Breaking cultural stereotypes while making friends in exotic places. My recent trip to Beijing has opened my eyes as an American and as I now focus on finishing my degree in Educational Consulting, I hope to share my experiences and knowledge with others so they too can make a difference in the lives of others and their community.
Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Day Five: Eyes Wide Open
Fox Valley Technical College
When I started planning for my trip to China in October 2017, I was in a difficult situation. I had recently moved out of my parent’s home and I was slowly getting used to living with four other people with varying personalities. I had nothing to worry about, though, as I stay in contact with three of my old roommates. One of my roommates even took the leap of faith by traveling to China with me. I’m forever grateful for her willingness to try something new and out of her comfort zone with me.
In October 2017, I was scavenging the internet, reading about expats who are living in foreign countries. Some of the expats were college students and others were adventurers filling their time with experiencing new food and cultures. As I longingly read on about each new expat, I found myself opening another tab showing me some opportunities to go overseas.
My initial search came up with nothing, or, at least, nothing that interested me. My biggest issue was that I didn’t just want to go to any country; I wanted to travel to an Asian country. My list of things that had to be included in my potential trip was extensive and nearly impossible to find in a simple Google search.
My struggle continued for about two weeks in October as the final heat from the summer dissipated into the harsh chill of fall and the incoming winter. Mere days before Halloween the temperature dropped drastically, fueling my need to bundle up and stay indoors. Even without the constant rain and wind that soon followed, I found myself cocooned into a corner, browsing through newsfeeds and wishing that summer would come back.
Mall in Fengtai District
And this is when I found CHI, Cultural Homestay International. I originally thought that if I went to another country, I would go alone and be staying in a hotel, hoping for the best. CHI made it possible for me to travel virtually anywhere, especially all the places I wished to visit in Asia except Thailand. CHI has World Traveler programs in China, Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam. I originally was focused on South Korea. Through the careful process of elimination, I picked China because of the opportunities in the country for potential jobs.
Then, in November 2017, I successfully started planning my trip to go to China. I hadn’t even signed up through CHI at this point, but I was bound and determined to make sure this trip was a success. And I was getting close to convincing a new friend and one of my roommates to come with me. I felt better knowing that I wasn’t going to be alone. Sharing an adventure with someone made the prospect of leaving my home for an extended time more manageable. And it worked. My roommate and I signed up with the World Traveler Program through CHI on January 15, 2018. Now, my adventure was beginning.
Just like when I was preparing for my trip to China, I was preparing myself for all the new things I would experience each day while being in China. I started following a routine to help myself get used to the time change (13 hours ahead for Central Time). The routine was working, and I became more aware of my surroundings and started sleeping better.
Sleeping in late was a blessing on my fifth day in Beijing. The week was quickly making me exhausted with all the walking and heat. I could handle the heat, but the humidity and dew points were a scorcher. The dew points easily climbing past the comfort zone by the earliest parts of the morning and I knew I would be drinking more water than I have ever done before and walked in temperatures I never witness while living in northeast Wisconsin.
Waking up to Dora watching me quickly became a norm. She always waited for me to play with her in the morning. Dora is very similar to American children as she loved to color, make messes, and watch TV. As Dora and I went through our daily morning routine I decided to teach her how to play one of my favorite card games, Uno. Uno was immediately Dora favorite game and she asked me to play the game with her every chance she got.
This day’s English lesson was learning how to play Uno. Dora learned about colors, numbers, and some phrases. We yelled out “Uno!”, “I’m almost done,” Take two,” and “Pick up four” repeatedly. Before I knew it, Dora and I had played Uno over ten times at the house and another ten times while in the car heading for the Great Wall.
My host parents brought me to an entrance at the Great Wall that was less known and had a lift to carry us to the top. It’s hard to accurately describe the beauty of the Great Wall or to explain how large and amazing it was. Climbing the uneven and steep stairs of the Great Wall was quite a challenge when wearing a dress and flip-flop, but I managed as Dora dragged me higher and higher. Finally reaching the first pit stop, I was able to see the Great Wall curving through the mountains and valley below. The distance was clouded with a thin layer of smog but did little to take away the beauty.
The Great Wall of China
As I sat with my host parents, looking out in the distance, I learned that Beijing has seven rings. I lived within the fourth ring and we were in the sixth ring. The further out of the city I got, the more barren the surroundings became. I stopped seeing the skyscrapers after the fifth ring (Fifth Ring Road or Wǔ Huán Lù) and saw greener valleys, hills, and mountains.
After spending most of the afternoon discovering new areas of the Great Wall, my host family and I started to descend to the ground on go-carts. Dora rode with her dad and Vera, my host mom, went behind me so I wasn’t pushed to go faster by other people. The slide was the best part of the Great Wall.
Reaching the ground was a blessing for me. My legs felt a bit like Jell-O after being so high up. There were several times I got concerned as I climb the wall. Once, after looking behind me and down, I couldn’t see the steps I had just climbed because of how steep the stairs were. My fear of heights kicked in and I found myself silently hoping that I don’t fall when going back.
I left the Great Wall with a smile on my face as I hugged and said goodbye to all the stray cats and dogs. I waved goodbye to four college students from Michigan State University and thanked them for walking part of the Wall with me.
I was pleasantly surprised when my host parents brought me to a 7-Eleven to buy “trash food.” I took this opportunity to buy as much chocolate as humanly possible. The looks I got from other customers and my host family said it all. What can I say, I love my chocolate!
Now, how should I end this blog post? Besides eating another large chocolate Hersey’s bar and suggesting you do the same, I’ll leave you with a simple piece of advice, “Make the most out every opportunity. You never know who you will meet and how the experience will change you.”
Did I miss anything that you wished to know about? If so, leave a question or comment.