Study Abroad in Beijing (Part 3): Reflecting on My Time Abroad

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Looking back on the past four months I've spent studying abroad in Beijing, I realize that I've come a long way from the fish out of water I was back in February. Toward the end of my time abroad, I was carrying out conversations in Mandarin with locals every day, talking about everything from the weather to the IMF chief’s scandal (a taxi driver brought that one up). I memorized all 14 stops on line 10 of the subway from my apartment to the central business district, where I worked for an internship. Shopping at Beijing's many markets, I learned to bargain a seller down to less than a third of his starting price without getting frustrated or frazzled. I learned to confidently use a squat-toilet (now I never take Western toilets for granted), and didn't bat an eye when taxi drivers beeped the life out of their horns and missed other cars and people by centimeters. In Beijing, I visited dozens of cultural attraction—from Tiananmen Square to the famous Wangfujing night market, where they sell scorpions on a stick (people do eat them). I became an expert at enduring people-jams on the bus and ordering take-out food in Chinese, got hit on by the delivery boy, and also took a shower in the dark when the electricity in our apartment ran out. I’ve noshed on every kind of Chinese food, from custard-filled baozi (steamed buns) to jianbing (egg pancakes) made by local sellers loitering outside the Peking University campus gate. I ventured outside of Beijing to the cities of Suzhou, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Yueyang, and Changsha, and learned that I very much prefer bullet trains to slow hard-sleeper trains. I made valuable friendships with fellow exchange students and coworkers, and it was fantastic visiting and getting to know my Chinese relatives for the first time in Hunan Province.

You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t mentioned the coursework I’ve taken, which is reflective of my study abroad experience. While I definitely learned things in my classes, I’ve come away with far more valuable lessons from outside of the classroom. What my time in China has ultimately taught me is that no matter how much I read or learn about the country and my heritage, nothing compares to living in the country itself for an extended period of time and experiencing everyday life there. What’s important now is that I continue to make a constant effort to get better at speaking Chinese and understanding more about China, even though I'm no longer there. I look forward to returning to China again in the future. As for everyone else, I encourage you to seize the opportunity to study abroad if you can—you won't regret it!

Header credit: Jasmine Ako