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Tag: China

A Brew of Emotions: The Final Stretch (Last Week in Beijing)

A Brew of Emotions: The Final Stretch (Last Week in Beijing)

There is one week left of my study abroad adventure in Beijing, and I am feeling a brew of emotions.

The first, excitement. For the past two weeks, I’ve felt really homesick, more homesick than I have ever felt before during this semester. It’s probably because the power of the holidays is on full blast back in the States. Missing the Thanksgiving celebration with all my friends and family was already hard enough, and seeing all the Christmas-related stuff on people’s social media hasn’t made it any less easier. So the thought of coming back to the U.S. and being bombarded with that holiday cheer is very exciting to me. I’m excited to just exist in my house again. I’m excited to see all of my friends again and catch up. I’m excited to eat Vietnamese food again. I’m excited to continue developing the relationships and the projects that I left behind all those months ago. I’m just excited, and I can hardly wait to jump on that plane back!

A picture of my family’s Christmas tree that my mom sent to me recently. I think this is the first year that I have not helped put up this tree.

The second, procrastination. As you probably already know, this last week is finals week, and instead of studying for my Chinese language finals or working on final presentations/essays, I am writing this blog post.

So that basically sums up that emotion.

The third, sadness. For the past four months, I’ve created countless numbers of memories, and I’ve taken an equal amount, if not more, pictures while I’ve been here. Scrolling through the pictures I’ve taken so far, I cannot help but feel sad to leave China. Here is where I’ve grown spiritually. Here is where I’ve conquered fears time and time again. Here is where I’ve seen a rich and beautiful culture and discovered that this country has dimensions that I’ve never thought even existed. To leave something so profound in my life makes me feel… empty? I don’t think that’s quite the right word, but it’s the best I’ve got. It makes me quite sad to leave behind this life that has challenged me in ways that I didn’t think would challenge me. It makes me even sadder to think about the friends that I’m parting ways with. The friendships that I’ve established here are some of the most enjoyable friendships I’ve ever had in my collegiate career. The people here are so vibrant, and being surrounded by them has allowed for me to grow into a better version of me. I’ll be leaving all of that behind, soon.

The Fall 2018 TBC Family

At our monthly (the last one for the semester) community meeting last week, TBC Student Development Director Ryan briefly talked about the possibility of going through reverse culture shock once we returned home. At the time of the meeting, I didn’t think much of it (mostly because I was distracted with the idea that they were serving us pizza after the meeting), but now that I’ve sat down to write this blog and to reflect upon what this past semester has meant to me, all of the things he talked about on the topic of reverse culture shock seems to be entirely plausible for me. Maybe the pace of life back at home will be so alien to me that it’ll seem… I don’t know, boring in comparison to the life here? Maybe I’ll be so overwhelmed with the go-go-go pace of back home that I’ll shut down? Who honestly knows how reverse culture shock will affect me, if it’ll affect me at all.

That leads to the fourth emotion that I’m marinating in, and it is perhaps the most profound one.

Anxiousness.

I call this emotion the most profound because I never thought that I would feel a little anxious to go home. I mean, I’m homesick. I’ve been longing to snuggle my dog, to goof around with my brother, to chatter with my family at the dinner table, to play hours upon hours of video games on my Nintendo Switch, to laugh with my friends, and yet I feel this tiny nagging sense of dread to return home even before I’ve come home.

The truth is, around the middle of the semester, I had a little bit of a crisis. One of the Chinese roommates for TBC whom I’m pretty good friends with was in the middle of applying for graduate school and studying for the GRE. Talking to him and watching him go through this process made me realize something: I only have three semesters left as a undergraduate student. Suddenly, the entire world seemed to have laid its entire weight on my shoulders. Horrible thoughts and feelings of falling behind on my studies because I’ve studied abroad creeped in, and a sense of paranoia flooded my senses. What if my studying abroad set me so far back that I wouldn’t be able to prepare for applying to graduate school on time? I still hadn’t looked at what graduate programs I wanted to even apply for. I didn’t even know what kind of programs I wanted to apply for. I had a plan for after graduation, but that was only a vague thought, not even a game plan. And here I was, in China.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t regret going abroad, and I won’t ever regret my time here. I just suffered a little from this realization that life seemed to have kept going without me back at home.

