was very nice and asked me, “Billy Lee, are you coming with us?” I replied, “Yes, can you wait just a minute. I need to comb my hair?” I had left my small bottle of Vitalis hair-tonic in that medicine cabinet where others also kept their toilet articles. When I opened up the bottle cap that morning, however, the normal nice perfume aroma had mysteriously changed to something a bit strange. I found the color remained the same. Just before I was going to pour it over my hair, I noticed that my dorm mates all of a sudden all gathered just outside the door and chuckling. They were all anticipating this special moment to witness this comedy.

I sensed that  someone or a few of them together had planned a trick on me, but I didn’t know exactly what to do.  Spontaneously, however,  I shook the bottle of tonic – or whatever it was in it – and tried to spray it on the them – yelling simultaneously, “ Try this perfume from China !  Few of them actually got sprayed, and I became scared – wondering what they may now retaliate to me. To my surprise, they were not angry with me at all.  They thought that I was a ‘Good Sport’. They laughed and I laughed. Somehow, this incident broke the ICE, and I felt they had subsequently embraced me totally as one of the WE s.