Yoko Taguchi in Beijing, China

Study Abroad Experience

Tall building in Beijing

I love Beijing because of countless great experiences that enabled me to love myself, my world, and the people around me.

Although I had heard from alumni that “Beijing is really fun,” my first impression of Beijing was not so good. In Japan, when I told people that I went to Beijing, they would grimace and ask me, “Seriously, why did you go there?” I chose Beijing because I wanted to see the city with my own eyes before I was too old to jump into such an environment. I admit that my initial motivation to go to Beijing was a playful curiosity, but it turns out, it was the best decision. Beijing is now my favorite city in the world. I had a lot of wonderful memories that I want to share, but thinking back on them, I found that all of these great experiences started from an encounter with a band, Beijing Jungle Big Band.

I expected my life in Beijing would be limited, so I was determined to keep playing music. When I started to feel a sense of boredom, I searched online under “Beijing Big Band” and Beijing Jungle Big Band (北京森霖大乐团) popped up. Their sound was cool and their website said, “If you wanna join us, send us e-mail!” I immediately emailed them. I found out that they were lacking a trombonist, so I joined the band! I didn’t know before I joined them that all of the members of the band were paid, professional musicians. Their level of music was very high, but more strikingly, all of the conducting was in Chinese. I really tried hard to catch up and understand the conductor. It was different from learning Chinese in a classroom. They spoke fast and used a lot of slang which really helped me to improve my Chinese skills.

In Beijing, there is an old saying, 饱吹饿唱. This means brass players shouldn’t go hungry. For the sake of following this policy, we often went out to eat after rehearsal and on weekends. Beijing people are really good at hosting friends from other areas. They took me to so many fun and good food restaurants. They taught me the traditional way of eating and drinking. Not only did they introduce me to Beijing food, but also concerts, jazz bars, and clubs so that I could really experience Beijing’s music culture. Although they forced me to try frogs or deadly spicy food, hanging out with them were the moments when I really got to know the real Beijing. I had an unforgettable moment when I felt a universal friendship on the way back from such a hangout. After eating spicy frog hot pot, I asked my friend the reason why he wasn’t like many Chinese who don’t like Japanese people, like on TV shows. He shrugged his shoulders and answered, “Well, that’s what some older people and maybe the government would say. But I don’t care, and most of people don’t care. Here it is just you, me, and our friendship.” It’s cliché but I felt so fortunate to hear my friend say that.

I began to really appreciate how Beijing was filled with music. You can stop by different live houses with really good music for no charge. You can enjoy Karaoke and be a star for five minutes for only one dollar. There is a wide range of abilities of musicians on the street, and people would stop and listen to them. I know some people may not like this kind of culture, but I just loved it. People were emotionally free to enjoy music. This freedom allows Beijing music to be filled endless fusion possibilities. 

In Beijing, I often took taxis (which were so cheap). I had fun conversations with the taxi drivers. Beijing taxi drivers are famous for their love of chatting with passengers. They are really nice people. It was a thrilling language practice. I could give directions to them, no matter how drunk I got. I would have the most random conversations with them. Although this was stressful for me at first, I came to love these taxi rides because I could find cheap and delicious local food, discuss social issues, and most of the time they gave me a discount. I realized that it was really boring to study just to earn a good grades. What I experienced in Beijing was an exciting and fun way of studying a language because I was aiming to communicate with cool people and to know the wonders of this world.

Writing these fun memories now, I realize that it is SUA which enabled me to appreciate my study abroad experience in Beijing. I was really passive about study abroad in Beijing because this was my second study abroad experience. (I even forgot my passport in my house.) I already knew how tough it is to adjust to new culture, make new friends, and try to improve my language level. Trust me, study abroad is tough, at least it was for me. I was so fortunate in Beijing to attend the great Peking University and got a really good host family. But, don’t be so jealous. Beijing life can still be harsh in some aspects. For example, I was unable to board two public buses because there are too many passengers so I was late for an exam. And it was like a death race to get a seat for lunch in the cafeteria.

But, although some aspects were tough, I really enjoyed my Beijing life because of my first study abroad experience at SUA gave me the courage to be honest with myself. More precisely, I learned to have the courage to devote myself to my favorite things. Getting good grades by just taking classes and writing essays in English was really tough for me at SUA. But, great professors, alumni, and friends at SUA showed me a cool way of living by specializing in what I love. Without this, I wouldn’t have been able to jump into the semi-professional big band jazz band, enjoy the Chinese style of drinking, or chat with charming taxi drivers in Beijing.

I now really appreciate my first study abroad experience which allowed me to enjoy my second study abroad experience. I can’t stop thinking about how life is full of wonder and the possibility of great surprises (惊喜). That’s the power of study abroad. It can open up a world of different perspectives. It can help you convert something negative into a positive. It can show you various ways of thinking and help you realize that you can be friends with any race of people. I think most people aspire to study abroad because we want something different from our daily life—something brighter than ourselves. I love Beijing because of countless great experiences that enabled me to love myself, my world, and the people around me.