Well, this is where all of my friends and family would remind me: slow down, Justine. Remembering that advice allowed for me to jump off of that Paranoia Rocket off to Planet Anxiety and continue to enjoy my time here in Beijing while I still could. I knew that my fears were blown a little out of proportion, and I technically still had plenty of time, I just needed to use it well once I returned. But, to be completely honest with you, I might be strapped in to ride that rocket again now that my study abroad semester is coming to an end. It is the final stretch.

I know now that what I felt in the middle of this semester was like culture shock part two, and it was completely normal for me to have gone through that. As I get ready for finals this week and continue to swim around in this brew of jumbled emotions, I realize that I just need to take a deep breath. I need to remember that while it feels like life zoomed ahead of me back at home, I’ve also zoomed ahead in many other aspects. I’ve gained a new skill in speaking some Chinese. I’ve gained a spiritual understanding of myself.  I’ve gained knowledge on China and Chinese culture, something that I’ll admit I misunderstood before I came. I’ve gained stories that I can share with everyone back at home. There are so many positive things that have come out of this amazing opportunity, and I have to keep them in mind as I come to terms with the experience ending.

Anxiousness doesn’t necessarily have to be negative. I can be anxious about a whole lot of different things in my life, and I figure that worrying about what the future has in store for me doesn’t do much good. It’s better to just sit back and enjoy the rocket ride rather than screaming the entire time.

I guess, what I’m try to say is that I’ll just have to see what’s in store for me when I return. I may not know what reverse culture shock will do to me, but I do know that I’ll treasure the least few days I have with TBC in Beijing and that I’ll return to the States ready to face the scary future more ready than ever.

Thanks for reading my blog this semester.

-Justine

Sleepy, Sleepy Pandas! (Weekend Trip to Chengdu)

Sleepy, Sleepy Pandas! (Weekend Trip to Chengdu)

As a last huzzah before Finals Week, last weekend my friends and I hopped onto a 3 hour plane to Chengdu, the capital of the Sichuan Province of China and also known as the Home of the Giant Panda. We ended up staying there for two days and three nights, and by the end of the short-lived trip, we were very glad that we were able to squeeze it in before the end of the semester. It provided a last push for us to wrap up our study abroad semester in China.

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. We must address probably the most important, and definitely the most cutest, part of the trip. The first day we spent in Chengdu was spent squealing over the cute, sleepy, and amusingly clumsy pandas in the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, which was about an hour shuttle bus ride from our Airbnb. We had met up with an old friend of my friend, who was her exchange student many years ago and generously served as our navigator for the day, as he was a student of a relatively nearby university in Chengdu. 

Our panda-watching group!

The park was filled with lush greenery that was mostly made up of tall bamboo stalks that at times towered over us and beautiful ponds and small lakes, where ducks and geese would literally swim up to you to greet you. It was magnificent to see all of that green. None of the zoos that I had been to before looked anything like the inside of this park, and the pictures don’t do it much justice.

Of course, it had endless amounts of designated panda enclosures, most of which were all outside. The pandas had plenty of room to roam around and to just… be pandas: all the enclosures had some sort of wooden playground structure that they could either nap on or lounge about and some trees that they could climb up and get stuck in should they please. It was just endless amounts of entertainment watching the pandas. For example, we watched one who was quite obviously stuck up high in a tree try his hardest to climb down but ultimately decided to just accept his fate for the time being. We also watched some adorable baby pandas stumble around, trying out their new paws. Whenever any one of us spotted a panda, it was instantly the greatest new thing we had ever seen. It’s a given that I bought a lot, and I mean a lot, of panda goodies at the various souvenir shops around the vast park.

