Another Program, Another Location, Another “Last Midnight”

Hello everyone!

The day has finally arrived (sorta… it’s not quite midnight yet)- it’s time for me to head off on my grand adventure to New Taipei City. So much has happened in the past month: I’ve learned, grown, discovered so many things, and altogether had a nice break from the monotony of school (not that I wouldn’t trade it all in a heartbeat to be back in Beijing). That being said, I’m ready to jump headfirst back into language learning and the wonderful (awful) parts of the study abroad experience.

I’m feeling so many emotions, like I always seem to do in these late-night hours before I leave home again. I’m bursting with excitement about seeing my NSLI-Y Beijing family again. It’s been a good month in Utah with my friends and family here- but I’m ready to get back to Chinglish memes and shenanigans and running around Asia with my friends. I’m a little nervous. Just because I’m going back to Taiwan doesn’t mean I’m guaranteed to stay there for the full month of this supplemental program. If there’s anything that South Korea’s situation over the past few days has taught me, it’s that situations abroad can change in an instant. I’m trying to remain optimistic in the face of uncertainty, while also being hyperaware of the tender emotional wounds from the last time I flew across the ocean. More than anything, I’m eager to see what March will bring. What opportunities will I find? What people will I meet? How much Chinese can I possibly learn in a month??? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

My heart also goes out to the NSLI-Y Korean Academic Year students, who found out earlier today that their program was being cut short because of the coronavirus outbreak in South Korea. To my Korean AY friends: I love you all so much. I know that no words can fully capture what it feels like to be ripped from your home earlier than expected. It’s okay to mourn the death of your time abroad- that’s part of the healing process. And good things do come from all of the pain and anguish, I promise! It won’t be easy, and it won’t be quick, but when it’s all said and done, you will emerge from this experience a wonderful, excellent, amazing new person.

Anyway, I need to head off to (try to) sleep before I catch my flight to San Francisco tomorrow morning.

See you all on the flipside!

New Location, New Opportunities, New Taipei

Hello everyone!

It’s been two and a half (ish) weeks since I got back to Utah, and I’ve spent the last little while reflecting on my time in China, self-quarantining (I’m 100% coronavirus free and always have been), and waiting anxiously for any news about my future in Asia. And I’m happy to report…

I’ll be heading to Taiwan on February 28th (fast, I know)!

The NSLI-Y Program staff at American Councils have worked literal magic and speed-made arrangements for the NSLI-Y Beijing and Chengdu cohorts (who were both evacuated because of the virus) to spend the entire month of March in New Taipei, Taiwan studying Chinese at Tamkang University. It’s going to be a wild wild ride, both due to how short the program is (about as long as my Shanghai experience) and how quickly everything is happening to get us out to Taipei.

While I’m still sad that I’ll never get to finish my time in Beijing, I’m SO excited to have the chance to go back to Taiwan. There’s so many wonderful things about life there, and I’m excited to reconnect with a culture and a country that I haven’t visited in a very long time. To make everything better, I get to experience a new place in Taiwan alongside both my Beijing family and my Chengdu cohort friends. Family Mart noodles and Milk Shop boba runs, here we come!

That’s basically the only update I have for now. I’m going to try to post at least weekly when I’m in Taiwan, but I’m not making any promises because trying to maintain a blog while studying abroad is hardhardhard and a little crazy. Thank you guys for keeping up with me as I continue along this wild, exciting journey.

Here’s to four more weeks of adventure!

It’s Quiet Uptown

Hello everyone. It hasn’t been that long, I know. Things have changed. I’ve changed. It’s remarkable how fast a person’s world can turn on its head and leave them disoriented, without any idea where to go or what to do or how to process.

I’m back in Utah. On January 28th they told our cohort we’d be heading back to the USA. Quoting official government statements, the State Department told us they were be “pausing the NSLI-Y program indefinitely until conditions allow for a safe return to China.”

Being home is so hard. I know that I should be ecstatic to see my family and friends again. Five months is a long time to be away from home, right? The problem is, I’m not ecstatic. I can’t even say that I’m happy. I love my family and friends back in Utah, don’t get me wrong. But when you plant yourself so firmly in a place that grows close to your heart, having your roots ripped up hurts so indescribably much.

I’ve spent the past five days torn between grief, mourning, exhaustion, and loneliness. I spent my last two days in China clinging tightly to my friends, wishing more than anything that we didn’t have to go apart. I’m with my family now. I’m readjusting to life in the United States. I’m feeling so much culture shock, while attempting to sort out the pain in my heart and the confusion in my mind. It’s been so incredibly difficult, in ways that words can’t convey.

In the musical Hamilton, there’s a song called “It’s Quiet Uptown”. This song talks about trying to move forward in the face of something unimaginable. I’ve spent the last few days listening to this song, reflecting on what I’m feeling and trying to come to terms with the suddenness of my departure from China. I’m in the phase right now of “learn[ing] to live with the unimaginable”. I’m battling culture shock while trying to make plans, while also being unable to make definite plans due to the uncertainty of whether or not I will be returning to Asia to complete my time on the NSLI-Y program.

