Instead of typing half of this journal about what inspired me to study abroad, I’m just going to cut to the chase. It was August 17th, approximately 3 PM, I had finally arrived in China, and almost without realizing it, I was 20 years old. The first night I spent in China–exhausted from a full day of air travel–was spent in a dream-like state. I spent most of that night battling the initial waves of culture shock and reflecting over the changes of my life. I distinctly remember thinking, as I looked out the window of a little Chinese restaurant to the busy streets of Beijing, how almost suddenly my life was completely different. It’s hard to explain, but there is something so intriguing–and lonely–about being a foreigner in a strange country. There is something about the anonymity of travel. Besides the few companions I traveled with, nobody knew me. Nobody knew that I even existed. Millions of people were constantly flooding past me–most of them shamelessly staring at my non-Asian features. Occasionally someone would confidently label me “Mei guo ren” (American). To everyone who saw me, I was simply an American who happened to cross their path as they carried out their day. All of those people have their own detailed and complicated lives, and I was simply an interesting face, like an extra in a movie. Travel does many things for the traveler, but one of the most interesting emotions it stirs up in me is that humbling feeling of smallness. It’s actually laughable when I think about how caught up I, and others, can get in the minor problems of life. I’m here in China, and my presence hasn’t changed a thing that I can see. Instead, this place has changed—and is changing—me.
Now that the existential portion of my reflection is over, I can write a little bit about my adventure thus far.
The first few days I spent in Beijing, China, were busy and exciting. Of course, I was being bombarded with the strange and unusual customs of a new culture, but my excitement for my experiences far exceeded any uneasiness I was feeling. The group went to immaculately designed temples and palaces, experienced the indescribable majesty of the Great Wall, and tasted foods and flavors totally unknown to us in America. Those first few days went by in a blur of awe and disbelief, and suddenly it was time to fly to Dalian. While Beijing was fantastic and exciting, I don’t think my adventure truly started until I arrived in Dalian. I adore it. There is something about Dalian that makes me want to meet everyone, explore every mountain, every street market, and every alleyway I come across. Even though I knew very little Mandarin when I first arrived—I’m by no means fluent now—I still wanted to meet as many people as possible. This brings me to another thing travel has taught me: people don’t really need to speak to communicate. I don’t know how many times I communicated with a stranger with a wave, a smile, or some other friendly gesture. Likewise, I have been treated so kindly by people whose names I didn’t know, but I felt as if I knew them by their actions. This experience has drawn my attention to how words are more often than not unnecessary or empty. When I cannot speak so freely to others, it makes me wonder if what I need to say is really needed at all. I have begun to pay closer attention to people’s actions rather than their words, mainly because Chinese culture relies heavily on nonverbal communication.
I have been in Dalian for nearly a month now, and I definitely feel like it has been a success. I fall in love with the people and places more and more each day while simultaneously discovering more about myself. I am meeting so many new friends, especially since I’m living in the international dorms, and I have met people from Seoul, Zimbabwe, Senegal, Russia, Italy, Costa Rica, and of course, China. Everyone I have met has been so helpful and friendly, and I love hearing them talk about their home cultures. I’m excited to meet even more people on my journey, and I hope to learn as much as I can from them. The other Missouri State University-West Plains interns and I have already been to many famous locations around Dalian, and we have many more experiences awaiting us. This trip will quite possibly be the biggest adventure of my life, so I’m doing my best to accept the never-ending ambiguity that accompanies it.