Baby pandas!!!

After we had seen our fill of pandas (we probably spent a close to five hours or so at the park), we took the shuttle bus back to the area around our Airbnb, which happened to be near a huge shopping district filled with shopping malls. For an early dinner, we sat down and had the famous Sichuan spicy hotpot, where we ate a bunch of interesting meats, like stomach lining, duck blood, and liver, much to the insistence of our local friend. We were also served drinkable cold yogurt, in case we needed it to calm the fiery burn of that Sichuan spicy hot broth. Needless to say, we had quite the adventurous dinner that night!

Hotpot is a shared dish where there is a center pot with boiling broth. You are served raw meats and vegetables, and you basically cook the food in the broth. In the middle of this pot is the really spicy Sichuan broth, while the outside was the non-spicy broth. Yum!

To aid in digestion, we wandered into a random shopping mall and waddled around there for awhile with soup bellies. That was when my friend spotted a Vietnamese restaurant, and it was all over. We quickly made the decision to have tomorrow’s lunch there before we had dinner with my friend’s old math professor. It was a pretty easy decision, considering two out of the three of us were craving Vietnamese food and the third friend had been wanting to try Vietnamese food. Once night fell, we parted ways with my friend’s old exchange student, and we headed back to our Airbnb, where we played card games and talked for hours into the night.

The next morning, after sleeping in comfortably, we hurried over to that Vietnamese restaurant for lunch, stopping by to get $2 (you heard me) large brown sugar coffee lattes. I could barely contain my excitement as I flipped through the menu, feelings of nostalgia and homesickness and longing for home flooding my senses all at once. My friends were equally excited to have some Vietnamese food with me, sensing my eagerness, so we quickly ordered our food: two orders of pho (one chicken and the other beef), one order of bun, which is basically a cold noodle salad dish, one order of spring rolls, and one order of eggrolls.

The dish that brought me to tears.

Let me tell you, tears were shed all around that day. My friend, who for the first time ate eggrolls the Vietnamese way (wrapped up in lettuce and mint leaves), was also brought to tears at how good they were. But I cried for a different reason. The food genuinely tasted so similar to my mom’s home cooking, and the longing for home hit me harder than ever before. The sauce, nuoc mam, in particular was almost dead on similar. Just a drop of that garlicky, salty, sweet, and sour sauce by itself was enough to bring tears to my eyes, and it was a testament to how good the food was going to be. The refreshing bun dish perked up my taste buds, which, over the course of the semester, had slowly developed an unbearable craving of the fresh, floral, and bright flavors of Vietnamese cooking. It had taken me a trip to Chengdu to finally find some Vietnamese food in China, and the discovery of this restaurant made me that much more glad to have gone on this trip. Eating here was what gave me some energy to last for the rest of the semester. We were almost done, and I knew that I would be able to have that familiar and comforting Vietnamese food again.

We walked around the shopping mall until it was time to have dinner with my friend’s math teacher. He generously fed us a delicious Filipino dinner, and it was a pleasure to spend time at his wonderful apartment with his family. Before long, though, we had to go back to our Airbnb, pack our stuff, and then pull an all-nighter by playing cards and snacking on foods until it was time for us to leave for the airport. Our flight was at 6am, so we figured that it would be better to just stay up. We were back on campus by 9am, and after an emotionally and physically adventurous weekend, you know I passed out for a good while, dreaming of cute and cuddly pandas.

Thanks for reading! 🙂

-Justine

A TBC Thanksgiving

A TBC Thanksgiving

So this past Thursday was actual Thanksgiving Day, and to be honest with you all, it didn’t really feel like Thanksgiving. In the days leading up to Turkey Day, I was feeling less homesick than I thought, most likely because I wasn’t being bombarded with the fact that Thanksgiving was quickly coming up (I made it a point not to check social media for awhile, knowing full well that seeing Thanksgiving food videos and ads would make the homesickness worse).

