China was a beautiful inspiration in so many different ways and it was an experience that I wish to have over and over until I no longer can. I’ve had a thirst for discovery and knowledge and other cultures for as long as I could remember but I’d never had a chance to actually act on any of this and experience them. China gave me that chance and I am eternally grateful for it.
I’ve written about wanting to travel a few times here and I talk about it more often that that. When I did research on colleges, I looked into their English/Journalism programs to determine whether they’d be a good fit for me and I also looked into whether or not the schools had study abroad programs. I knew studying abroad would be extremely important to me during my college years so I’m glad I ended up an institution that has an abundance of study abroad programs. When I first started applying, I was just curious as to whether or not I’d actually get one and once I did the world started to open up for me. I applied for a semester-long program in Italy for the spring of 2017. I had no intentions of going but did so anyway out curiosity. When I got accepted into the program I was excited and riding that high, I applied for the Maymester program in China. I received notification that I was accepted a couple of months later and decided that I would actually do this one. Those first few moments were so exciting because it felt like I was finally on the path to doing the thing I’d always wanted to do.
Fast forward 7 months later and I’m back home and I’m still reflecting on the utter magic that was the experience.
When we arrived at the airport in Beijing, it was relatively empty in comparison to the one in Detroit and our home, Atlanta. We were all full of anticipation as we took the long walk out of the airport. The drive from the airport to our hotel was interesting because it didn’t look much different from a city in the States. The apartment buildings did look different but still buildings nonetheless, therefore we kept laughing at how similar everything seemed.
It wasn’t until the next day, after riding the subway for a couple of stops did we realize that we were in fact, not at home. We got our first dose of the many traditional shops that lined the streets. Selling a variety of touristy souvenirs, ornate jewelery, art and tons of different things. It was utter beauty and I felt like a local walking down the streets in Beijing. Even if I didn’t look like one.
Before we left, our advisor Kevin told us that people who weren’t Asian are rare in China, therefore, we would be stared at, and photographed. And we were, constantly. It didn’t bother me unless I was particularly tired or cranky about something else. In Xi’an, the ancient city with the Terracotta Warriors, after biking the City Wall, which is over 8 miles long, we were exhausted. There was no shade to be found and there was no wifi, which meant we couldn’t locate or contact the other members of our group. Me and three other girls stood around hugging the wall in an effort to be shrouded in some sort of shade. This older lady and her husband walked up to us and literally pulled us to pose in a photo with them, we obliged but I know we looked miserable because not one of us smiled.
Xi’an was my absolute favorite and when I go back ( because of course I am) it will be my first stop. Every chance I got, I would go out with some of the other girls just to explore the city. We got lost at one point and stood clueless at a ridiculously busy intersection with our paper map out trying to trace our pathway with our fingers. This guy walked up to us and asked if were lost and proceeded to show us how to get back to our hotel. He asked us questions about college and about America and we asked him about the best nightclubs to visit. It was so sweet and funny because we aren’t used to people being nice to strangers. The city was a mixture of Muslim and Chinese culture because in ancient times it was the starting point of the Silk Road, which meant people from all over were in the region. The diversity was apparent in the food and the architecture. Ahhh, Xi’an I miss you.
Shanghai was our last stop and while it wasn’t my favorite, it was still amazing. I know that whenever I visit a place I will be, by definition, a tourist. But being in Shanghai made me absolutely detest the word. There are 24 million people in Shanghai anyway, not including the millions of people who visit every year. Oh my god, there were people everywhere. We stood in lines for everything and it was exhausting because this hadn’t happened in any other city. Not even Beijing which is literally the capital city. Aside from the ridiculous crowds everywhere, when I got a chance to actually see things I could tell the city was special and unique just like the other two. We got to visit a couple of less populated, exciting places which made it worth while. Oh but I hate being a tourist.
Throughout the trip, I’d often stop and stare at things that moved me, in an effort to remain in the moment and commit it to memory. A busy street bustling with vendors, the mountains as I sat on The Great Wall, the reflection of the bustling city’s lights on the water as I stood expressing my excitement over the architecture, the nervous smiles from the locals as the gazed at my face seeing someone like me for the first time. It was all so vivifying. My ‘mental picture’ moments were among some of my most vivid memories.
It was so easy and I felt so comfortable being completely myself there, considering we were in a country that is almost completely homogenous. I found comfort with the other 9 girls because were all going through it together. None of us had ever been to China so we were out of our element experience the people and the culture together. Appreciating the differences and giggling amongst ourselves when we observed something particularly peculiar. In America, it isn’t uncommon to discover a person who has no tolerance for different types of cultures or people so it was beautiful to see 10 foreigners experience and enjoy being immersed in this one without prejudice or preconceived notions to ruin it for anyone.
If anything, this trip inspired me to travel more, to experience more. To learn and grow and understand more. I grew to love the little quirks that only existed in Beijing, Xi’an or Shanghai. Tasting a dish and being able to compare the spices to a story or experience and understand why something was spicy instead of sweet. I’ve come away with knowledge that is probably useless to anyone but me, but that’s okay.
So in order to get into the country, we had to purchase 10-year visas, so China, I’ll be back.