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You Know You’re In Love, When the Hardest Thing to Say Is…Goodbye

The answer to everyone’s question: how was China?

The perfect answer is a 20 second elevator speech. It must break all barriers and sum up the experience in more than just “it was great” but it cannot wind on for too long so that people lose interest. The perfect answer provides more insight into China, but doesn’t seem to unreal that many think China is untouchable. The perfect answer … doesn’t exist.

I’m not going to miss the mannerisms of China. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve taught me a lot about culture changes and how privileged I am here. That being said, I don’t think I will ever appreciate the spitting of flem on the ground, or the cutting or the pushing. And yes, the pollution and lack of 24 hotwater is not ideal, but hey, I survived, so really, I can survive almost anything, right?

As I sit here lying in bed, at 5:30 am, because I love JetLag, it’s hard not to have a gajillion thoughts running through my head. It’s as if I’m coming back to a world where my life has been put on hold, but everyone else’ has kept moving forward. In reality though, my life has been moving forward, just in another way that no one but the people I experienced it with will really understand.

Going into China, I never really had expectations. In fact, the one advice that my friends gave me was to not have any. Meet the love of your life they said. Eat some dumplings. But really, just soak it all in.

So what makes leaving China so hard? Really, China offered a sense of independence that I’ve never felt before. Going away to college, I was able to create my own life story, but still under the pretense of a culture I was already pretty used to. China on the other hand, offered independence, but independence in a whole other way. Instead of deciding which familiar place I wanted to order takeout food to, I was presented with the options to go to another part of a city. There was always something new to be eaten, new to be explored … really, I never got into a serious routine, thus I was never bored.

Part of the exploration of China itself was also interesting because we fully did not master the language. My Chinese is good enough to get us where we need to go, or even to hold basic conversations with the taxi drivers who decided that I was cool enough to be friends with. But, I couldn’t go into a menu and just look at the words (with no pictures) and be able to tell you what was being served. It’s funny because even though we made it a point to try new restaurants, unless there were pictures, we pretty much stuck to ordering the same thing …. Egg and tomato with noodles, cucumber salad, dumplings, baozi, jaozi, beef noodles, kabobs, and naan. But, sometimes we would laugh at the things we thought we were getting, versus the things that actually came out.

The other part was the spontaneity of traveling. On more than one occasion, we found ourselves planning trips to costal cities or Shanghai at 1 am on Friday morning, only to leave 12 hours later at 1pm. We could go wherever we wanted, and we would always have no real plan, we could just soak it in. My one regret is not traveling more in China. It’s a little more difficult than I think traveling in Europe is, just because I didn’t have a visa that let me leave the country more than twice, and China is so vast, but also has very diverse topography, so it’s harder to get places quickly. But, even the different regions we explored offered a culture so different from each other, like going from the south to the west coast, that we were surprised by the different foods they had to offer, as well as the friendliness (or lack of) towards foreigners, and even the prices of things or what they sold. Hong Kong, for example, was a modern city that went through growth, but everywhere we went was high-end stores like Gucci and Prada and places I had never even heard of. Shanghai in its own was such a modern city, I don’t think I ever saw one piece of trash on the streets themselves. Contrastingly, Qingdao was a coastal city with tons of hole in the wall shops and restaurants and gave off a more small-town vibe where so many people wanted to talk to us because they said they don’t attract as many tourists especially when it’s not beach weather.

The best part about China though? The people. I could go on for hours about the friends I made and subsequently am really torn to leave. My Chinese Roommate, Jenny, was my source of inspiration, who without I would still be wandering around China super lost. Jenny supported me and really encouraged me to speak Chinese to the point that I felt confident enough in myself to do it. The late night talks we had about boys or even just culture, in general, gave me a better understanding of what life is like in China for someone my age. Even all the other Chinese Roommates were friendly faces that were always there to order Takeout, and people I will never forget because they were the real reason we got to get connected to China – they took us to different restaurants and to Karaoke and helped us order things off TaoBao, the Chinese Amazon, and even helped us make reservations at places we might have not experienced.

As cliché as it sounds, spending 4 months in a foreign country with a small group of 35 people makes you become friends with people I normally don’t think I would have. These people you see every day become such a familiarity, that waking up in my own bed knowing I can’t just walk two doors down or a floor down to see my friends is a feeling that’s so strange and hard to get used to. I felt like by the time I left, certain people knew me on a deeper level than some of my close friends do back in Chicago, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s sad that some people I may never see again in my life, and others, I’m counting down the days to go visit. I’ll miss sitting outside in the gazebo staring at the sky (or lack thereof) sipping on zhenzu (bubble tea), or sitting in the back of Chinese class creating ridiculous stories about ourselves to keep us entertained, or watching movies on movies on movies or tv shows on tv shows on tv shows. I’ll miss the grandmas and green bean runs or runs to the bread lady. I’ll miss begging for food in the Library when I’m too lazy to venture outside the building or my surprise visits to the lounge where I convinced everyone studying to take a break and come get food. I’ll miss the silk road trip and the back of the bus where I created my group of girl friends that was inseparable ever since. I’ll miss the concerts and the games of dice we used to play when we went out (and the amount of Pizza Hut I still owe my friend). These people, the ones who experienced something and who are the only ones that can really understand what we went through and who we are, will always have a place in my heart.

Ultimately, leaving for China, I was so stuck in my routine, in my ways. I would always have to workout at least 6 times a week, I never stayed up past 1 am, and I was so comfortable with my friends, I never really tried to venture outside of what I knew. I knew the person/place that would eventually help me realize that I didn’t need my rigid routine to be happy and comfortable would be the place that I felt most at home. And the people I met in China and China itself did that for me.

So have I changed? Being home I really couldn’t tell you. I feel like the same person, I look like the same person (minus the few pounds I probably put on from the dumplings), yet some part of me tells me that I’ve grown so much, which only time can tell.

How was China? I loved it. I really did. But some things will just never be able to be explained on paper, and this is one of them.

My advice, if you’re looking to study abroad and really challenge yourself, China is an amazing place. I found a love for writing that I didn’t think I had by getting an internship. I met friends who have changed my life forever. I never really found the love of my life, but I fell in love with a culture that so many think is so foreign and untouchable.

Hopefully, I’ll get over this JetLag soon and the immediate sadness of leaving something and people I love so much. But in the meantime … this is me signing off on my blog and subsequent writing career;)  Zai jian!