The actual day was just like any other normal day here in Beijing, China. I went to class and then back to the dorms to sit in the lounge and do miscellaneous things.

But fear not, I still was able to partake in some Thanksgiving tradition here.

Friday night was designated to be TBC’s annual Thanksgiving potluck in the basement of our dormitory building. I got together with two of my good friends and together we planned to bring a huge serving of guacamole to the potluck. The day before the potluck, my friend and I went to a small supermarket on campus to find something to contain our guac. Unfortunately, the supermarket didn’t have much in terms of kitchen container supplies, so we decided to get a green wash basin to use as our container for the guac (no, I’m not kidding). We then got the ingredients to actually make the guac: the vendor who sold us the produce gave us an amused look when we put a plastic bag filled with 11 avocados, 4 tomatoes, 2 onions, and 2 lemons on his counter. The actual day of the potluck, my friend who was an intern at the U.S. embassy was able to get her hands on three bags of Tostitos (which, I never realized I would miss until I ate one tear-inducing scoops Tostito chip). Once we all were able to get together on Friday evening, we rolled up our sleeves and after about an hour, we churned out 11 avocados worth of guacamole (spoiler alert: all of it was eaten by the end of the night).

11 avocados worth of guacamole in a wash-basin

After we reveled in our success in making amazingly delicious guacamole, we went downstairs and were warmly greeted by the Chinese roommates and TBC Student Development staff. Seeing all of the food already laid out on two long tables filled me with the joy and excitement that I feel on Thanksgiving. There was food ranging from Chinese dishes to traditional Thanksgiving foods like turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing.

My mood was lifted higher and higher as more people in the program came downstairs with their food items. As I enjoyed everyone’s company and ate some wonderful food, I smiled to myself, knowing that even though I was far away from my home in America, the home that I’ve found here in Beijing, among my TBC and Chinese friends, was quite enough for me to feel the Thanksgiving spirit.

I’m so, so thankful for the opportunity to study abroad at TBC, the time that I’ve spend abroad, the people that I’ve met while I’ve been abroad, and the people back at home eagerly waiting for me to return.

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I know I did 🙂

From all of us at TBC, Happy Thanksgiving!

-Justine

Next Stop: 北京

Next Stop: 北京

Pre-Departure Nerves 

In the weeks leading up to my flight to Beijing I was a nervous wreck. I would go from being really excited to terrified at the idea of not knowing what to expect. I was traveling to the other side of the world for half the year with my whole life packed into two suitcases. I’ll be completely honest, the closer the day of my flight drew near the more I didn’t want to leave. The only comfort I had was the 12-hour flight ahead to mentally prepare myself for what the next five months were going to bring by watching one too many movies.

 

As my departure drew closer I had always pictured myself being much happier about leaving the U.S. for five months. The Instagram pictures of students before me traveling around Europe and Asia during their time abroad did not prepare me for the hundreds of emotions I was feeling as I stepped off the plane in Beijing.

 

Arriving in Beijing

Leaving the airport was a bit of a shock to me. I was not prepared for the smog and humidity that greeted me. I followed some of my new classmates and staff from the Beijing Center to the bus (whom might I add were all complete strangers only an hour ago.) Aside from the weather it still had not hit me that I would be living in China for the next five months. It seemed as if I would go back home after a week or two and I would start classes at Loyola for the fall semester. It wasn’t until the bus drove us to the University of International Business and Economics and I walked into my dorm room that things began to sink in.

 

As soon as I put my things down into the small dorm room and met my roommate we were invited to a welcome dinner. Students and staff were sitting at round tables each with a Lazy Susan in the middle. Waiters began filling the turntables with huge dishes of different meats, vegetables, noodles and rice. The food looked delicious, but I was so jet-lagged and I will admit I was craving Giordano’s pizza after the airplane food I had. However, I attempted to pick up my chopsticks and try as much of the food as I could.

