Book by Andrew Garrod and Robert Kilkenny
Review by Neil McFarlane.
Director, TRiO SSS/AAP/ WaTEP
Central Washington University

Balancing Two Worlds is a book about finding oneself while navigating the American multicultural landscape. Fourteen students write about their quest to be themselves in the midst of a dominant culture that often forgets that one cap does not necessarily fit all. On the surface the book details the lives of 14 multiracial Asian American individuals trying to balance living in two worlds—that represented by their parents and their particular Asian culture and the American culture into which most of them were either born or have adopted following their emigration to the US.  Underlying each of the accounts is the struggle to identify with the culture around them while maintaining a sense of self and personhood.  In most cases the struggle to be accepted for who they are is often masked by their attempts to find acceptance by the majority culture and that promulgated by their parents.

Academic advisors will find a wealth of background information, ideas, self-reflection, personal tragedy, hatred and love in the pages of this book. The students, although products of an Ivy league school, are nevertheless human beings with issues of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, cultural bias, cultural dissonance, language, and expectations both self-imposed and imposed. The academic advisor is afforded more than a glimpse into the soul of the characters who reflect a mixture of different cultures. In one sense this book is a first person account of a segment of the American population that has been marginalized for what they represent and how they behave.  Their stories, in many respects, are a sad indictment on the American understanding of cultural differences. They speak to one of the roles of the academic advisor which is to draw out cultural bias and facilitate the understanding and appreciation of differences wherever they exist.  

This book should be assigned reading for all students especially those of the majority culture.  Too often, separation is made between “them” and “us”.  This book would work well as a text for campuses that promote the ONE BOOK ONE CAMPUS reading idea. It could serve as a catalyst for discussion in residence hall groups, Univ 101 classes, and also among faculty and staff.  Advisors who teach University 101 classes will find this book great fodder for their students, many of whom are fresh out of high school and have yet to confront, and hopefully appreciate, the diversity to be found in the college arena.  What better venue to share and promote fresh ideas while entertaining questions about ethnicity and race. Advisors can be catalysts for change with fresh young minds that are more likely to view differences with unbiased eyes while being open to change both in behavior and thinking.

If there is a drawback with this book it is the fact that one could overlook a very fundamental problem that continues to plague the higher education arena: the problem of race, particularly as evidenced among Hispanics, Blacks, and persons of the darker races. Color does matter in American society which sometimes accepts cultural differences but not necessarily embrace persons of color. Academic advisors will have to be more creative in infusing timely discussions of the latter without over compensating for the differences which clearly exist within a growing multicultural landscape.  

How one deals with differences and how one embraces differences will continue to be an ongoing challenge for academia, no matter what the color of the skin.  This book is a start down a long road to appreciating those human beings who speak out re their ongoing saga in balancing two worlds.

Balancing two worlds: Asian American college students tell their life stories. (2007). Book by Andrew Garrod and Robert Kilkenny (Eds.). Review by Neil McFarlane. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. 288pp. $19.95. ISBN # 978-0-8014-7384-5
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