First and foremost, I want to apologize to everyone whose well-meaning texts and comments I will likely be ignoring over the next little while. I love you all so much, and I will try my best to get back to you. But talking about China in the past tense hurts. So much. I’m still trying to find a way to heal, to return to a place of “normal” while trying to stop aggravating fresh emotional wounds. Please know that I’m not ignoring you, I’m simply taking a little bit of time to sort things out before I share more with the outside world.

To Beijing, I want to thank you for being the wonderful home I never knew I needed. Within your city limits I’ve experienced some of the best and worst days of my life. I’ve grown so much, become a different person. I’m so grateful to be able to call you my second home.

To my NSLI-Y friends, you already know how I feel. I love you all so tremendously much. As we move forward down this uncertain road, I’m just grateful to continue to have you all by my side. Thank you for putting up with my shenanigans, for staying with me when the world felt like it was going to end. Here’s to high hopes for the weeks to come.

I’ll try to stay in touch over the next couple weeks. As plans become more clarified with regards to my program status (i.e. whether or not I’ll be returning to Asia as part of the NSLI-Y scholarship), I’ll try to keep everyone updated. I don’t know what will happen. Please be understanding. This is going to be a really hard next couple weeks, and I need some personal time to figure things out.

I love you all.

贝姿谊

Week ???: The LONGEST-AWAITED Update (feat. Christmas, Coronavirus, and SO much more)

Hello blogoverse! Hello from my host family’s hometown of Panjin, China.

Yep, that’s right, I’m with my host family! My new host family. So much has happened since I last updated. I’m going to give the most condensed of condensed versions, with as much explanation as I can while keeping things brief.

Since I last posted in October, I’ve…

  • had the two worst possible days on program. Neither of them necessarily self-inflicted. I learned so much about myself and others and the ability of people to come together and be strong. Also the importance of family and friends to help me get through the struggles of life.
  • gotten into the swing of language classes, completed first semester (!!!!!), passed the HSK 5 (!!!!!!!!!!!!!), and altogether improved my Chinese a lot. I went from feeling really really scared/worried about my ability to write and memorize characters to having writing be one of my best subjects (and the subject of much love and complaints).
  • changed host families. This almost deserves its own post. The short story is that my old host mom needed to have surgery in early December, which meant that she needed to be in the hospital for a while, which meant that she couldn’t host me anymore. 😦 So I had a couple weeks without a host family, until my RD was able to find me a new host family. And now I’m with my new host family!! They’re so cute, really funny, and they care so much about keeping their daughter (my host sister) and me safe.
  • passed the HSK! Double mention, I know, but it was seriously SO stressful and I’m so grateful to have passed. The next challenge: HSK 6.  *cue ominous music*
  • celebrated Halloween, Thanksgiving, MY 19TH BIRTHDAY, Christmas, New Year’s, and now Chinese New Year. Halloween was fun, I helped with a haunted house as part of student council, and had a blast scaring Chinese kids for 2 hours on a Thursday night. Thanksgiving was A-MA-ZING! Our NSLI-Y group ended up going out on Friday night and getting Thanksgiving at a brewery (no alcohol though, of course!), and then IT SNOWED AND IT WAS THE MOST MAGICAL NIGHT OF MY LIFE! My birthday was fun, but also a LOT, because we took the HSK on my birthday. Luckily, I had the most wonderful friends who took care of me, and proved once again that friends are the absolute best thing about life here in Beijing. Christmas was unexpected. Originally, it looked like we were going to get the afternoon off to get dinner and have fun. But then Beijing 80’s bureaucracy reared its head, and we ended up not getting the day off at all. That is, except for a group of us who got permission to go to Christmas mass in the morning (which was an awesome, hilarious, unexpected, exciting experience). We ended up celebrating that night at Annie’s, an Italian restaurant in Beijing. We gave out Secret Santa gifts (shout out to Anna for giving me my new favorite sweater) and stuffed our faces with absolutely divine Italian food. Then we spent wayyyy too long taking photos outside the restaurant, tried (and failed) to call a cab, and ended up running more than a mile home in order to make curfew. You know, just #BeijingThings. Western New Year’s was a blast. Not because I did anything when it hit midnight (my host fam went to sleep at 10:00 PM, so I woke them up when I got home around 11), but because I spent that entire day with my friends. We did the most epic talent show of all time (shout out to Genrietta and Aristide for KILLING it with their skit), toasted with Sprite, went to a “Friends” (like the TV show) -themed cafe for lunch, then watched Joel perform with Beijing 80’s folk music ensemble. All things considered, it was a pretty great way to ring in the new year. Then… Chinese! New! Year! Celebrations. 春晚 (which was amazing). I got a 红包 (Chinese red money packet) from my host family, which was amazing. I ate so many dumplings and felt sick for an entire evening, but it was worth it. all in all SUCH an amazing time.
  • grown closer to my cohort than I could’ve ever imagined possible. Here in China, where everything changes and plans fly out the window and Coronavirus outbreaks happen without warning, having a group of people who understand what you’re going through makes everything better. Everyone is remarkable in their own way. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to check if I’m really here in China, interacting with some of the most intelligent, driven, hilarious, hardworking people imaginable. To my cohort: I love you guys so much. Thank you all for all the love, joy, adventures, weird late night texts, WeChat stickers, quote book moments, and everything else. :)))))))

All in all, it’s been a pretty wild couple months. I’ve learned so much and had so many unforgettable experiences. I finally feel like I’m settling into life here in China, which bodes very well for my future escapades at DKU.