The next few days after the welcome dinner I was thrust into orientation activities to prepare us for the upcoming semester and classes. I was completely overwhelmed by all the new information on simple tasks like ordering food to-go and using WeChat to pay for just about everything. On top of that I was meeting new people from schools around not only the U.S., but the world. It was a little bit like being a freshman again, it was nice to get a fresh start.

 

To finish off orientation week, The Beijing Center arranged a field trip to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. It was my first time off campus and exploring the city. Although it was raining that day, the popular tourist destination was buzzing with crowds of people from all over the world.

 

Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden City

Tiananmen Square was huge, yet our group stood out the most. Many locals came up to us and asked to take photos with us because a lot of them had never seen Americans before. It was fun feeling like a celebrity for a minute.

 

The Forbidden City was breathtaking. The detailed architecture and intricate, colorful designs were overwhelming. It was nothing like I had ever seen before. Each building housed something like clocks or religious symbols. The view from the grounds was just as stunning with mountains covered in lush, green foliage and pagodas dotted the perimeter.

As I began getting used to life in Beijing we were off again on another journey, this time along the Silk Road for two weeks. I had no idea what I was about to get myself into.

 

Stay tuned for two-weeks full of eating, shopping, camel riding and lots of hiking.

 

再见!

 

Living With a Chinese Roommate

Living With a Chinese Roommate

As we approach our three month mark of living in Beijing, there are many things I’m grateful for that TBC has provided to make the experience of studying in another country comfortable.

What I’m most thankful for is the opportunity to live with a Chinese roommate, a student chosen by TBC to be our support and guide throughout our semester here. My roommate, April, has been and is the greatest help I have in China and is an amazing friend who supports me in every aspect of my life here. From telling me I’m going to do great before a test and hearing me talk endlessly about my worries, to showing me where the best restaurants and salons are.

By giving us the opportunity to live with a Chinese student attending Universtiy of International Business and Economics, we are more immersed in the culture and have an easier time adapting to living in another country. Due to the age connection, the Chinese roommates are able to understand us better and guide us through college life in Beijing. And they didn’t just take care of us by taking us to dinner and supermarkets the first week of classes either. They are still supporting us every day in the smallest things like helping us figure out how to other take-out food and bigger things like taking us to visit different neighborhoods, like the Lama Temple, around Beijing.

 

I know my study abroad experience wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t live with April. Additionally, TBC has done a great job of pairing us up with roommates that have similar habits as us, giving us very comfortable and friendly living situations. One of my favorite parts of the day is before going to bed, when April and I both turn off the lights at the same time and take out our Kindles to read, putting them down later at the same time.

 

 

My adventure in China: Flying in Zhangjiajie

My adventure in China: Flying in Zhangjiajie

 

 

I have to give thanks to my parents and my uncles for making me love nature and be an adventurer at heart. And I also have to give thanks to my friends Kate and Reed for organizing the trip to the best park I’ve visited in a long time.

The Monday of the Chinese national holiday, the Autumn Festival, we embarked on a twenty-four-hour train to the Hunan province, on the south of China. Fortunately,  we bought the train tickets with enough time to get beds during the ride and we were able to sleep for most of it until we arrived at Zhangjiajie, the city in Hunan where we stayed. Have already taken four overnight trains during our excursion along the Silk Road, we consider ourselves train experts. And we were very well prepared, with ramen, peanut butter and Nutella sandwiches and a lot of movies, among them Avatar, shot in the park we were going to visit.

After the train trip, we made it to the hostel craving to eat real food and take a shower. The hostel was we stayed was full of international students and close to a lot of local restaurants and bars. We dined like kings. Our friend Lenny, born and raised in the Hunan province, showed us the best traditional food of the area. That night, we also explored the city and bought traditional Chinese mooncakes.

