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Lirica and her friend on Study Abroad

I remember constantly checking my plane ticket to make sure that the flight number and time matched the information board next to the gate. I waited anxiously for my Air China flight to Beijing, China announcement.  I looked around and saw that everyone around me was speaking Chinese, and frankly, I could not decipher any of it. Feeling nervous, I finally stood up to board the plane, and I walked to the very end the line of, seemingly, all Chinese people. 

I had a window seat, and in the seat next to me was an old Chinese man. He spoke to me in Chinese, and I didn’t understand. I asked him to repeat his question saying, “Qing ni zai shuo yi bian.” He quickly realized I was not a Chinese speaker and smiled. Then in Chinese, he asked if I was studying Chinese. When I answered yes, he tried starting a conversation with me very unsuccessfully. 

Beijing was a transition flight, and Nanjing, China was my final destination where I studied abroad for four months. Nanjing is a fairly large city. Of course, not quite as large as Shanghai or Beijing, but it is definitely not countryside. Many of us in the CIEE Nanjing study abroad program were surprised to hear that Nanjing is known to be the ‘green’ city. There are some trees along the roads, and tourist attractions have a good amount of vegetation, but ‘green’ does not come to mind when thinking of Nanjing.

When I arrived to Nanjing, a shuttle picked me and one of my program mates up from the airport to take us to the Nanjing University International dorms. As the shuttle drove into the city, the first things I saw were enormous, illuminated signs of Louis Vuitton, Prada, and Cartier. The whole street was full of luxury brands, and they were not fake. From day one, my image of China started changing.

Lirica and her friend

China was rough, but the roughness molded my experience into an adventure. Every time I had to communicate with a local person, it was a challenge. Going out to shop, using the subway, ordering food were all obstacles that I had never had to face in America. My program mates and I were warned about diarrhea so we had to be careful with our choices of restaurants. We decided to stick to the restaurants with the most people, but diarrhea proved unavoidable.

With no car, we walked or took public transportation everywhere which I thought was fun. But walking in China was dangerous. There were normal roads for cars, bicycle roads, and sidewalks. However, sometimes people liked to mix things up, and I would see motorbikes and scooters on the bicycle roads and even on the sidewalks. Wherever we walked, we had to look out for them. One time a motorbike zoomed passed me inside a mall. Even more shocking was that no one seemed to care. Actually, by the end of my program, neither did I.

Everything I thought was ‘normal’ or ‘common sense’ in America was not in China. China had its own standard of ‘normal’, and this stressed me out somewhat. But once I got used to it, all of the unexpected things became pleasurable and added to the excitement.

The city is not the only aspect of China. China may have one of the most beautiful natures, richest history, and, of course, pandas.  I had a chance to travel to a city called Guilin and a province called Sichuan. These places were also very much commercialized, and most of it were tourist attractions, but the nature itself were landscapes I had never seen before. Tall and skinny mountains I’ve only seen in Chinese paintings and the imagery I’ve only seen in pictures came to life right in front of me, and this was very excitingly surreal.

Lirica posing

In Leshan, Sichuan, we saw the world’s largest statue of a sitting Buddha. This statue was carved during the Tang Dynasty nearby a river to decrease the high rates of boat accidents there and protect the boaters. The size of this Buddha was just extraordinary and it was frightening to see how powerful the Tang Dynasty must have been to complete such an incredible task. In Chengdu, Sichuan, we went to see pandas, and they were, expectedly, the most adorable things in China. We all appreciated the efforts put into preventing the pandas from extinction.

panda

Condensing my experience into a few words does not do it justice. The four months was a huge wave of new experiences which left me drenched with exhaustion, but also forced me open my eyes to the vastness of our world. I can confidently say that study abroad was one of the most valuable experiences I’ve had, and I am inspired and encouraged to keep travelling the world searching for new adventure.

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