But just when I thought everything couldn’t get any crazier…

CORONAVIRUS

Oh… Coronavirus.

In the past ten days, coronavirus has transformed my schedule, plans, life, and outlook about the rest of this program more than any other happening since October 31, 2019.

Ten days ago, about this time of day, I was boarding a bullet train at Beijing South Station, preparing to ride up to Panjin. I had absolutely no idea the way that my experiences here in Panjin were going to change the outlook of my winter break, and the potential ramifications it might have on the future of my NSLI-Y experience.

Ten days ago, I was getting ready to spend 10ish days with my host sister, host ayi, and host mom, visiting different restaurants in Panjin and trying lots of local specialty food. My host mom was planning on waiting a couple more days before coming up to Panjin, on account of needing to finish a couple things at work before heading out on vacation.

Then, on Sunday, January 19th, everything seemed to implode.

Suddenly, Wuhan was under quarantine.

Suddenly, my host mom wasn’t coming to Panjin.

Suddenly, I wasn’t allowed to leave the house, for fear of catching the virus.

Suddenly, Beijing 80 was putting an indefinite delay on classes.

Suddenly, NSLI-Y was talking about cancelling the Xi’an trip.

Suddenly, having to come back home early seemed like a possibility.

I’ve spent the last nine days inside, ruminating, reflecting on what this program and the people on it mean to me.

Why am I here? What am I hoping to accomplish before I head back to the U.S.? Have I gotten anywhere close to where I wanted to be when I boarded that plane on August 26, 2019?

I’m afraid. Not because I think I’m going to catch coronavirus. But because I’m coming to terms with the reality of how fragile my life here in Beijing really is. I don’t want to leave. I have so much left I want to do. I check my phone every morning, scared that I’m going to get an email telling me that, for the sake of my own safety, I need to return back to the United States.

I believe that things will turn out okay. I’m hopeful that everything will calm down, that people will stop getting sick, that the tourist sites will reopen, that me and my friends can return to our “boring” lives at Beijing No. 80 and focus on “Love China” and tingxies and complaining about teachers over bowls of cafeteria 面. It’s going to be a rough couple weeks, no doubt about it. But I’m ready for the challenge.

I don’t know when I’ll be posting again. Soon, hopefully? I want to update you guys on what’s happening. I’m safe, don’t worry. Keep China in your thoughts and prayers, please.

Until next time,

小贝

 

Weeks 7-9: It Takes a Village

Hello everyone, long time no post! Sorry about that by the way… let’s just say that things have been absolutely wildly busy here in Beijing, especially the last week. But I’m hoping to stay consistent, and am writing this to get back into the full swing of posting. Also sorry if this post sounds a little… ramble-y? We hiked the Great Wall today (more on that in a bit), which was fun but also exhausting. But I’m at a cafe right now writing this, which is providing me with both wifi and an environment that will encourage me to get this post out there!

Over the last couple weeks, I’ve mostly fallen into the same routine on a day-to-day basis: Waking up to my dorm mom shouting at us at 6:30 AM, getting ready for school and eating breakfast, attending class all day, using my free time to the best of my abilities, studying more at night, and then heading off to bed. It’s a wild (and often hectic) schedule, but it’s been wonderful nonetheless. Which brings me to the title of this post…

It takes a village. Not only to raise a child (as the adage typically suggests), but to do really anything. We were not put on this earth to be solitary creatures! And having the support of friends and family both here in Beijing and around the world has truly made this experience the crazy, wonderful, exciting thing that it is. Here are some of the highlights of the last little while here in Beijing:

  • Friends! I know it seems like I’m constantly talking about this, but it’s so true. If it weren’t for my amazing friends here on program, there’s no way I’d be able to make it through the crazy difficult parts of studying here in Beijing. It’s such a rewarding experience, but it’s definitely not without its challenges. Luckily, I have a remarkable group of talented, motivated, entertaining, and understanding human beings that I get to spend 24 hours a day, 5 days a week with!
  • Family!!! Shout out to my wonderful family far away across the ocean. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder. And when things get wild here, it’s nice to remember that there’s always people in my corner across the ocean.
  • Food! There’s so! much! good! food! here in Beijing. And it’s not all Chinese either. Last Friday night I had some of the best ravioli I’ve ever eaten, at an Italian restaurant here in Beijing. The cafeteria food is honestly pretty good (there’s enough choices that it doesn’t get too old), and less than a 15 minute walk from campus, there’s a plethora of choices, from American staples like Burger King to (absolutely a m a z i n g) Chinese specialties like hot pot and dumplings. And Beijing’s a super international city, so there’s always something to eat.
  • Music! I’m in two different music clubs here at Beijing Number 80, and they fill my life with constant music. These two music clubs each represent a very different style (one is choir, which is your classic choral lineup; the other one is the “Music Club”, which consists of a bunch of different student music groups. The one I’m in is doing rock music, which is very different from a lot of my experience in the US). Because I perpetually surround myself with music here in China, my life really does feel like a movie sometimes 😂. Luckily, it’s a comedy movie- not a tragedy!
  • Exploring! This city is huuuuuuuge, I could spend the whole next 5 years here and still never see all that Beijing has to offer. But the things I have had an opportunity to see have been wonderful. Today we went to the 慕田峪 (MuTianYu) section of the Great Wall, which marked my 3rd time visiting the Great Wall of China. While it’s not technically in Beijing, this section of the Great Wall was truly amazing! It’s very scenic, especially this time of years with the changing leaves. And because I was with my friends, I could mess around and have a lot of fun with them. It more than made up for the 4,000+ step climb up to the Great Wall (which was not leg friendly 😂). There are so many places to visit here in Beijing, and each one is its own adventure.

