Beyond Asian: Stories of the Third Culture
with Sen Zhan
Introduce yourself.
I am a lifelong immigrant and traveler who found solace after discovering the term “Third Culture”. I started my journey on this planet in Daqing, China. As a result of the political unrest following the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacres, my family sought to make a new home in Canada. Since then, my path has led to living in Calgary, Montreal, Wuhan, and Berlin. My own struggle to come to terms with my Third Culture Asian experience
is combined with years of therapy, coaching, and intensive investigation into the Self. Since the time I first realized I was Chinese at the age of 6 upon immigrating to Canada, I've been living and articulating the immigrant experience. In these last 30 years of storytelling and dialogue, I've intersected with the stories of many others who have found themselves displaced or out of place.

I believe that what gives transformative power to storytelling is that when we tell our histories, we find the lost threads that lead us back to ourselves. By retracing our memories, we draw the through lines of meaning that lead from the past to the present and draw us forward to the future.

This podcast is my way to begin re-approaching my past, aided by the bravery and wisdom of my diverse guests, who carry their Third Culture Asian stories with ownership and pride.

"The Third Culture is what emerges at the intersection between your culture of origin, and the other cultures by which you’ve been shaped."

- Sen Zhan

Share an experience that has shaped who you are today.
In 2015, my grandmother took 200 barbituate-based sleeping pills and left us a suicide note. She eventually recovered, but it was the last straw for me. I couldn’t stay in a family where this was the kind of thing that happened but wasn’t talked about. I became estranged from my family for years. During this time, I started Beyond Asian to ask bigger questions that I couldn’t answer by myself. - Why do Asian immigrant families all seem to suffer from such deep trauma? - What is buried in our collective history that nobody talks about? - How can I allow myself to be Asian, when so many of the painful things in my life are associated with that? *

Beyond Asian is a storytelling interview show that frames shared cultural history and collective intersections with the West, and how these are only the starting points for the way diverse Asian people have taken their lives in vastly different directions. The podcast is trauma-informed, and use narrative as a sensemaking tool. We strive to see things in a historically-aware and compassionate way, while being clear to name the problematic aspects of Asian culture and how they may be exacerbated in the West. We offer nuance to alleviate hyperpolarization, to deepen contextual understanding, and to increase our collective capacity for holding cultural paradoxes. *

Each episode begins by exploring the guests’ family history and how they came to be in the West. We talk about formative experiences at the intersection points between Asian and Western culture that produced an understanding that this kind of uniqueness was undesirable. We aim to go far beyond identity politics, and toward enrichment, deepening, and nuance. Our journeys may have started by being Asian, but they are so much more than that. We delve into the fullness of the guest’s entire life, spanning topics like sex-positive education, polyamory, mental health challenges, trauma integration, coming out, life after divorce, repairing family relationships, and more.

Our vision is that people who have struggled to know who they are and where they belong can be a part of the conversation to self-determine the meaning of their lives in a world of complexity.

Our mission is to be a resource for other Third Culture people, especially but not exclusively Asian, to hear themselves represented in an empowering and diverse way, and to offer narratives and tools to help them along their journey to self-acceptance and understanding. The host of the show is me - the person who found my grandmother after she’d taken the pills and who waited and wondered by her side for 10 days in the ICU while she was comatose and intubated, while my parents scrambled to find a way to cover up what had happened to our extended family, and to the Chinese community. This show is not only a creative endeavour - it is the meaning-making project of my life. I will continue making this show with or without a grant, because this is my service to my community - to people like me who need this resource. Beyond Asian offers an invitation to both the opportunity and the responsibility to access our built-in capacity for healing through collective meaning-making. We stand for the repair of things that have been ruptured. We believe that telling our stories together is the beginning of this repair.
Tell us about your podcast audience.
At first glance, this is a podcast for Third Culture Asians. But when I distill it down to its essence, I realized that these are stories about how people make sense of their pasts. The ideal listener is someone who wants to learn from others, and look into their personal and family history to understand how they came to be who they are, and why they do what they do. These are the OG “Where are you from?” stories.

My listener is someone who sees that the links that connect us all together, regardless of which culture we grew up in, have to do with what happened when we were children, how we related to our parents and families, how we were treated by the world from an early age, and how we learned to cope with the challenges of being different. My intended audience is therefore anyone who's ever felt out of place because their internal experience of life was different from what they were told it would be, and the confusion that arises from that difference.
What makes your podcast unique?
I aim to have my show sound like Global Asian Oprah - intimate, vulnerable, emotional stories that don't flinch from tough topics like trauma, depression, and anxiety but which also celebrate the resilience we've developed as international citizens navigating the constant challenges of adapting to different cultural norms and opposing value systems.

The guests on my show are people with an Asian background who have lived around the world, and therefore have diverse cultural inputs, leading to multiple and often conflicting selves. I chose them because I saw the opportunity in first accessing the close friends and connections I have around the world, but more importantly because these are people who have incredible stories I was hungry to explore more thoroughly and present to the world. At the heart of this guest-driven show is my desire to explore my own relationship to my past, and what it means to me to be Asian today. For those of us with trauma in our childhoods, it can feel insurmountable to explore these topics with our families, because despite their closeness to us, the family setting was often the one where we experienced much of the trauma we are still healing from. My desire for this show is that I, my guests, and our audience come out of this project more grounded in the history of the Asian continent, and with more compassion for our parents and family for why they made certain decisions, or behaved in ways that at the time may have been experienced as damaging or alienating, especially in the context of immigrating to lands with value systems that were the polar opposite of Asian systems. Our audience gets to participate in this process, and is invited to ask themselves how the themes of belonging and identity touch their own lives.

Vinnie Potestivo, Editor-in-Chief of
I Have A Podcast®

Vinnie Potestivo,
Editor-in-Chief of I Have A Podcast®

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