Sunday, September 16, 2018

A Becoming Part of a Chinese Family Story You’ll Never Forget

There nothing special about me.

I grew up happy or as happy as someone in my position could. I struggled through my teenage years as many do and didn’t enjoy going to school until I entered high school. I was following a path my parents and the school system had set for me. I took tests and quizzes; I woke up each morning to get on the bus and did homework when I returned home.

My life was mundane. Graduating high school was something new and exciting but once it was over, the feelings of excitement disappeared. The real world was going to start.

Mindlessly passing my time with working odd jobs in fields I had no interest in was my life. I thought I was going to be a secretary at my dad’s tax office for the rest of my life. Every year at tax season I would smile through three to four months of angry clients and auditors bursting through the doors. Once April 15th came around, many people celebrated, but April 15th only meant that the office had until September 15th for corporates and October 15th for personal returns to be finished. And people usually waited until the last minute to get their extensions taken care of.

Even though working in the accounting field was stressful, I had a family who I trusted and were made up of my co-workers, manager, tax clients, and bookkeeping clients. I had a group of people who cared about my well-being and wanted to see me succeed. These people, my family, was the ones who convinced me to start college.

And after spending a few years in college and now back in college, I’ve found myself with more opportunities than I can count on both of my hands. Because of my current degree in educational consulting and my tutoring business that raises awareness to the number of students in special education who drop out of high school, I was able to fulfill something on my bucket list—traveling abroad.

I created my degree at Fox Valley Technical College. I had to get my degree approved by the board at the Tech and speak to people who work in the field I wish to be in—education. Picking my classes and determining how long I was going to be in college was all fun and games; the hard part was figuring out what classes I was going to take for my two electives.

As it turns out, my two electives are studying abroad opportunities and I’ve finished one elective course this summer from May 21 to June 23, 2018, in Beijing, China. I found a non-profit, CHI, that gave me the opportunity to travel to China, teach English, and experience a new culture without breaking the bank. I lived in Beijing for 33 days.

Meeting my Host Family

Imagine spending over thirteen hours in the air and landing in a foreign country in the dead of night, living off two hours of sleep in 24 hours, and finding out that no one speaks English. This was my reality when I arrived in Beijing.

Zombie-like, I stumbled off the plane and mindlessly followed the other passengers through airport security, customs, and a police officer check where I needed to get finger-printed and fill out paperwork. By the time I reached my hotel for the night, I didn’t remember what I had filled out on the entrance papers with the security guard.

Sleeping for the first time in over 24 hours came quickly and ended as quick. Waking up at 4 am (Beijing Time), I found myself unable to sleep. I knew my chances of sleeping was next to none, so I slowly dragged myself out of bed and started my day. I needed to look awake and alert as that day was the day I met my host family who was going to be housing and feeding me for the next 33 days.

Nervous and sleep deprived, I entered a taxi for the first time in my life. The drive wasn’t as bad as I expected, mainly because how slow everyone was going. Traffic in Beijing is insane!

With some struggle, I finally arrived at my destination and started the journey of getting used to my new surroundings. Entering the elevator to the ninth and top floor, I silently stared at the numbers as they slowly changed, praying for a miracle that I made a good first impression with my new family.

Not two seconds after the elevator opened on the ninth floor was I suddenly hugged and told “I love you” by my host sister, Dora. I almost started crying. I knew, from that moment, I had nothing to worry about. Apparently, after I met my host mom, Vera or Verade, Dora had accepted me as her new “sister” months ago and had been preparing for my arrival since March.

The Family Dynamic

My host family has a very strong bond with each other and they share this bond with everyone who lives with them and with friends. I was immediately part of the family. This meant I was included in everything they did. I helped cook meals, clean the house, go to parties, bring Dora to school, babysit, go grocery shopping, and run errands for my new family.

Being shown around the community and meeting all my host parent’s friends helped me adjust to my new environment and it was nice to speak to people who knew English. My host mom is fluent in English while my host dad can speak enough to get by. I loved my conversation with my host dad the most.

Surprisingly, my host parents aren’t the norm in China. They call themselves “non-traditional” for a reason.
  • My host parents aren’t married. They don’t plan on getting married and they have child together.

  • They have their own opinions and live their life as they see fit. They don’t believe in following what everyone else is doing.

  • Their Buddhists. China is notorious for being a place where religion isn’t tolerated. Christian churches have been destroyed and burned in the past and today. Even though Buddhism is the second largest religion in Beijing and China, only 18% of the population in China are Buddhists, nearly 80% have no religion.

When I Became A Forever Member of the Family

It’s halfway through my stay and I’m asked by my host sister, Dora, to accompany her on Children’s Day instead of her mom. I spent an entire day with Dora, her classmates, and numerous Chinese parents and teachers. I was accepted at home and now I was being accepted in the community and in Dora’s International Elementary School.

Children’s Day was time for Dora and me to become even closer. By the end of the day, Dora was calling me and introducing me as her “second mom”. Vera, my host mom, was impressed and told me I would always be part of the family no matter where I was living.

This was the reason why I left China in tears and continue to occasionally cry after speaking with my host family on WeChat as I finish my last year of college.

My Story

My story isn’t that unique. Though the media sometimes likes to portray Chinese people and China as hateful, this is far from the truth. I was never met with hostility when I was living in China. I wasn’t laughed at when I struggled to pronounce Chinese words (I was encouraged to keep practicing and trying). I was accepted into a family that knew nothing about me and that family stays in contact with me, asking for when I plan on returning so they can get my old room ready.

There are many tales I can tell about my adventure in Beijing. This blog is where I am sharing my story. I encourage you to follow this blog and other blogs on traveling in Asia and about traveling advice, so you can too have an adventure like me. I changed after my trip. I feel stronger and more aware of the things happening around me and the world. I don’t mindlessly believe everything I hear on the TV or online because I know it isn’t all true. I was there in places the media speaks about. I know what it was like.    

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