Outside of school and social life here in Beijing, I’ve really been coming to understand Chinese culture on a more personal level. I feel like I already know so many of the more blatant cultural differences between life in China and the US, and so my life here doesn’t feel nearly as sharply different from when I’m back in America. I notice myself adapting more and more to subtle things about the culture now, oftentimes without me ever intentionally choosing to change my behavior. Sometimes the cultural differences still slap me in the face, but little by little I feel myself coming to better understand Chinese culture. Understanding this place will inevitably be the journey of a lifetime, but I’m ready for the ride.

That’s all I have for now! Catch you all later. 🙂

Week 6: A *Golden* Week in Beijing

Hello everyone! Another week has passed here in Beijing (also I knoooow this post is late… sorry!!! I don’t really have an excuse other than being busy out of my mind and sick with a cold the last couple days, but I’ll try to keep posting weekly), which is wild. I know I keep saying this, but the weeks really are passing faster and faster as time goes on. Before I know it I’ll be on a plane back to the USA. But until that fateful day, I’m enjoying my time here in China, and working hard to make my time abroad the best it can be.

This week was an unusual week. Coming off the heels of last week’s 7 days of class, it was nice to get a break from the routine and pressures of school. I spent the week alternating between seeing places around Beijing and spending time with host family (and host family friends), which was very very fun! Some highlights from the week were:

  • Seeing the Summer Palace! I visited the Summer Palace with my host sister and her friend on Monday (which was amazing and full of different kinds of nature). We rode a boat on beautiful Kunming Lake, wandered around the Summer Palace’s many paths, and (accidentally) went on a hike up a hill. Apple maps (mis)directed us up a mountain as we tried to exit the Summer Palace, which ended in us climbing for 20 minutes, making it to the top of the hill, realizing we were actually fairly close to the exit we were looking for, and making it out before we had too many more crazy adventures.
  • National Day Celebrations. So the other name for Golden Week is National Week, because on October 1st, China celebrates their National Day. It’s kind of like the American Fourth of July Holiday, and since it’s the 70th anniversary of the founding of China, National Day was a very big deal this year!!! There was a massive parade in the morning, which I watched on TV at my host grandparents’ house. There was also a big cultural celebration in the evening, which was very festive and entertaining to watch. I ate a lot of delicious Chinese food on National Day (courtesy of my host grandpa), watched a loooooooot of TV, and altogether had a very fun time.
  • Going everywhere in Beijing with my host mom. Okay- maybe everywhere is a bit of an overstatement. But over the course of 3 days of exploring Beijing together, we visited:
    • 3 Parks
    • 1 Big Square (Tiananmen Square, which was full of people and just as giant as I remember)
    • 1 Temple (I forgot the name of it)
    • 2 Famous Food Streets (Wangfujing and Qianmen, both of which had very tasty food)
    • More historical sites than I’d ever be able to count.

All in all, it was a very fun and 满意 (satisfying/full) week in Beijing. I have to admit, I’m a little sad to get back to the grind of tingxies and classes and waking up at 6:30 AM. But hey- I’m not just here to explore, I’m here to learn! And I have amazing NSLI-Y 朋友们 (friends) who make the whole adventure more fun and bearable than I could’ve ever imagined.

In other news, I’m officially a whole NSLI-Y summer program into my time here in Beijing! It’s really remarkable how different I feel at this point now than I did on the summer program. I don’t know if it’s the permanence of being here in China for a year, or the fact that we’re together learning Chinese (practically) 24/7, but I really feel at home in this NSLI-Y cohort. Plus, I’m learning sosososo much by being in class 9-10 hours a day, which is really improving my language level. I can’t wait to see what the next 5 (and a half) summer programs will bring, both for my language level and for my experience here in Beijing in general. It’s a looong adventure, but I’m ready for the ride. 🙂

Week 5: (Re)adjustment

Hey everyone! I still can’t believe it’s already been another week here in Beijing. The time keeps flying by faster and faster (but also dragging between the hours of 10:00 AM and noon), and I constantly find myself trying to keep up. There’s classes to be taken, homework to be done, places to see, people to talk to, and all of it SO QUICKLY!!!! But it’s good, because I’m learning so much and adapting more and more to the environment I’m in.

