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Back in the States

It’s only been a couple days since I’ve gotten back and it’s been weird. But, I can say for sure that the jet lag has been terrible. Another thing to note is that I already miss the food even though I really thought I wouldn’t. I had chipotle for lunch today and it made me miss authentic Chinese food so much because I realized it wouldn’t be something I could easily access around Evanston.

There’s so much of study abroad I already miss. I missed going to my classes and looking forward to new adventures every weekend. The only regret from this summer is not having gone to Summer Palace—the weekend of that trip happened to be the same weekend I went to Inner Mongolia.

All in all, this was one of the best experiences of my life. While I understand I can go ahead and travel in the future, it will never be like this where I have such few responsibilities. While I still had classes, I loved that they worked hand in hand with the country I was in. All of the learning I did felt very experimental and while I did spend a good amount of time in classrooms, I was able to get first hand experience of how certain policies were put into place or got first hand experience of how things actually happened.

Being home

After being back in the country for a month, I feel somewhat lost. There was so much to do in Beijing, every day felt like an adventure. But now, being home, I find myself missing all the little things I took for advantage. I wish I was back in my dorm, hanging with my frisbee friends, going to the mall with my roommate, eating dim sum, and playing mahjong. However, I will try to take advantage of my time left before school starts to relax.

The end of the program commenced with the Summer League championships, which unfortunately the team I played with lost. Then my roommate and I traveled down to the Guangdong province to travel around Guangzhou and visit our respective families. We are both from Guangdong, so it was convenient to travel with her. In Guangzhou, we stayed in an AirBnb right across from the famous Canton TV Tower. Then I followed her to her family’s hometown of Guanghai, which is situated right across from Macau. We ate a lot of seafood. Finally, I ended my journey in China by visiting my aunt who lives in Taishan city. She brought me a lot of fruits native to regions close to China, like durian and papaya, so the fruits were extremely sweet and fresh. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity.  

Here’s a picture of the best meal I had in China, eaten in Taishan, Guangdong:

Nearing the End

Shanghai was an amazing time. We saw a lot of differences between the two major cities in China. In Beijing, the traffic is a lot worse. Shanghai truly feels like an international city. On every street corner we heard a different variety of dialects (like Cantonese) and languages (French, German, and English!). I liked the food a lot more in Shanghai, especially the soup dumplings. It’s true what they say about the differences between Northern and Southern cities in China. Southern food is definitely more sweet, and it plays a lot more to my tastebuds.

Being back in Beijing, classes have started again. We switched Chinese teachers and started learning about the Chinese economy in our afternoon class. After Chinese class, a lot of my classmates and I go to the neighboring canteen to eat lunch before our afternoon class. The dining hall is a lot better than any American dining hall I’ve had. The food is all Chinese, but it tastes very nutritious and tasteful. I think it’ll be hard to go back to Northwestern’s dining. I’m still having trouble doing my laundry though since there are no dryers in China. After washing your clothes in the washing machines, you have to air dry all your clothes. So doing large loads of laundry is pretty difficult. Luckily it’s super hot out now.

Socially, I’ve been hanging out with all my new frisbee friends that I’ve met through practices. We practice at Beijing’s Transportation and Communications University. We don’t have a designated field space, so it’s basically first come first serve when people start arriving to do their nightly sports. We share the space with soccer teams, regular citizens taking a nightly stroll, people working out, and other random activities. One of my favorites is seeing a group of older women together in a dance-troupe situation who do synchronize actions throughout the track field. Posted below is a picture of my teammates from frisbee!

Getting Acclimated

It’s been a month in Beijing already. We have finished taking our finals for the first part of Chinese. I think it went smoothly! There was an oral and written section. Through this final, I’ve bonded with a lot of my classmates. We were pretty nervous. Incidentally, for the Political Science class, a group of friends and I studied well into the night for the three essays we have to write. However, I’m feeling quite confident about all the intricacies involved in the different levels of Chinese government.

For a full month, I’ve been involving myself in the Beijing Ultimate community. I went to a pick-up game the first week and got many connections to other Ultimate happenings in the city. Now I’m involved in the weekly Summer League that plays near the 798 Arts District. Also, I have gotten close with so many of the players here since the community is so small. Many of the frisbee players here are expats, but they speak fluent Chinese because they’ve been here so long. Quite a lot are locals though who were introduced to frisbee mainly through their colleges. I’m so happy about the sport expanding outside of the U.S.!

