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. 🙂

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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!

The Last Midnight, Once Again

Alternative title: BJ in BJ Part 0

Hello blogoverse!! I can’t believe we’ve reached another last midnight post (or 10:30 PM… 5:00 AM flights are no joke). Right now I’m a jumble of emotions, not going to lie. Saying goodbye to my younger siblings has been seriously difficult. I love them so much, and having to say goodbye for 9 months is much harder than I could’ve ever predicted.

Despite my sadness at having to leave my friends and family for the next while, I’m nonetheless filled with excitement and anticipation at the adventures to come. I’ve spent the last 4 months plotting, planning, practicing, and preparing so that I could embark on this magnificent journey.

The last couple days have mostly consisted of packing (packing, packing, PACKING), buying last-minute things I forgot I needed to get, saying goodbye to friends and family, and enjoying the things I love most about my life in America. One tip for future NSLI-Y Beijingers: BUY. A. LUGGAGE. SCALE. You won’t think you’ll need it, until it’s 10:00 PM on a Sunday night and you have no idea if your checked bags are light enough to make it to Washington D.C. without trouble.

I’ll go over most of my happenings for the next few days in my blog post at the end of this week (more on my posting schedule later), but the simplified version is that I’m going to be flying to Washington D.C.’s Reagan Airport early tomorrow morning, meeting up with my fellow NSLI-Yans, spending ~2 days in Washington D.C. at the American Councils offices preparing for life abroad, then embarking out on Wednesday to head for Beijing. It will be undoubtedly a whirlwind couple of days, but I’m already bursting with excitement at the adventures to come. I’ve spent the last 4 months getting to know my NSLI-Y Beijing peers better, and now it’s finally time to all meet face-to-face.

As I sit here and prepare to leave for the airport, I can’t help but feel a sense of awe. I’m hyperaware that I’m living a life that so many people dream of having. I feel a sense of responsibility, as if I need to seize as many opportunities as I can over the next 9 months, as a sort of payment to all the people who’ve dreamt of this kind of an adventure. All I hope is that I can embrace the journey to come, and do everything in my power to grow as a language learner, an exchange student, and a human being.

*Tonal Shift Alert*

In terms of my posting schedule for the next 9 months, my hope is to post on this blog every Saturday/Sunday, with updates on my thoughts, experiences, and ideas. On weeks where I’m too busy/stressed/otherwise preoccupied to write a full blog post, I hope to at least record a “podcast episode”, where I’ll basically talk about my week, rather than writing it all down. But I’m hoping to stick to writing my blog posts as much as possible, so we’ll see what happens.

It’s definitely time for me to head to bed… I have a very early wake-up/flight time tomorrow morning, and if I’m not careful I’ll probably end up sleeping through my alarm (Murphy’s law, man…). Here’s to the next 9 months of adventure!!

 

Reflections of a Beijing-Bound NSLI-Yan

Since receiving my NSLI-Y notification in April… some things have happened.

And by “some things” I mean…

  • Visiting Shanghai (and China) for the first time since I left in 2017 to tour NYU Shanghai
  • Committing to Duke Kunshan University’s Class of 2024 (which you all already know about, of course)
  • Getting to know my NSLI-Y Beijing 2019-2020 AY Cohort (a.k.a. some of the best, most entertaining humans I’ve ever met)
  • Attending my third year at the HOBY Leadership seminar (which never fails to change my life)
  • Graduating high school
  • Struggles in the visa process
  • Pre-Program (Everything) Preparation

and so, soso much more. I could fill an entire blog with the crazy shenanigans I’ve been a part of since my life changed on that magical day in early April. But here’s the short version.

Visiting NYU Shanghai

This honestly deserves its own blog post (which I might eventually write), because so much happened on this whirlwind of a trip.

For those of you who don’t know, each year, NYU Shanghai has a lottery for their International Admitted Students Weekend. If you are chosen from this lottery, NYU Shanghai will pay everything (except for the visa charges, if you don’t already have one) for you to visit their Shanghai Campus, tour around, meet amazing people, and altogether have a blast. After being accepted to NYU Shanghai, I submitted my name into the lottery, and ended up being chosen to go to the Admitted Students Weekend!

Now, I know what some of you might be thinking. “But Bethany, aren’t you attending DKU? Why were you attending NYU Shanghai’s admitted students weekend if you were just going to end up picking their rival school in the end?”