The next day we visited Tianzi mountain, a popular attraction in the Wunlingyuan park. Without noticing and with a lot of strength, we climbed the mountain, our legs begging us to rest and the fog surrounding us. It took us around two hours, but getting to the top of the mountain was worth it. It felt like we were in a movie; the fog embracing us and not letting us see beyond our arms, but we loved the feeling of having made it and touching the highest rocks in the park. My friends almost cried with happiness while eating McDonald’s at the top of the mountain, but I was shocked seeing how far junk food has gotten, to the top of a mountain of one of the most beautiful parks in the world! We didn’t have the energy to walk down the mountain, so we got on a cable car and flew between the mountains, expecting to see the creatures from Avatar fly alongside us. Although I’m terrified of hights, I was able to survive the ride on the cable car. And it was so worth it.

Our hostel was in a city about an hour away from the park, so we took a bus back, where we all fell asleep. When we got back to the city of Zhangjiajie, where we were staying, we discovered a small restaurant next to our hostel and we ate there every single day, enjoying the best fried rice we’ve ever had.

The next day we walked in nature some more, but this time downhill. We took another cable car to the top of a different mountain and saw more fog, beautiful mountains and took a lot of pictures. We walked up a very high peak (I was very scared), we screamed to hear the echo rumble and did more exercise that we had done in weeks. And telling each other stories we hadn’t heard already we started walking downhill, this time our knees suffering. The way down was hard but rewarded by another delicious dinner and a night exploring the nightlife of the city.

Time flew by. And by the third day, I thought we had seen everything. We rode the fastest glass elevator in the world all the way to the top of yet another different mountain. It was a little disappointing because we couldn’t see much due to the amount of people in the elevator. But when we reached the top we had the best view of the whole three days and amazing noodles and roasted walnuts made by locals. We met another group of American students, one of us jumped in a lake after losing a bet, we saw rivers, and monkeys in their natural habitat, we had honey on a stick when we reached the valley of the mountain and we made memories that will be with us forever.

Another memory that is going to last us a lifetime is the one of the ride back to Beijing on a train that lasted almost thirty hours. We didn’t have beds this time, and I slept around two hours, with my head on a small table where three of my friends were also laying their heads. Being the way I am, I finished two books; and being the way we are, we watched three to four movies. And we ate more Nutella and peanut butter sandwiches. It was a very long ride. We spent the last four hours with people really close to us standing in the aisles. It was definitely an interesting experience. But it wasn’t horrible because we were a good group of people; we all got along very well and were organized well. I couldn’t have chosen a better group of people to travel with.

I know this wasn’t my last trip outside of Beijing, but it will certainly be one of the best. And the most beautiful.

Beginnings in Beijing

Beginnings in Beijing

I’ve been in China for almost a month. And I’ve never been happier. I keep saying it to everyone I know, but I cannot help it. I feel like I’m flying, moving through my days with an aura of joy surrounding me, leading me into another hour of exploring the beauty this country has.

When I first arrived in Beijing, on August 13th, I expected to feel uncomfortable, out of place, shocked by the difference between the Chinese culture and the Western cultures I’ve grown up in. Instead, I felt curiosity, admiration, joy and welcomed into a community that in less than a month has become my home. I’ll admit I felt a little lost walking around the University of International Business and Economics, but I didn’t mind. Because I got to see a small lake in the middle of campus, cute hole-in-the-wall restaurants, little shops next to tea stands, and people walking around like myself, unafraid of not being in the right place.

I had about a week to explore UIBE and its surroundings, getting lost more times, visiting the Olympic Park and Tiananmen Square, eating more dumplings and noodles than I thought I was capable of, and struggling to find milk for my morning cereal, deciding to settle for delicious milk tea instead.

