There is No Never Ending Banquet Under the Sun: The Last Blog
All Good Things Come to an End
We ask out new friends from Sun Yat-sen University and Xiamen University “Are you sad we’re leaving? Will you miss us?”, they all have the same reply. First they assure us they will miss us, then they tell us of an old Chinese proverb, always a variation of “all good things come to an end“. And I think this is a great way to look at this trip and life in general. Nothing lasts forever, which may be good or bad, but to make the most of the experience is always the best option.
Tonight is my last night in China. We flew back to Hong Kong from Hainan earlier today, and we will leave in the morning. I am very excited and anxious to return home, so I can’t sleep at all. Also this is my first day in three weeks with access to my precious Facebook and SnapChat, so there’s that too. Reflecting back on my time spent on this trip, I am very pleased with what I’m taking away from this experience. This may have been one of the most challenging months of my live and I will admit there were parts that were far from fun. But for the most part, it was something useful and maybe even needed in my life. I have learned so maybe lessons I’m not quite sure where to begin. I guess I can break them down into two categories. I have learned very practical things about traveling to China, and I have learned very important things about how to conduct myself in the complex society of global today. I guess I’ll start with the traveling to China bit.
Traveling to China (In Typhoon Season)
It is important to:
- Bring hand sanitizer and toilet paper, for the restrooms
- Learn how to hand wash your clothes and pack necessary materials with you, unless you’re willing to pay
- Invest in comfortable and waterproof walking shoes (I love my Tevas)
- Pack an umbrella, for the rain and for the sun
- Buy local mosquito repellent spray and medicine for the bites (BUY A LOT, I got eaten alive)
- Get ready to sweat: that means a folding fan, sweat band, and/or face wipes
- Take advantage of the cheap goods and local food (pack extra money? heck yes)
- Don’t bring many jackets/sweaters; you will rarely get cold. Also it takes lots of room in your suitcase
Of course, I could go on and on, but I think these are the main points that I personally was either glad I did or sorry I didn’t. Now for more intensive advice coming from a psychologist hopeful!
Things About Conduct
There is the obvious: you are a guest to a foreign country. To say you must be on your best behavior is an understatement. This is because your idea of respect and good manners may be (and probably are) completely different from the people’s idea of respect and good manners. No one is right or wrong, but when in Rome… you get the picture. Instead, I have learned that the best approach is to have a very positive outlook and a very open opinion. In China, I have experienced the tension between northerners and the Cantonese. I have experienced the way certain Chinese treat foreigners. Some of this came as a shock and was disappointing. It was tempting to make a hasty, strong first impression. I would urge someone in my position to try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and aim to see where the other person is coming from. I have watched members of our group get completely ripped off and mistreated; this has also been my experience. But I have also watched them have lovely interactions with many Chinese people, which I have also had the honor to be part of. If we greet with smiles and sincerity, rather than a lack of humility and willingness to accept (as they sometimes expect from Americans), we get much better results, with all interactions, whether it be with students of their universities or workers in shops and restaurants.
Don’t Let This One Slip By
When considering the people you will meet, do not forget to consider the people who will be at your side, throughout the journey. Deciding what kind of study abroad program to do is a big choice. Exploration Seminars with 25 people or a program with 7 other students? Maybe if I had thought longer about this, I may have chosen a different type, with less people. I love meeting new people and was very happy to be with many Americans, as I explored China. But at the same time, it does add a whole extra element that may detract from your learning. When considering your conduct, it’s wise to consider the background of the people you’re traveling with. For me, the biggest lesson I learned was that people will make generalizations about you based off of what limited information they know. It’s all dependent of both people’s experiences growing up. The smallest things make a difference! Smiling and acknowledging them as you walk by can mean the world for your first impression, to both your classmates and the locals of the country you visit. I would personally suggest not waiting until the trip to get to know people, regardless of how busy you may be during the training quarter. Overall, I found my classmates were a blessing and a lesson. They taught me the importance of assessing for appropriate conduct with every group you join and environment you enter. I’ve made great friends with my classmates and I can’t wait to see them around, when we get back to UW.
I’ve had a wonderful time experiencing China and meeting people very different from myself both within my group and from China itself. It’s my greatest pleasure to acknowledge our similarities and respect our differences. I will say again that this has been one of the most challenging months of my life, but extremely rewarding. It’s been an honor to have the opportunity to blog about my experience. I am grateful to have this blog, as it allows me to work through my thoughts and hopefully entertain my readers, at the same time. I hope my sincerity came through my writing and you find my stories helpful and ultimately feel inspired to do something for yourself. Please enjoy more pictures from the beautiful country, as taking pictures is my passion and one of the best parts of it all!