December 11, 2014

My time in Beijing

Two months in China was not enough, not even close.  

It’s pretty ironic because I thought I made a huge mistake choosing this overpopulated and extremely polluted country, instead of the popular choices like England or Italy. I couldn’t have been more wrong. 

After I landed in Beijing and stepped outside the airport, a polite Chinese man helped me get a taxi. The taxi driver was kind, and I immediately felt safe and reassured that no one would steal my luggage or take advantage of the fact that I was a tourist. A few days later, I began thinking about all the misconceptions toward China and its people. 

For starters, Beijing may be ancient and filled with elderly people, but, like New York City, it’s a city that never sleeps. I am a 19-year-old college student, so of course I felt the curiosity and excitement to check out the nightlife. You don’t get treated like royalty in China if you’re a foreigner, but you do get some perks. I lost count of how many times a Chinese local asked to take a picture with me. I felt honored, not annoyed. I loved the hutongs, which are narrow streets filled with vendors, sweets and weird delicacies. 

But it wasn’t all sunshine. When people tell you summers in Beijing are ridiculously hot, they’re not kidding. It sounds gross, but I sweated daily walking to and from class. Everyone in my program was forced to sleep on dirty train mattresses for 11 hours on our way back to Beijing from Shanxi Province. 

Bargaining in Chinese outlets was also very overwhelming and intense, because Chinese vendors “won” if you hesitated and were not persistent. I learned a trick or two from my stubborn friends. It was rewarding if you did not give up and walk away. I wasn’t impressed so much by the food in Beijing because it’s mostly starch foods, but I incredibly miss eating baozis and banana milk. Baozis are steamed buns filled with pork or beef.

I have kept a lot of things with me from Beijing, but my most valuable reward is the friendships I made. I’m lucky and blessed to have met these people in our unique situation. I was the youngest, therefore most intimated, but my new friends helped me become a stronger and more spirited individual. They all taught me unforgettable lessons and helped make those two months some of the best in my life. 

I’m so grateful for this study abroad trip and I cannot stress enough that if you take a risk like I did, you are destined for unexpected friendships and brilliant stories to share one day. 

For more information on the Earl Woods Scholarship Program, its scholars, mentors and workshops, visit the program website