[This post will be written in the past tense because I was too busy to write this at the time]
With only a week left and occupied almost entirely with schoolwork, I was ready to return to the States. Although I tried to appreciate every moment in China, the new and exciting nature of the country when we arrived was beginning to fade.
The week was full of lasts. We had our last meals at our favorite restaurants: the noodle-, dumpling-, angry lady-, and spin table–restaurant. We had our last weekend excursion experiencing Beijing nightlife (which was awesome mind you). I taught my last kung fu class of little Chinese kids. I found it nigh impossible to avoid becoming sentimental at times.
Up to the end, my language teacher always made jokes to keep his two students entertained. I honestly think he was one of the best teachers I ever had because he was always positive, energetic, had high expectations, came to know us well, and eagerly dove into class every day. I will miss him and his long, wise eyebrows.
Surprisingly I found it far more difficult saying goodbye to my American classmates than the people in China that I left behind. I think it is because from the beginning, I knew my stay in China would be short. It almost came as a surprise, however, to realize how difficult it would be to see some of the other students in my program ever again. In a country where literally everything is foreign (and I hope I accurately represent the thoughts of my classmates because this is something I wholeheartedly believe myself), you come to depend on people that share culture and language with you. We often just walked down the hall of our dorm, knocked on each other’s door, and hung out to take a break. We were there for each other when the weight of being on the opposite side of the world, far from what we grew up with, was beginning to wear us down.
I use the expression wear down because the fact of the matter is that a foreigner in a different land cannot fully assimilate; because individuals feel naturally comfortable in the culture that they grew up in, the process of getting used to another culture takes effort. Although there are obviously differing degrees of how comfortable one feels in a foreign land, I couldn’t see myself actually living in China, and toward the end of this trip, I was quite eager to return home.
I have learned so much from this experience. Not only about China, but also what makes me an American (and frankly, why I prefer American culture to Chinese). Moreover, this sabbatical from science classes gave me a better appreciation for the effort it takes to master a foreign language and the difficulties of modifying business presentations to accommodate differing cultures.
Ultimately, I really enjoyed this semester abroad. I have no regrets about my decisions to focus less on immersing myself in Chinese language, and more on learning as much as possible through my relationship with my martial art instructor, who was more accurately my business partner and close friend.
Sometimes people wonder if studying abroad changes you a lot. Frankly, it does, but not in necessarily noticeable ways, such as by gaining perspective. Hence, in conclusion, I thought it would be appropriate to end this post with a quote about change from the Shaolin Grandmaster’s Text, which likely put the idea of someday going to China into my head.
“I am not the same person I was yesterday, but neither am I someone else”