The answer is twofold. First (and most importantly), I hadn’t 100% chosen where I was going to school when I went on the NYU Shanghai trip. I knew that I wanted to attend school in China, and I was very interested in seeing all that the international college experience had to offer. I didn’t go into the NYU Shanghai Admitted Students Weekend  (ASW) thinking of it as a free trip to China- on the contrary, I was hyperaware of the importance of this trip in my college decision process, and spent the entire trip thinking of how college in China (whether through NYUSH or DKU) would affect my academic pursuits and overall future. Secondly, I knew that wherever I chose to go to college, making friends (who would also be experiencing college life in China) wouldn’t hurt me. And I was right!!! The friends I met while on the NYU Shanghai ASW trip continue to make me excited to go to college abroad, and make me particularly eager to find ways to foster a friendship, rather than a rivalry, between the two schools.

The biggest highlight of my NYU Shanghai trip, though, was getting to see my Chinese host family for the first time since 2017 (well… except for my host sister. But that was a special case, and it was in early 2018). Through a series of fortuitous events while in Shanghai, I had the opportunity to have dinner in Yu Garden with my host family. After being gone for nearly 2 years, seeing my host family again was like returning home. In the time since I returned home from Shanghai, my life experiences and Chinese abilities have expanded beyond anything I could’ve ever dreamed possible. During my hour with my host family, we talked in Mandarin about everything from major life changes to everyday school life and the weather. Seeing how my Chinese level has grown since the last time I saw my host family made me both ecstatic and profoundly grateful: without the kindness of this family (and my remarkable host mom, in particular), I know for a certainty that my life would not be on the trajectory that it is today.

Of all the experiences that I had in Shanghai, my time with my host family reinvigorated, refreshed, and reminded me about why I’m passionate about studying Chinese. After months of struggling through senioritis, deadlines, and difficult homework, my NYU Shanghai ASW experience was exactly what I needed to help push me to the end of the school year.

Committing to DKU’s Class of 2024

*Tonal Shift Alert!!*

I’m going to be brief about this because I already talked about it, but I’m officially committed to Duke Kunshan University’s Class of 2024. I can’t wait to spend my college experience between Kunshan, China (at DKU) and Durham, North Carolina (at Duke), and am eager to see how DKU’s international focus (and Duke-level academics) transform my learning experience.

After considering all of my options (NYU Shanghai, BYU, Grinnell, and others), DKU truly felt like the best fit. I don’t really know how to explain it. It’s like when you meet a person for the first time, and you can just tell that you’re going to be friends. And then you get to know each other better, and every interaction that you have just reaffirms your initial reaction. That’s how it felt (and still feels) when I think about DKU. I know there will be difficulties, but I’m excited to see all of the remarkable places that DKU will take me over the next 5 (minus 1) years.

Getting to Know the Beijing Family!

One thing that absolutely terrified me about my decision to go on my gap year with NSLI-Y was the possibility for pettiness, drama, and altogether “fakery” among my Beijing AY cohort. As somebody (can’t remember who) in our Beijing AY group chat said, “There’s just some stuff socially that you can get away with on a summer program that you can’t on a year program.” And it’s so true! Speaking from personal experience, it’s totally okay (and normal… and survivable) to experience cliquey-ness for 6 or 7 weeks on a program where you have 20+ kids all spending time with each other. But when it’s 9 months… and you’re living in dorms… and you’re literally spending more than 10 hours a day together… and there’s only 15(ish) of you… cliquey-ness needs to be stopped in its tracks. Hard.

But as I’ve gotten to know the friends that will become my family over the course of my 9 months abroad, I only feel eagerness and excitement. These people are truly some of the most generous, funny, friendly, outgoing, kind, and talented people I’ve ever met! I truly feel that the people who are going on this year program are the people who are meant to be there, and that this group will make the NSLI-Y AY experience what it is. Here’s to the next year we’ll be spending together!

HOBY 2019

Going to keep it short because this technically isn’t a “Bethany Goes Abroad” topic and more of a “Bethany’s General Lifey-ness” topic, but going back for my 3rd year at HOBY was AMAZING!!!!! If you don’t know what HOBY is, go look it up! It’ll change your life, and you should totally get involved if you have the chance.

I get something new out of HOBY every single time I go. I feel like the most powerful lessons I learned this year were:

  1. “Someone is in need of a thing only you can provide.” This quote stood out to me so much at HOBY. Sometimes we can get caught up in ourselves, and just want to stick to all the things we ordinarily do, rather than reaching out and looking for ways to experience life! But it’s absolutely vital that we do reach out, because each of us is a unique individual who touches the lives of everybody around us. When we go out into the world, especially with the purpose of serving others, we allow ourselves to be guided to the people who are “in need of a thing only [we] can provide.”
  2. We’re never as excluded as we think we are. This has been a big thing for me. For a long time now, and particularly over the last three years, I’ve struggled with feelings of abandonment and loneliness, from my peers. One important thing I was reminded of at HOBY is, even if many of the feelings of abandonment and loneliness we feel seem entirely justified, we are truly never as excluded as we think we are. To all those who might be struggling with similar issues, please don’t give up hope! I promise, there will come a day when the loneliness you’re feeling will fade. It may never go away completely- deep emotional trauma sometimes takes an eternity to heal- but you are welcome and loved. Don’t let anything take that feeling away from you.