This week was a pretty good week! We had a lot of studying to do, and it’s been a week of stress and difficult homework for sure. Fortunately, there are little tender mercies sprinkled throughout the mix to keep things bearable/interesting, and to remind me of what I’m doing here. For example…

We were supposed to have 2 of those pesky tingxie tests this weekend. (For more on why we had weekend school this week, see below) Usually, this would be stressful/annoying, but altogether not a big deal. I had a tingxie on Friday that I didn’t realize existed until 2 minutes before I sat down to take it. It didn’t go well (because, I mean, you can’t learn 30 new words in 2 minutes), and I was feeling really demoralized about that on Friday night. And then I had a newsletter for NSLI-Y that was due by 9 PM on Friday, 2 tingxies I had to study for, additional homework for reading class, a room to clean, a host family to prepare to move in with, a shower to take, a presentation to prepare for, and about 100 other things that I needed to do. I was truly on the verge of having a breakdown, as the work just seemed to pile up without any end. And because we were having classes on Saturday and Sunday, the workload and the pressure just felt like they would never end. I pushed through as best I could, but I ended up falling asleep at 10:30 at night on top of my bed, my 2 tingxies I was supposed to prepare for sprawled out on my lap.

Cut to when I woke up at 6:30 the next morning. I panicked, realizing that I didn’t study at all for my two tingxies, and deeply considered calling in sick from school. But I persisted nonetheless, dragging myself out of bed and making it to class on time despite my stress.

And that’s when the tender mercies really started. The tingxie I spent my entire morning cramming for went well, with minimal stress on my part. And the tingxie I’d already decided to throw, blaming a lack of time and a massive amount of homework, was delayed until the next day, giving me apt time to study. Little by little, my biggest stressors were made manageable, saving my sanity and giving me the motivation to persist into my Sunday classes as well.

Other fun things that happened this week were…

I gave a presentation in one of my classes about Utah’s “Mighty 5” National Parks. For those of you who don’t know, Utah has 5 beautiful and amazing national parks, each with its own unique qualities and features. Because I could pick any topic for my presentation, I decided to talk about the history and highlights of each of these 5 national parks. It went so much better than I could’ve ever expected, which was all in all a massive relief.

I had classes on the weekend! So because of the National Day Holiday (kind of like Chinese 4th of July, but we get a full week off of classes for it), we had two days of make-up school Saturday and Sunday to make up for the school we’d be missing during the week. When I first found out that we were going to have classes on Sunday, I was so frustrated. I’d just gotten into the swing of meeting everyone at church and settling in, and now I wouldn’t be able to go for a whole week. Plus, our trip to the Great Wall of China was cancelled because of traffic pattern changes from the National Day Holiday, which was really disappointing. Fortunately, I have good friends and tender mercies to keep me happy, helping me find the good in even the most frustrating of circumstances.

A big part of the culture shock process is the adjustment phase. It’s what happens when you’re finally adjusting to life in your host country, and the everyday problems and stresses that come up don’t affect your mental and emotional state any more than they would back in your home country. This week, I’ve been discovering that the adjustment part of culture shock isn’t a destination, but rather a transient state of being. Sometimes I feel really well adjusted here, like the culture shock has worn off and I’m settling into life. But then the stress gets to me again, I grind against cultural expectations and adjustments that I haven’t quite figured out yet, and I feel myself plunged back into the depths of culture shock. And it’s not even a day-to-day thing, it’s really more of an hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute thing. Sometimes all it takes is a little stress to set everything out of balance again, requiring more time and energy to readjust. But hey, that’s part of the journey! The trick to adjustment is flexibility, and learning how to 想办法 (in the words of Mr. Andersen, find a solution). It’s a process, but I feel the learning and the growth more and more every day.

That’s basically it for this week! I’m at my host family’s house right now, and will be until October 7th, when I head back to the dorms in time for class to start again on Tuesday. It’ll be a crazy week full of lots of adventure and shenanigans, but I’ll do my best to keep you all updated on the fun!

Week 4: Church! Host Fam! Freedom! Oh My!

Hello everyone!! This week has been absolutely wiiiiiiild and a lot has happened, but I’ll do my best to cover as many details as I can without making this post (too) obscenely long.

The beginning of this week was pretty standard, mostly dealing with lots of homework and more of those pesky 听写 tests. I’ve started having bananas and peanut butter for breakfast, which has been a nice change from the (very tasty but also very heavy for morning food) breakfast they serve at the cafeteria. Plus a huge bunch of bananas is like $1 USD here (so about ¥6 for those of you who know China money), and peanut butter is pretty cheap too.

On Thursday, we got our passports back from the visa office!! I have a shiny new residence permit in my passport now (although they cancelled my old tourist visa 😥 which made me sad), which means that I can finally get things like a SIM Card, bank account, and all of that kind of stuff. Long story short, I’m now considered a resident of China. Yay!!!

Because we finally got our passports back on Thursday, Friday lunch we got our SIM Cards! In China, you have to present your passport in order to get a SIM Card. Unfortunately (as I’ve explained before), due to mix-ups with visa timing and overall craziness, we weren’t able to get our SIM Cards until this week. But how blessed of a week it’s been!

That same day (Friday) after class, a bunch of the girls got to meet their host parents! My host mom is a single mom, and I have one host sister, who’s 15. She’s (the Chinese equivalent to) a freshman in high school, and loves all kinds of sports, as well as playing a traditional Chinese instrument that kind of looks like a Pipa. She’s been playing for 9 years, and she’s in our school’s folk music ensemble! She’s really talented, and I’m so excited to get to spend 8 months (worth of weekends) with her. On Saturday, I had a chance to go over to my host family’s apartment and have lunch with them, and ended up hanging out there for a couple hours before coming back. They know I like Hot Pot now (if you don’t know what Hot Pot is… Google it. “Chinese Hot Pot” It’s SO good!!!!), so hopefully there’ll be some tasty hot pot in my future as well.