I’ve had so much Peking duck. A very famous restaurant in Beijing is called QuanJuDe, it was one of the first restaurants to sell this famous dish. Pictured below is a couple of chefs preparing the duck right in front of us!

This weekend, my roommate and I are going to Shanghai for our mini-vacation! We are living in an AirBnb that we booked prior to leaving for Beijing. We knew we wanted to go to Shanghai before departure because we were told we would have an opportunity to go on a weekend trip. I hope to go to the Bund, a famous attraction in Shanghai.

First Days

Beijing is not as hot as I expected! The smog is exactly what people have made it out to be though. This first weekend, we went to the Great Wall at Simatai, one of the steepest sections of the wall. It was such a trek, but my friends and I are extremely proud of each other for making it all the way up. The cable car down was another matter, for I have a pretty big fear of heights.

Down in the village where Simatai is located, we had a delicious lunch with the entire program. There was a roasted pork dish, 红烧牛肉, that literally melted in our mouths.

The classes are exciting, I especially enjoy the afternoon course regarding China’s political system. Although I do wish they weren’t three hours long, but the breaks in between the class is nice. I like how the classes are relatively small, and broken into levels that are within the students’ comprehension levels. In Chinese, I appreciate that we only speak in Chinese, which forces me to rearrange my brain so I get accustomed to speaking just in Chinese.

The dorms that we are living in at Peking University are super nice. Though not at all indicative of what actual Chinese college students live in, these dorms are very well suited for students studying abroad. I’ve heard that the Chinese college students live in rooms with up to five other roommates. Luckily I have a single with its own AC unit and only need to share a bathroom with my roommate.

Goodbye 美国

Thinking about leaving America for two months straight is a little nerve-wracking. Even though I’ve been out of the country before, this will be for the longest period of time. Being the avid packer that I am, I’ve already started gathering my items. I bought packing cubes for this specific trip because I know there’ll be a lot of souvenirs to bring home. My parents have been pretty relaxed about the entire losing-me-for-two-months concept since I’ve been abroad a summer before already. This time I’ll be traveling alone though, and the idea of sitting on a plane for 13 hours is not exciting. At least I have the window seat so I can sleep.

I’ve completed all my Canvas modules for pre-orientation but I don’t think they give a precise account of what it’ll be like to be in a foreign country. Although a good precautionary measure to know how to handle difficult situations while abroad, I think things will always be different once one is affronted a surprise.

I’m trying to hang out with as many friends as possible before I leave, knowing that they’ll be back in their semester schools once I get back. I still haven’t decided how I’ll spend my entire free month once I get back home. Starting the school year so late in 2018 is a big plus because I’ll have the month of August to recuperate, but I know I’ll be extremely lonely.

Here’s my friend and I hammocking on the lakefill a week before I leave:

In the End

At the end of the program, I did not go back home straight away. Instead, I traveled to the southern part of China. With a friend as well as with some of my relatives, I stayed in Guangzhou, and lastly a small town even more south than that. Having the ability to travel to and experience more of China other than my assigned study abroad destination helped foster my experience. The news we hear and the books we read about China are very centered around the idea of “unity”,  yet by first experiencing the north, then shortly visiting the South, I was able to tell off the bat that there were drastic differences within the country, just like in most countries. During my visit in a different country completely on my own, not only had I become more independent, I also learned that taking initiative and making the first move is the most effective way to achieve something and to learn something. In addition, I also became more aware of the rest of the world outside of the “American bubble” I experience on a daily basis.

Coming back home to Chicago, my uncle mentioned to me something I agree with completely. He said that he was extremely glad that I decided to study abroad, arguing that staying long-term and experiencing another area first-hand is the only way that we will learn to feel empathy for others, and realizing the privilege in our lives. I am extremely happy to have had the opportunity to travel while studying, and I feel very appreciative for the people I’ve met along my journey.

 

            

Beijing Reflection

It has been a few weeks since I left Beijing and it is a little strange. I was jetlagged for a week after coming home! I miss all of the great people I met on the trip and I am really excited to see them again when we get back to Northwestern in a couple of weeks. It has even been hard adjusting to not having to go to class everyday.