Graduating High School

Oh, graduation.

To some, it’s the ending to “the best 4 years” of their life. (Which, to be honest, is a load of crap. If you peak in high school… that’s baaaaaaad. DON’T LET IT BE THE BEST 4 YEARS OF YOUR LIFE, what kind of a life would that be? 🙂 ) To others, it’s the conclusion to 4 years of work, determination, stress, sweat, and tears. I felt a lot of that at graduation- my hard work had paid dividends, I was going to a college that fills me with a sense of wonder, excitement, and anticipation after the “gap year to end all gap years”, preparing to sally forth into the rest of my (undoubtedly crazy) life.

But even more than that, my high school graduation felt like the opening of a doorway into a magical world of infinite possibility.

I have my whole life ahead of me!!!!!!! It’s thrilling, it’s exciting, it’s terrifying, and it’s true. Rather than reflecting on the past four years, my mind turned entirely to the future. High school was hard, and I knew that the future would be even harder. But, as is the case with most things, the harder the fight, the sweeter the victory.

The good things are still coming- and I’m finally on my way to meet them.

The Visa Process and NSLI-Y Pre-Program (Everything) Course

Story time!

Once upon a time, in the faraway land of Utah, Bethany Thackeray decided to procrastinate on a set of important forms for her Chinese student visa. At first, Bethany thought she had everything under control. But then, NSLI-Y sent a new visa form, one that had to be signed, notarized, and sealed with a magical thing called an “apostille stamp”. And unfortunately for the (fair) Bethany, the apostille stamp-getting process would end up taking much longer than she’d initially thought. So long, in fact, that she had to have her mother mail the forms to the NSLI-Y American Councils office while she drove across the state to go to Youth Conference in Flaming Gorge. And, in her foolishness, Bethany didn’t choose a trackable method of transport for her time-consuming and irritating apostille form. No, she decided to send it like you’d send a letter, using regular postage (as in a stamp).

And now, Bethany’s mythical apostille form is nowhere to be found.

In all seriousness, my apostille form wasn’t in Washington D.C. as of (checks calendar) Thursday, June 13, 2019. Which is bad when it comes to the NSLI-Y Chinese visa process, because the student visa process takes an eternity and a half to get done. Hooooopefully it’ll turn up in the NSLI-Y Placement Office sometime in the next day or so (it was mailed out on Tuesday, June 4, for context). BASICALLY I’M FREAKING OUT BUT IT’S FINE. So if I never make it to Beijing after all… well… now we know why.

Other than my fiasco of an apostille stamp mailing experience, NSLI-Y Prep has been coming along nicely. I’m using the last of my school Skritter subscription to study HSK 6 words over the summer, in the hope of improving my Chinese writing skills as much as possible before heading to China. I’m reading the handbook, completing the FlipGrid videos and Eliademy assignments necessary to ensure my thorough preparation for my time in Beijing. All in all, it’s been good! As long as my visa situation gets sorted out, everything is looking A-OK for my Beijing experience.

That’s basically it. I know the NSLI-Y Kaohsiung 2019 Summer Cohort has their PDO this week, preparing to embark on the same crazy 7-week adventure that transformed my life last summer. To them, I say 加油!你们一定会有很多忘不了的经验。

See you guys later (hopefully with good news about the visa process)!

Bethany

Into the Great Unknown Once Again

Hey everyone! Long time no post…

I know it’s been a while since I’ve been on this blog (and I promise that I will finish my Kaohsiung blog posts when I’m finally graduated), but hopefully, things will be picking up again soon. Why, you ask?

Because I’m going abroad once again!!

I found out a couple weeks ago that I was selected for a 2019-2020 NSLI-Y Academic Year Scholarship. On the NSLI-Y Program, I will be living at a boarding school in Beijing for 9 months (from Late August 2019 to Late May 2020), studying Mandarin Chinese for 9-10 hours a day.

Now, I know some of you might be thinking, “But Bethany! What about college?”