On Friday, we also finally got our 出门卡 (off-campus passes). Now, we can leave campus during our free times, as well as on weekends. This leads into the next big part of this week…

CHURCH!!!!!! I GOT TO GO TO CHURCH AND IT WAS AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!

To keep a long story very very short, because I finally had a SIM Card and off-campus privileges, I was able to go to church this morning. It was so great!! Everybody was really welcoming, friendly, and kind, and the Beijing 1st Branch already feels like home. For those of you who don’t know how the church situation works in China, to explain it very briefly, I’m allowed to attend church with other non-Chinese Citizens. Due to Chinese laws surrounding religion and proselytizing, foreign citizens aren’t allowed to attend church with Chinese nationals. So while there are Chinese member branches here in China, the only wards I can attend are English-speaking expat branches. But they’re great!! I’m very excited to settle into a routine with church here, and I’m already feeling great about the whole adjustment. The branch has so many YSA, which will be a really fun thing to have this year. There’s such power in meeting as a group, and I’ve definitely missed having that influence over the past few weeks. But now (pending the completion of a couple conversations I’ve been having over the past few days), I should be able to attend weekly, as long as I don’t have any program activities or Sunday classes (in China, sometimes classes and work are held on a Sunday as a make-up for time missed on holiday breaks. Chinese people go HARD on their devotion to work and school, and not even a holiday can interfere with that).

Saturday, I had a chance to go out for a little bit and explore Beijing. I visited the Beijing Olympic Park, where I felt the most magical combination of wonder and awe. I guess I forget sometimes that I’m living a dream that so many people have, and going to the Olympic Park came out of nowhere and reminded me all over again. Despite difficulties and adjustments and exhaustion and craziness, I’m still living my dreams.

One thing I’ve been thinking about the last couple days has been “The Hero’s Journey”. If you don’t know what it is, look it up! We talked about it for a while last year in AP Lit, and I couldn’t help but draw parallels to my China experience. This year in China truly feels like a hero’s journey, complete with a transition from the ordinary (home) world into the unknown (China) world, challenges and trials, mentors to help me along the way, and all of the rest. Now that I’ve (almost) reached 1 full month into program, I’ve been reflecting back on my journey up to this point. On a summer program, I’d be 2/3 of the way done, rounding the final corner before heading back home. But here in Beijing, I’m truly still in the learning phase of the hero’s journey. I’ve accepted my call to action; I’ve crossed the threshold into the extraordinary world; now, I’m growing, learning, exploring, experiencing, and so much more.

Before wrap up, I just wanted to thank everyone who’s kept me in their thoughts and prayers, or sent kind messages, or really anything! In a world where the sky is often pollution-gray, it’s nice to have little rays of sunshine to poke through and clear the haze. 🙂

That’s basically all for this week!!! We’re headed off to the Great Wall of China on Friday, which I am sososososo excited about, because it’s a new section I’ve never been to. Hopefully I’ll finally get a chance to attach some photos from that (stay tuned…).

Until next time!

Week 3: It Gets Better (I Promise!!)

Hello everyone! It’s been another week here in Beijing, and I’ve got to say… not a lot has changed. I’m in the process of writing a “Day in the Life” Post, but I’m waiting until I get a little bit more settled in before I publish anything official. I’d hate to misinform all of you, and future NSLI-Y Beijing students, about what my everyday life is actually like.

This last week was really good! It was a L O T of studying for 听写s (TingXies), where the teacher says a word and we have to write both the character and the pinyin (basically the pronunciation), and sometimes use it in a sentence. Because our tests usually have between 20 and 35 words, and we have 2 different classes that usually assign them, it’s a LOT of studying during the week. Fortunately, my schedule is set up to give me plenty of time to prepare, which is really really great.

There weren’t necessarily any highlights from the past week, I would say, mostly that I’m starting to get involved at the school! I signed up for 学生会 (XueShengHui) last week, which is basically like a student council with a bunch of different sections that each have their own responsibility. I signed up for the 学习部 (XueXi Bu – literally the “Study Division”), which is mostly about organizing certain events like the Halloween party and writing articles for the Student Council WeChat page. I had my interview today during lunch, and we’ll see what happens with that! I’ll make sure to keep you guys updated.

This last weekend was Mid-Autumn Festival!!! 祝你们中秋节快乐!Although we didn’t have host families to visit or any traditions to really celebrate, it was still a very fun time. We got Friday off from school, so we decided to go out to both the 798 Art District and the Chaoyang Park, which is the GIANT park in Chaoyang District, where we live. It was really fun, but also sooooo much walking. I walked over 26,000 steps in a single day! Luckily, it was very beautiful, and a really great chance to get to know Beijing better. Although I didn’t eat any mooncakes or look at the full moon (courtesy of the air quality in the evenings being… not the greatest), I still had a really enjoyable 3-day weekend with my friends.