I miss little things, like the Jianbin I would eat for breakfast. I also miss big things, like all the adventures I would go on with the new friends I met on the trip. This study abroad experience will be something I talk about and reminisce about for years to come. I learned so much about public health and Traditional Chinese Medicine, but I also learned a great deal about a country I thought I had known quite a bit about. It has been really fun to recount stories about different foods I ate or places I went to to my family and friends in America. I enjoyed tell them stories about the gifts I brought them back. Doing this let me relive my trip when I recounted how I got the gifts, like the little ceramic pot I got my parents in a hutong in Beijing, or the pearl earrings I got in Qingdao for a friend. I hope one day I can return to Beijing and maybe visit other cities in China. It was a trip of a lifetime and I definitely encourage other people to go on a study abroad trip.

Going Up One More Floor

Guess where.

Above 90 degree temperatures with sweltering humidity. Overwhelming swarms of people. Buzzing mosquitoes. Delicious food. Pandas.

Yup, that’s my tropical island mansion.

Well, I wish at least.

I actually only left China a few days ago, where I am now currently relaxing with my aunt and uncle in San Diego. And to be honest, it feels weird being back to the States. Most likely because I’ve had one of the most exhilarating summers ever, nearly exhausting the allotted days on my student visa. I had to get used to not having to stammer out Chinese to beady-eyed officials or eating from “round table” style dining.

Also, how would you have guessed this was China? Easy. I just thought of things that easily come to mind about the country. But something less noticed about Chinese culture is the Tang poems. For example, take this one authored by Wang Zhi Huan, followed by a rough translation:

白日依山尽, 黄河入海流。
欲穷千里目, 更上一层楼。

The sun sets behind the mountains,
The Yellow River rushes into the sea.
If you want to enjoy even more scenery,
You have to go up one more floor.

Sorry Shakespeare, but it doesn’t appear to be difficult at all. That’s the beauty of the Tang poem.

And why would I want to pick this one?

Simple. The poem talks about going up higher floors to see more. And I love views from above.

 

Forbidden City in Beijing

West Lake in Hangzhou

Huangpu River in Shanghai

 

Uplifting? Majestic? Breathtaking? Don’t you even feel slightly more mature and aware?

None of these were easy to acquire, whether it was through hiking up precarious stairs or waiting in sweaty lines for light-speed elevators. But as I am writing this blog now, I feel the same way.

Three months in China felt like a climb, a climb to some unknown platform. Now that I’ve returned to the USA, I feel like I’m looking back down on three months as if it were another grand view to behold. And it truly takes your breath away.

Snickering at that day it rained cats and dogs in Beijing, so everyone walked into Chinese drenched, but we still had class anyway.

Grimacing at that day a 7-year old boy beat me in ping pong quite ruthlessly, as I walked away sheepishly in defeat.

Sighing at that evening I was performing the impossible multitask of enjoying Peking Opera while trying to keep my droopy-eyed friend awake.

Tearing up at the closing ceremony when singing songs with the Wanxiang ambassadors, unforgettable friends I knew I would meet again. Sometime. Somewhere.

Yeah, that’s the advantage of being at the top of a view. You get to see bits and pieces of it all. And most importantly, you get to see how those bits and pieces all fit together to form a complete scene.

When I reflect on that for this summer in China, it’s an amazing feeling. I got to study in one of the oldest nations in the world, regaining some Mandarin skills, learning about politics, geography, and culture, trying new things, meeting new people, all while being surrounded by a spunky group of friends. I am eternally grateful for everyone that could make this possible – advisers, professors, student ambassadors, tour guides, language partners.

I am now of the belief that you have friends all around the world. You just haven’t met them yet.

So for now, until next time!

-Xunchuan

 

 

Its Almost Over…

The last couple of weeks in the program, it was a big rush and passed by extremely quickly. Everyone was rushing to do all the things they haven’t done yet in Beijing, and go to the places they haven’t been yet. I myself also did not escape this trend. At the beginning of the program, eight weeks seemed like a very long time, and no one was in a rush to do anything. We just wanted to take things one step at a time. However, it ended up being a burden in the end since a lot of time has passed and there were still so many places that were still unvisited.

In addition to preparing for finals and the wrap up for the end of the classes, I was also going around Beijing almost every day after class. It was a lot; having my day start at around 8am and end around 8pm, I felt very exhausted, but I was also able to visit places our weekend excursions was not able to take us. A couple of friends and I went to Beihai Park, visited the zoos, went on shopping trips some last times, and ate at small  non air-conditioned restaurants. Although it was a burden at points, it was quite a thrill.

If I were to have eight weeks to visit Beijing again, I would have definitely have spaced out my trips a lot more and not take for granted the amount of time I thought I had extra of.