That’s the thing- I’m still going to college! I’m just taking a Gap Year, where I defer my college enrollment for a year before heading off to college. In fact, my NSLI-Y Gap Year experience will be a nice segue from high school to college, as my college experience will also be taking place in China! After my year abroad on the NSLI-Y Scholarship, I will join the class of 2024 at Duke Kunshan University. I’m excited to see the many amazing ways that my time in Beijing prepares me for my college experience at DKU. Hopefully, the next 5 years will be filled with lifelong friends, amazing experiences, and more language learning opportunities than I could’ve ever imagined.

Catch y’all later!

NSLi-Y Screenshot

Your 2019 Guide to NSLI-Y Semis

Hey you guys! Long time no post!!!!

(Also I know I haven’t finished the last 2/3 posts from last summer… they’re coming trust me! I just have ZERO time lol)

I’m writing this the night before 2019 semis are announced, with the goal of posting it after semifinalist emails are sent out. Hopefully everything goes according to schedule!

I’m here to cover some of the basic “things to know” about being a NSLI-Y Semifinalist. As a 2-time NSLI-Y semifinalist and a recent NSLI-Y alumna, I have quite a bit of experience in this section of the NSLI-Y experience. Here are the basics we’re going to cover:

  • Dissecting your semifinalist announcement
  • The interview (!!!)
  • Medical forms
  • The NSLI-Y semifinalist community
  • Thoughts on the waiting process

Plus a side note on applying for your passport!

Let’s get started!!


Part 1: Dissecting your Semifinalist Announcement

The first thing you should do after getting your semifinalist email is READ IT ALL THE WAY THROUGH!!! I know it can be tempting to just run off and shout your semifinalist status from the rooftops, but trust me, this will make everything so much easier. Make sure to flag/star it in your email as well, so you can go back and read it 30000 times like I always did. 😂

The first thing to notice with the semifinalist email is the little congratulations they give you before they start throwing information at you. Take a moment to revel in it, because you’re #worthit. Realize that by making it this far, you’ve already accomplished more than many high school students could ever dream of!

Next, take a look at the information on semifinalist interviews. It gives out a little bit of info on the interview process, as well as giving you the emergency contact number for NSLI-Y interviews and the final “contact-by” date that all interviewers must obey. If you’re not contacted before that date, send the email in your semis notification a message!!! It’s their job you help you be as successful as possible, so don’t be afraid to use that resource if you have to.

After that is the medical evaluation information section. Which is HUUUUUGE. The message can be boiled down to just a couple points though.

  1. They’re giving you the forms attached to the email. Pick the correct one for whichever duration you applied to (if you only applied for summer for both first and second choice, do the summer form. Otherwise, do the academic year form). In my opinion, it’s easier to download the forms from the semifinalist portal they send you, but the forms are also available here if you need them.
  2. Your info won’t be reviewed until after they’ve decided whether or not you’re getting the scholarship. The whole point of the medical review is being able to assign you to a location/host city based on any accommodations you need. NSLI-Y is adamant about this: your medical accommodations will not affect whether or not you get in.
  3. TURN IN YOUR MEDICAL FORMS BY THE DEADLINE!!!!!!!!!! (’nuff said)

The final (real) section talks about applying for a passport, which I’ll touch on later!


Part 2: The Interview

I will be doing a separate post on this later!!! The short answer for now is that you will be contacted about your interview some time in the next 2ish months. And trust me, for some of you, it won’t be for 2ish months!!! The wait can be agonizing, but you will eventually be contacted. Don’t freak out when other people get their interview dates and you don’t have yours, it’s 100% normal! I never got my interview email until the beginning/middle of January, and I know people who got theirs as late is January 19/20th!


Part 3: Medical (And Dental) Forms

One major part of the NSLI-Y semis experience is having to fill out your medical review forms. These forms are LONG, and the process of getting them done ends up taking forever and a half. So my main piece of advice is: do not put them off until the last 2 weeks. You WILL regret it, guaranteed. 😊

For the summer form, it’s a little bit easier: the form is somewhat less intensive, and you don’t have to worry about a dental form. Even so, it’s still a difficult form to fill out. Make sure and schedule an appointment with your doctor, giving yourself enough time for 1 or more follow-up appointments before you turn in your form. One test you have to do for the NSLI-Y medical review is a TB test, which can take up to 3/4 days to run! So do not procrastinate!!!!!

For year semis, it’s even more intense. On top of the medical form, you have a dental form that has to be filled out as well. Make sure and schedule your dental review as soon as possible after your semifinalist notification, to accommodate for your dentist’s (likely very busy) schedule. The form is pretty run-of-the-mill, but it’s a definite pain in the butt.

For more information on the medical review process, check out NSLI-Y’s awesome Q&A on it! Or, comment below, and I will answer questions as best I can.