Due to some passport mixups with visa timing and all that, I wasn’t able to go to church this past Sunday. I won’t lie, it really sucked to not get to go to church for another week. Luckily, I have a really great support system and other resources to rely on when I can’t get to church due to factors outside of my control. 3rd hour being an individual study hour is totally inspired!!! It has been really amazing to still have a guided resource to use, and having it be built into the church structure is even better. That being said, I can’t wait to finally make it to church (most likely) next week. It’s a really great support structure, and I’m very grateful to live in a place where I can participate in religious services.

With regards to the title, that’s really been the biggest takeaway from this week. Although Monday (so a week ago) was a really, really fun day, Tuesday and Wednesday were a lot harder. The WiFi in the dorms crashed, I felt trapped, things weren’t going the best with my roommate, and it sort of felt like a bunch of factors all crashing in at once. And then I found out that there was craziness happening at home, and although I’m glad my family tells me things, all of this crazy stress and news seemed to all come at the same time. FORTUNATELY, not only do I have AMAZING friends here in Beijing who I can talk about my life struggles with, but things do get bettter!!!!!! The week started out really rough, and in some aspects my situation didn’t really change at all. But as I remembered to focus on the positives, trust in God and my family, turn to friends for support (and laughter, shout out to 高级班), listen to good music, not stress so much, and talk to those I love when I need help, things got better!! I ended the week on a really high note, and hope to continue the patterns I picked up on last week and carry them into this new week.

Before I go, here are a couple highlights of the past 3 weeks (also known as, the things that I’ve loved/relied on the most):

  • Jamming to good/fun music on the subway/during P.E. class/during self-study/while walking around campus/literally any time I’m feeling like listening to music.
  • Mangoes (especially dried ones, although I also spent 20 minutes in the bathroom cutting up and eating a fresh mango during self-study the other day… which was a very entertaining and slightly messy time)
  • The 一点点 lady who often makes our boba drinks- she’s always really sweet, and complemented me on my Chinese improving the other day!!!!
  • The subway! Convenient! Fun! Safe! Clean! It’s not the Shanghai Metro but it IS amazing.
  • The ukulele I brought from the USA, which has been a source of comfort when I’m stressed, my favorite lunchtime activity, and a great way to connect with my fellow NSLI-Yans during chill moments.
  • Movie Mondays! Our 听说 (Listening/Speaking) teacher plays a Chinese movie every Monday, to help us with our listening abilities. It’s been really great thus far- we watched a movie about a mermaid girl last week (美人鱼… look it up!!!!) which was hilarious, and a movie about a guy who had to try to spend 1 Billion Chinese Yuan (about $140,000,000 USD) in a month. Movie Mondays are a real blessing when things get difficult.

This is supposed to be another relaxed week at Beijing Number 80, as far as I know. But there are supposed to be a couple events happening at the end of the week, and I know that the weekend after next we’re heading to the Great Wall of China for a field trip, so stay tuned for that to come up.

See you guys later!!!

Weeks 1&2: The Adventure Begins + No Growth Without Discomfort

Hey everyone! Sorry for the delayed update. These past couple weeks have been absolutely crazy (as I’ll talk about in a minute), and I haven’t had any time to sit down and write this post. Fortunately, our Sunday today is free (thanks to a mix-up with passports and SIM cards and timing), so I have some time to finally write this post. I’m mostly going to stick to sharing funny/meaningful anecdotes and stories from my life here in Beijing. I’ll eventually do a “day in my life” -type post once things finish settling into a routine (a.k.a., when I finally know how a day in my life actually goes), but until then, I’ll mostly just be telling little stories!

I’m also combining weeks 1 and 2 into this post… because there has been a lot going on, and this way I can cover as much as possible without overwhelming everyone with posts.

So some of the highlights of week 1 were:

  • Getting to see the Lincoln Memorial again after more than three years!

I haven’t been back to Washington D.C. since I visited there during the National History Day competition in 2016, and it was really fun to get to go back during Pre-Departure Orientation! Although most of our day was spent at the American Councils (our implementing organization for the program) office, we had a little bit of time to explore D.C., Georgetown, and the surrounding area. It was a great opportunity to get to know my fellow NSLI-Yans better, and see such an important and historic city.

  • The suitcase that wouldn’t unlock.

So after our long flight directly from D.C. to Beijing, we hopped on a bus and rode directly to our dorms at Beijing Number 80 High School (where we’re staying here in Beijing). After dragging our 50-pound suitcases up the 6 (yes, you read that correctly, six) flights of stairs to our dorms, we finally started to get moved into the spaces that would be our rooms for the next 9 months.

Now before leaving D.C., I’d decided to lock my suitcases using the built-in locks that came as part of the suitcase. For my small carry-on bag and my medium-sized checked bag, this was a great arrangement! But for my large checked bag…

Flash forward to me sitting in my dorm room, trying to pry open my locked suitcase. For some reason the lock wouldn’t disengage even though I had the password correct, and I was absolutely freaking out. To make matters worse, all of my most important stuff for moving in (including hangers, books, bags, etc.) was all in that big suitcase. So after having a miniature mental breakdown, going to our local Carrefour (like a French Walmart chain, kind of) to buy more dorm supplies, and returning back up the 6 flights of stairs to my room, I was finally able to pry open the lock using my dorm room key. Whether or not it will permanently disable the lock on my big suitcase is… to be determined. But I managed to get my suitcase open so I’m happy about it, all things considered!!