After a wonderful week in Beijing, visiting nearby bars and parks, we started our adventure on the Silk Road. Never in my life have I felt as fulfilled as on that adventure along the whole country of China, which took me to busy markets in the cities, small restaurants in the South of China, a stargazing night in the desert, a camel ride to watch the sunset, beautiful mosques and temples, and to learn about different cultures within one of the most interesting countries in the world. I spent two weeks sleeping in 14-hour trains, after having brushed my teeth with bottled water just to be safe; living out of the same four t-shirts and pair of pants; eating so many different dishes I couldn’t name them all; writing about my long days, all full of color and joy; and getting to know the people I will be spending more than three months with.

Now, back in Beijing, all that I lived and saw on the Silk Road feels like a dream, like it happened to someone else. I’m looking at the pictures and my throat is closing because I am so lucky that I had the chance to travel so much and that I still have endless sunrises and sunsets left in Beijing.

Before the Adventure Starts

Before the Adventure Starts

As I prepare to go abroad to Beijing next semester, I feel a wide array of emotions: excitement, hope, happiness, gratitude, and nervousness. I made the choice to study in The Beijing Center my first semester studying at Loyola University Chicago. The departure day looked very far away that first semester, and now it is two months away. There was a chance, due to my financial situation, studying two majors, or getting cold feet sometimes, that I wouldn’t study in China. So, now it seems a little unbelievable that I have my plane ticket and my classes already scheduled.

It has been a long journey until this summer, the summer before one of the best experiences I know I will have in my young adult life. This last semester as a sophomore has especially been a long one, in which I learned I was granted the opportunity to study at Loyola’s center in Beijing and given all the information about my semester abroad. At first, it overwhelmed me and honestly, scared me a little bit at the same time that it excited me. I learned about expensive plane tickets, visa applications, light suitcases, intensive Mandarin classes, transportation in Beijing, food in Beijing, and on-campus life.

I had to take a moment and breathe deeply to realize all I needed was to take it step by step and know that it will all be worth it. All the stress of traveling to another country will pay off because I am going to be exposed to a completely different culture that I am fascinated with. I have always loved Chinese traditions and literature. My hair stands on an end when I think about reading Li Bao’s poems in the Summer Palace. My mouth waters when I think about all the different dishes I have the chance to taste around Beijing and any other Chinese city or town I visit. My mind flies when I think about all the small weekend excursions around Beijing and the long weekend trips to Chinese cities.

Not only will I be living in China’s capital for four months, but I will be traveling the Silk Road for two weeks before the academic term starts. The thought of visiting different villages and landscapes in China is slowly turning the nervousness in my gut into happiness. I am extremely grateful that The Beijing Center allows me to have such an adventure guiding us through one of the vastest and beautiful countries in the world. On my birthday, August 25th, I will be somewhere along the Silk Road, learning about a small town tradition or taking a walk through a unique Chinese natural park.

Then, as I celebrate my two decades, I will be starting another chapter: my first chapter as a completely independent woman. My semester abroad will be the first time that I will be in a different country from my parents. I am both excited and nervous, since I know what it is like to move to a completely new environment but I have never done it alone. As any other millennial young adult, I am passionate, driven and desiring to be independent. But now that the moment of truth is approaching, it’s more challenging than it looks. Fortunately, I will be in an environment where I will meet people that are also learning how to be self-reliant, and have plenty of resources to help me adapt to living in China and be independent. I know this experience will benefit me academically, professionally and, especially, personally.

Is it Even Possible to “Settle In” In a Place Like China?

Is it Even Possible to “Settle In” In a Place Like China?

If you could go ANYWHERE in the world for five months, where would you go? For good or bad, I never asked myself this question. Instead, I simply let my surroundings decide for me. Confused? Yeah, me too.

I moved to Chicago a little over two years ago when I enrolled in Loyola University Chicago. Since the first time I set foot on Loyola’s campus, I fell in love with everything around me. Fast forward to one month ago, and I felt a very different feeling as I set foot on Loyola’s partner campus–The Beijing Center (TBC) locate at the University of International Business and Economics (UIBE)–here in China. I wish I could say that I came to China because I love Chinese culture so I wanted to experience it firsthand or that I am intrigued by the recent economic boom in China and I want to learn more about its successes but, in actuality, I knew little to nothing about China before my arrival. In all honestly, my home institution–Loyola University Chicago–played a huge role in encouraging me to explore the once isolated country of China.

