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Expat finds 'sense of belonging' overseas

Updated: 2013-06-05 23:33
By Sun Xiaochen ( China Daily)

Many Chinese have settled down in Mexico since 1972, when the two countries established diplomatic relations, but few have represented Sino-Mexican ties better than diving coach Ma Jin in the past 10 years.

Since landing in Mexico in 2003 as part of China's coaching assistant program, Ma has invested all her heart and soul into nursing the local diving talents and has reaped a crop of elite athletes, including world champion Paola Espinosa, as the national head coach.

Expat finds 'sense of belonging' overseas

Ma Jin, head coach of the Mexican national diving team, waves to a welcoming crowd at Mexico City International Airport in August 2008 after the Beijing Olympic Games. POOL CONTRERAS / XINHUA

Still, the Beijing-native says what motivated her was the strong sense of belonging.

"The recognition, respect and support from the public for my job here are the best rewards for me, which have inspired me to stay longer in this country," Ma told China Daily before President Xi Jinping's state visit to Mexico.

Expat finds 'sense of belonging' overseas

As an outstanding representative of the Chinese community in Mexico, Ma will be invited by the Chinese embassy to meet Xi during his visit.

"It's a great honor to be selected as a face for China by the authority to meet the president," Ma said.

Sports achievements aside, Ma's commitment to blend in with the culture by learning the language and customs has helped her build a strong emotional tie with the local people. Mexico treated her like a hero after the 43-year-old steered Espinosa to win the 10m-platform gold medal over Chinese diver Chen Ruolin at the 2009 Rome World Championships.

Arguably the most famous Chinese person in Mexico, Ma was often spotted by fans in the streets and was constantly feted by the Mexican president.

In November, Ma even received the Order of the Aztec Eagles, the highest decoration awarded to foreigners in Mexico, as a reward for her efforts to boost Mexican diving's world power status while inspiring the younger generation.

"It is my honor, and I'm proud to receive this. This means something big for me because what I have done for 10 years is paying off," she said.

However, making a foreign country your new home is never an easy dive.

When Ma boarded the plane to Mexico 10 years ago, she had no clue what to expect, but she was determined to make a new start after divorcing her husband.

"I just wanted to change my environment a little bit or at least learn a foreign language," Ma recalled the decision that kept her away from her son for six years.

For Ma, earning her students' trust turned out to be more challenging than the language.

"They didn't accept my approach because our way of thinking was totally different," Ma said. "Some of the local trainers even saw my arrival as a threat more than a help."

During her first year with Espinosa, Ma's tough training regime on technique and precision met strong resistance from Espinosa, the then 16-year-old who shrugged off the importance of discipline.

"As Mexicans, we do a lot from the heart," Espinosa told the Los Angeles Times in September. "She had another culture, different customs."

Ma tried to build chemistry with encouragement more than requirement. She even allowed Espinosa to develop a romance with teammate Rommel Pacheco, a possible taboo for a Chinese diving team.

"She is an emotional girl while I am a mild woman. I treat her just like my daughter and parents should be tolerant to their children," Ma said.

Under Ma's guidance, Espinosa improved her routine consistency to claim two Olympic medals (a silver and a bronze in 10m synchronized in 2008 and 2012 respectively), and has become the darling of media and sponsors.

Dubbed the "diving queen", Espinosa attributes her success to Ma.

"She brings immense experience not only in diving but also teaching us a lot of things," said the 26-year-old. She is interested in our well-being not only in the sport but also from a personal perspective — that we have a good life and discipline. She is definitely my role model."

Having settled in Mexico, where she has less medal pressure from officials compared with China, Ma said she won't consider returning to China until the end of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Ma married a Mexican before bringing her son from Beijing to join her in 2009, and she occasionally flies back to visit family during holidays.

"The pressure in China is much higher than in other countries. ... I enjoy life right now."

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