Part 4: The NSLI-Y Semifinalist Community

Making semis is a HUGE deal in the NSLI-Y community. From the large group of NSLI-Y applicants, only a select few make the first cut!

Some common ways of reaching out to fellow NSLI-Y semis are through the Ask NSLI-Y Alumni Facebook page, the NSLI-Y Semifinalist Group Chat, and a couple other methods (which I know next to nothing about, tbh). The Facebook page is a great place to ask general questions, and learn more about the NSLI-Y semis experience. My favorite way of connecting with other semifinalists is through the NSLI-Y Semifinalist Group Chat. It’s on Facebook messenger, and basically anyone who’s ever been associated with NSLI-Y group chats can get you on it. It’s usually a super chaotic chat for the first couple days, that mellows out a lot afterward. But if you want to connect with other semifinalists and (potentially) meet people you’ll be spending your NSLI-Y Summer/Year with, it’s the BEST way to do it. Plus, you’ll end up learning a lot of NSLI-Y inside jokes if you stick around for long enough 😉. I met some of my best friends through the NSLI-Y semis group chat, and they’re the best people ever!!!


Part 5: Thoughts on the Waiting Process

Waiting for NSLI-Y is… tough.

Sometimes, when I look back and get all happy that a month has already passed since applications were due, I remind myself that I have 4+ months worth of waiting ahead of me before I find out if I’m a finalist or not. It’s grueling, and one of my least favorite parts of the entire NSLI-Y process. But, after 2 application seasons, I finally understand the value in the waiting. The people you meet and the experiences you have while a NSLI-Y semifinalist are some of the best parts of the NSLI-Y journey! Although it’s a grueling process, it’s also one of the most worthwhile things about being a NSLI-Y applicant/participant.


Side Note: Applying for Your Passport

One of the *coolest* parts of the NSLI-Y Semifinalist process is applying for your passport! Although many NSLI-Y Semifinalists already have their passport, for those who don’t, it’s an essential part of the semis experience. My first year as a NSLI-Y semifinalist, I didn’t have a passport. After talking it through with my parents, they agreed to pay the cost for me to get a passport, and count it as one of my Christmas presents! If you are creative and can find a way, you can turn getting a passport into something that doubles as a gift. For my parents, this was a huge way to get them to agree to help me get my passport.


That’s all for now! Congrats on Semifinalists. Let’s get this bread!!!

Day 45: It’s All About to Come to an End

I have a LOT of impending deadlines right know, the least of which is my final performance that needs to be memorized. 😬 So please bear with this post for being crazy rushed.

I woke up like normal and made it to school with enough time to study a bit for our impending final test that we took today. It was pouring rain, which made everything a little bit more chaotic, but honestly it was still a good commute even with the crazy rain.

We spent the morning talking about different things in class and reviewing for the final that we took. All in all, I felt like the final wasn’t too bad. I’d done my homework and prepared as well as I could, and I understand that at this point that’s the best I could do.

For lunch, we decided to go to Japon one last time for kicks and giggles. I love Japon (and to figure NSLI-Y Taiwan kids, go to Japon!!), and it was fun to get to enjoy it one more time before I leave Taiwan.

In the afternoon, we focused on rehearsing our final performance, while people were pulled aside one-by-one for their final oral test. Honestly, I felt like mine went pretty well! It was crazy to see how much my Chinese has improved since the beginning of this trip, and I can’t wait to take the skills I’ve been learning this summer and using them in AP Chinese this coming year!

For our final language partner time, we all went into a big room and watched a video summarising our memories with our language partners, then spent time crying and singing along to a bunch of sad songs as we said our goodbyes. I love my language partner so much! She’s an absolute angel, and I’m going to miss her so much when I go home. 😢

After language partner time, I headed out with a bunch of NSLI-Y peeps and some language partners to go get dinner at a restaurant. We ended up walking a solid 3/4 of a mile in the sizzling heat, which did not feel great. We finally arrived at the restaurant after a while, and chowed down on some tasty Taiwanese food.

After we ate dinner, a bunch of us decided to go get some Bing (shaved ice) one last time in Taiwan. We decided to go to this restaurant that was really bougie and super expensive, but all in all still fun. I ate a black sesame shaved ice creation, which was really tasty and cool-looking! To all future Taiwan kids: if you like peanut butter, don’t turn your nose up at black sesame. Odds are, the difference will be basically unnoticeable. And for those of you who dislike peanut butter: still try it! It may end up being your favorite flavor in all of Taiwan!

Anywho, I have to sleep now because it’s 2 AM here… get ready for a LOT of sentimentality over these last 4 or so blog posts. 😭😭

See you tomorrow!