On August 8th, 2016, I landed in Beijing with a 50lb backpack digging into my shoulders and a huge suitcase in hand. I waited for two hours in line to go through customs and then had my luggage screened not once, not twice, but THREE times before I was allowed to exit the airport. As I walked outside, a young Chinese man was holding a sign that read, “TBC.” I couldn’t help but smile. Finally, I stopped holding my breath. Someone was here to guide me!!

As we sat in traffic on our way to campus, my eyes stayed glued to the window. I was amazed by the new world in which I had just landed. My mind was racing a million miles a minute. What does that street sign mean? What kind of food is that?! Why are so many people squatting? Is traffic usually this bad? What is the taxi driver saying to the Chinese man who came to pick me up? Am I going to have to pay for this taxi? Oh shoot…does he take credit card?!

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The Chinese man kindly paid for the taxi as we were dropped off in front of UIBE. The Chinese man helped me with my luggage and escorted me to my dorm. Seeing that it was 6:35am, I was one of the first students to arrive. Instead of collapsing on my bed like I would have liked to have done, I immediately began to unpack. I couldn’t believe it. I was finally here.

Today, September 22nd, I sit on my bed as I write this blog post. I look around my room and see the lamp I bought from IKEA, the dishes I dirtied from cooking breakfast this morning, and the books I checked-out from the library scattered across my desk. My planner lay next to me and glance at it, seeing the events I plan to attend over the next few days. If you can be “settled in” in a place like China, I would say I’m almost there. I do not fee

l do not feel familiar and I do not feel comfortable but I definitely feel growth and that is why–even if I didn’t know it before I came–I am here!

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Summertime at the Summer Palace

Summertime at the Summer Palace

Miami. Chicago. Beijing. I am definitely a girl that enjoys the city life. The hustle and bustle always motivates me to get out and join the pleasantly pushy people party, as I now like to call it. Whenever I am feeling down in a city it is nice to be able to look around and realize how much is going on. It makes it easier to not sulk and worry about the small things. My love for cities will always be strong, but a calming break every once in a while has its advantages. I enjoy jet skiing in Miami, barbecuing on the beach of Lake Michigan, and now relaxing on dragon-shaped boats at the Summer Palace.

Secluded and Serene, the Summer Palace is the ideal escape from the ever so active and populated Beijing. It truly amazes me how it sort of hides in plain sight. It is a little piece of paradise in the middle of the chaos. For lack of a better term, I will admit I was feeling a little “body of water” sick and this haven was definitely what the doctor ordered.

Once I was inside the grounds of the Summer Palace, I immediately thought to myself that the Qing emperors really knew how to enjoy themselves. The place gives off the feeling of actually overflowing with palaces, pavilions, temples, and beautiful landscapes. These gorgeously constructed attributes are perfectly placed around a peaceful lake. Exploring the buildings can be challenging at first, due to the uneven steps and rocks, but it definitely made me feel more adventurous. And of course it made the boat ride on the lake an even bigger reward. The ride across the lake allowed for some really great photos.

I could definitely not complete this post without acknowledging one of the impressive parts of my experience, encountering and admiring a certain group of Chinese women…the heel-wearers. Climbing up and down the steep stairs presented itself as a challenge to me in my Toms. I kept thinking to myself, “Why didn’t you just wear your sneakers? Come on Allison.” But then those once obvious thoughts became a little less obvious and more confused when I started noticing the sheer number of Chinese women in heels exploring the uneven palace. I lost count. There were the occasional ones who were dressed up for some sort of modeling shoot, but that was the minority. Chinese women really do commit to the idea that pain is gain in fashion. Props to them!