After living and studying in China for the past three months – it is going by so fast! – I have had to deal with some ups and downs, a few odd experiences, and the typical feelings encountered by a person abroad, that of homeward desires and foreign adventures. Just like normal life, life as a transient expatriate entails ups and downs that I have had to learn to ride like a spiteful wave, and my reactions are reflected sometimes by the descriptions of culture shock. However, I have been to China before for two months, and so I have not undergone any severe culture shock like the chart accompanying this blog suggests. Nevertheless, I will go through each phase and address how I experienced or did not experience its effects.
As with any new adventure, in the beginning of study abroad I, like everyone else, was excited to begin what at the time seemed like life afresh – or at least college life. In our orientation I got to see many of the most famous places in Beijing, namely the Forbidden City 故宫, Tiananmen Square 天安门广场, and the Great Wall 长城, and stayed in a nice hotel while all the activities were preplanned for me. I was carefree and I loved it; the purity of freedom was exhillerating. I was also lucky to get a few crystal clear days to see some sights, like the Olympic Park. Life is good when you need not do anything but relish beauty!
Of course, after about a month of living in an apartment buying my food and taking care of my life and academics again, I dropped down from this proverbial high, but I did not begin to get annoyed with parts of Chinese culture or become homesick. Instead, I got depressed because there was a period of about five days where the Beijing smog got so bad I could barely see some of the buildings outside my room’s window. I felt trapped inside my apartment and soon my will to go out and see parts of the city began to fade. It took some effort and timing to get out of this state, namely by monitoring weather and making sure on every good day each week to go and see the city. I made a point of this, and for about a month every weekend I would visit another famous part of China for the day, such as the Temple of Heaven 天坛, the Summer Palace 颐和园, or the Temple of Confucius 孔子庙. This lifted me of out the smog induced depression because it gave me something to look forward to each week.
I have been lucky to not feel homesick so far. Of course I have missed my family and especially my girlfriend, who is difficult to contact because she is studying abroad in Paris, but I have never felt helpless or even thought about going home early or giving up Chinese. I feel that this is because I have been away from my family for two months before when I lived in Sichuan, China – if you can even call two months ‘living’ in China. But I am happy that I am completely comfortable living abroad. Not only does it benefit me now, but it also means that I am open to living abroad sometime in my future, if I so choose.Right now I am comfortable in a routine of work inspired by a saying from Confucius: “Rotten wood cannot be carved” (真是朽木不可雕也). By rotten wood I think Confucius means someone who is idle and non-diligent, someone who cannot be taught because of the way they live and study; someone who is unlearned only because they are too lazy to work for knowledge. I was inspired by this quote and have been trying hard to purge myself of my ‘rottenness’ and learn as best I can. I used something I love – philosophy – and wove it into a purpose while in China, connecting me to Beijing and Chinese culture while honoring my own interests, and now I have found my place.
I think that as long as I am purpose driven and remind myself every day why I came to Beijing in the first place – to study Chinese! – it is difficult to have homesickness, even if I miss the people I love, because by doing my very best I honor them. In the end I must not forget myself or the purpose I came here for: my friends will not, my family will not, nor will my girlfriend. If I genuinely care for them, I must honor my original purpose. And I honestly would not have it any other way.