  • The Great Dumpling Disaster

So on our first full day here in Beijing, our NSLI-Y group headed from our dorms to the US Embassy, for a briefing, and to get to know some of the embassy staff. On the way to the embassy, we decided to stop for lunch at a bun-and-dumpling store. Being the overeager NSLI-Y student that I am, I was first in line to get food.

At the counter, I was struggling to understand how the menu worked. I knew what I wanted (Pork and Cabbage Dumplings), but I was unsure if the pricing was “per-plate” or “per-dumpling”. Trusting my instincts from my experience last summer (where you just stated how many dumplings you wanted), I ordered 8 pork-and-cabbage dumplings. This order was met with a look of surprise by the worker at the counter, who rung up the order with a look of surprise on her face. Something about the way she looked at me, combined with the total price of the dumplings, led me to change the order to 4 pork-and-cabbage dumplings at the last second.

A couple minutes later, I was called up to the counter, and presented with 4 PLATES of dumplings. Each plate had somewhere around 15 dumplings on it, leaving me with 60 Pork-and-Cabbage Dumplings to deal with. Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one who’d royally messed up (shout out to Bryan and Alec for making an identical mistake), and I ended up having a mukbang (basically where you sit down and eat a L O T of food) with Alec and Bryan to tackle the amount of food we’d ordered. We finished everything but around 15-20 dumplings, which all things considered was a success. I definitely learned a lot about asking questions, though, and it motivated me to actually learn the measure words for different menu items in the future.

  • Meeting the U.S. Ambassador to China (by accident)

So once we arrived at the embassy (after the dumpling disaster), we were greeted by a couple U.S. Foreign Service Officers. These FSOs talked to us about everything from staying safe while living in China to how the pathway to becoming a Foreign Service Officer works. All in all it was a really engaging presentation, and it was really interesting to get to talk to people who were actively pursuing a career that I’m interested in.

About 3/4 of the way through our talk at the embassy, a group of people walk into the back of the room. Our FSO presenters balked at the sight of them, immediately standing up and greeting them. We all turned around, and were greeted by the U.S. AMBASSADOR TO CHINA. At first he looked a little confused, walking up to the front of the room and greeting us politely. He spent some time answering questions and telling us about his background before becoming an ambassador, and it was very interesting to get to talk to him. He was very professional, but spent the entire presentation looking a little… confused? Perplexed? Out of place?

After the ambassador left, the Foreign Service Officers explained what was going on. Apparently, the ambassador had been supposed to go to a meeting in the basement of the embassy, but had somehow ended up in the room where we were having our presentation instead. It was a complete fluke, but also a really awesome opportunity to get to meet someone who we otherwise might never come into contact with. I won’t lie- I spent the entire time the ambassador was there freaking out because of how cool it was. I mean- it’s not every day you get to talk to the US Ambassador to China, right?

Maybe we’ll get to see more of the ambassador in the future- I don’t really know. But I DO know that I had one of the craziest/most exciting experiences of my life getting to talk to him and ask him questions while at the embassy.

Flash forward to week 2 (the week I just finished). School started Monday, and has been a wild rush of classes, meals, self-study, and (barely any) free time ever since. I spend Monday to Friday in classes from 7:15 AM to 5:10 PM (usually), with an hour-and-a-half break for lunch from 12:00 to 1:30 PM. It’s a lot of work, with so many tests and lots of little characters to memorize and understand. But I’m adapting really well! I’m in the advanced-level class (called the 高级班 in Chinese), which has been really rewarding but also sosososo much work. You see, while my speaking and listening are pretty well-refined and advanced, my reading and writing are… much less so. I’ve spent more than 2.5 hours every night practicing for our 听写 tests, where we hear words and have to write the characters and pinyin for them. It’s a LOT, and I’m working hard to make up ground as the lowest-level reading/writing student in the advanced class. For my peers, it’s still a lot of work, but less so, because they already know how to read and write a lot more characters than I do. But it’s still rewarding despite the difficulty- I can already feel my reading and writing levels improving, and I’m starting to settle into a groove here in Beijing.

This week didn’t necessarily have any funny anecdotes like my first week did, but I did get to see a North Korean Passport while at the Chinese visa office, which was very cool. China and North Korea have much more stable relations than the U.S. and North Korea (obviously), so there is more interactions here between Beijing and the “Hermit Kingdom”. It’s been very interesting to see the relationship between these two countries from a Chinese perspective, as compared to the US-exclusive perspective I grew up learning about. I think there’s real value in seeing relationships like the US-China relationship or the US-North Korea relationships from a different perspective, and that’s already been one of the most interesting things to experience during my time here in Beijing. Everywhere you go, whether it be Utah, China, or North Korea, individuals are just looking to live and be happy. Different governments have different values and priorities, whether they be keeping public peace, promoting domestic trade and economics, or creating an environment of stability and unity- but in the end, people still care about the same things wherever you go: living a happy, fulfilling, safe, and stable life. I can’t wait to gain more insight about things like this over the course of my 9 months here in Beijing.

Well… I don’t have much more to say. I’ll keep trying to update this blog weekly, but please bear with me if posts are late!!!! Our schedule is still settling into place, and it’ll be easier to post consistently when it does.

Catch you guys later!