This weekend was the three year mark of the day I left on one of the greatest adventures of my life. After getting my left knee totally replaced, courtesy of my tumor, I finally felt like I was ready to take on the world and shove it right back in cancer’s face. I was going to take back my life and everything that cancer had told me that I would never be able to accomplish or do.
So, as any logical early twenty year-old would do, I deferred from school for two semesters and went to live in China for five months. Why China? Well, I knew I wanted to study abroad and I found an amazing program called International Language Programs that was more like a “service abroad.” They offered programs in several countries at the time: Russia, Ukraine, Mexico and China. I didn’t want to go to Russia in the cold and Mexico wasn’t far away enough for me, so that left me with China. Maybe it wasn’t the most well researched plan I’ve come up with, but it was something and I was finally healthy enough and strong enough to go for it.
The primary goal of going to China through ILP was to teach English to children. I had the amazing opportunity to teach English to 60 of the cutest Chinese 2nd and 3rd graders in the whole country. I lived with 19 other American teachers at the boarding school that we taught in a small (by Chinese standards) city of 4 million people called Weihai. I only had to teach for three hours a day and we had monthly vacations, so I got to really learn and experience and interact with the Chinese culture, which is totally and completely different from America.
You might be in China if you constantly see English words on notebooks, clothing, boxes, cookware, random objects and it makes absolutely no sense. It’s what we fondly refer to as “Chinglish.” The Chinese love English words but don’t know how to use them correctly.
You might be in China if the Bank of China refuses to exchange your American money for Chinese yuan because they are EXTREMELY picky about the condition of your dollar billz, yo. They flat out refused to exchange 80 dollars of my green cash because my money was “broken.” In other words, it was worn and frayed on the edges, with creases down the middle from being folded. Future note for any future travelers: don’t bring broken money.
You might be in China if you see Santa all over the place months after Christmas. The Chinese love Santa and they would play Christmas music over the loudspeakers on campus between classes, like Jingle Bell rock.
You might be in China if you travel via sleeper bus a la Harry Potter’s Knight Bus to get to Beijing or Shanghai for the weekend. Also, you will probably be too tall to sleep in the bed on the bus because Chinese people are small. And the bathroom on the sleeper bus is a squatty potty. Try peeing on a moving bus while squatting…not a fond memory.
You might be in China is you spend every day with faces like these, who depend on the English language to further them in their lives and give them a chance to live above the poverty line. My students were the brightest memories from China and their love was endless. In China, these kids get sent to boarding school starting at kindergarten age. They sleep on their floor with their teachers and rarely get to go home on the weekends. Not only did I teach these kids, but I ate meals with them and tucked them in at night. They were the best part about China and I miss them all of the time.
There is so much more to China then I could write in one blog post, so I’m considering making this into a series of randoms facts/stories from my life in China and the things I learned from living abroad.
Have you been to China or traveled abroad? What culture norms surprised or shocked you?