Do you ever have those moments in life where you can’t help but smile for no reason because everything seems perfect? As I was listening to my Ipod on the drive to the Great Wall this past weekend I had one of those moments. Driving away from all the hustle and bustle of Beijing made me realize how much I am going to miss this city when I leave in a week. By no means is life perfect but it’s what we take away from our experiences that make us happy and grow as a person. And I feel that study abroad has taught me more than I ever imagined, inside the classroom and outside.
When I first arrived in Beijing I was in a “honeymoon phase” with China and nothing could go wrong. Everything seemed new and exciting and the apparent cultural differences did not matter at the time. Life in a foreign country was going to be a breeze I told myself. Now, I am less than a week away from leaving my new home and have the same attitude towards China that I did in the beginning. But don’t let me fool you because the past two months were filled with a whirlwind of changes, frustration, and language barriers.
There were times in class or at a local restaurant where life did not seem so perfect and communicating was a challenge. But like many things in life you must have patience. From learning a new language to working in an office remember to always ask questions if you do not understand. At first I was overwhelmed with homework and studying but after a while I had a routine and friends to support me. I guess you could call us a family because we supported each other through the good times and the stressful times. Yes, school was stressful because the intensity of class work in China is structured very differently than in America. Every day I would have class from 8am-11:20am, attend a tutoring session, and end my night studying 4 hours or more. Although this is a language intensive program I had no idea the extent of its title, but overall this has been an opportunity of a lifetime.
My language proficiency has greatly increased as a whole and I can even carry a conversation with some of the local people (one of my study abroad goals). Another frustration was giving directions to taxi drivers but it is not so difficult anymore and at the end of the ride we are both laughing. This is a great example when learning a language because you have to learn to laugh at yourself and if you get it wrong the first time don’t give up. Reword the phrase, use a dictionary, or ask someone. It’s what we say at IES, “If you can’t learn to laugh at yourself, you will never improve.” You can’t be afraid to speak the language or crash and burn. Motivate yourself to wander the city by yourself so you are forced to speak and learn from your mistakes. I noticed that my language proficiency developed faster with daily activities such as ordering food, giving directions, and speaking the language. Utilize the material and vocabulary you learned in class that day by applying it to everyday life. People say one of the hardest aspects of learning a language is maintaining it but with a little self-motivation it is possible. I have every intention to continue learning Mandarin once I return to the states and will take advantage of the endless resources my campus has to offer. But as the program comes to a close I have mixed emotions.
China has become my new home and I can’t help but wonder how I will adjust to life in the states. I admit I am excited to jump on a plane and jet set back to America but part of me will miss this lifestyle. One day I will return to China whether it is on my personal time or future job. But for now I have memories to reminisce about such as the bus ride to the Great Wall where life seemed completely perfect.