Every semester, in addition to the Chinese classes, CET Language Intensive Beijing offers a number of extracurriculars. This semester’s options were Martial Arts and Chinese Painting. I decided to try them both, at least the first week. Ever since my first study abroad experience in Spain, my motto has been “Have all of the experiences!” So I planned to do Martial Arts because it would give me a nice, organized way to exercise and engage with the culture; I planned only to try Chinese Painting the first week. I wanted to know what it was like, but I didn’t think I’d stick with it. I like lines, lists, and standards I can meet. It’s impossible to do art “right” and so how was I supposed to know if I was doing it right?! This semester I was going to try Chinese Painting, but I wasn’t going to like it.
Now at the end of the semester I’m packing up my things, and here I am, rolling up 13 separate works that I painted. Something I thought would be a day’s amusement turned into one of my favorite experiences. It’s the weirdest thing because I’m still not very good, and my work still never looks like the teacher’s or anything, and yet I don’t get frustrated. The class is even, dare I say it, relaxing. I’m not saying I’m going to go buy a set of paintbrushes and change my major to Studio Art, but I can honestly say that I enjoy the activity. I love both of my extracurriculars. But I think that Chinese Painting is a great analogy for my study abroad experience, because it’s a great representation of how I’ve changed.
They tell you that study abroad will change you completely, that you’ll have all these experiences, and that you’ll come back an entirely different person. If that’s true for some people, it’s not necessarily true in my case. I think I’m still the girl who loves to plan, who wants to do everything, and who’s even happier when she’s doing it with friends. But I’m not exactly the same as when I arrived in China. You see, I have a tendency to set my expectations too high. When my study abroad experience in Spain did not go exactly as I envisioned it, I was disappointed. I did not like that it had not measured up to the picture I had drawn in my head.
However, just like my Chinese Painting class, which did not go according to plan, my time in China did not go exactly as I envisioned it either. I didn’t go to every place on my list. I’m not a tea expert. But also like my Chinese Painting class, which I was surprised to find I enjoyed, I did do any number of things here in China that I enjoyed immensely regardless of whether I expected to. I walked through hutongs, bargained for souvenirs, saw parts of rural China, went mountain climbing on three separate occasions, made great friends, and laughed over plates of baozi until I couldn’t breathe. I might still be the girl who doesn’t like it when her expectations aren’t met, but I’m not the girl who left Spain feeling that because her experience wasn’t exactly as she had imagined it was “supposed” to be, therefore it wasn’t the “good” or the “right” one. In China, I had the experiences that I had and I enjoyed them for what they were.
Before I left, my friend gave me a bracelet with the phrase “Don’t count the days; make the days count” inscribed on the inside – our motto for study abroad. At first I thought I was taking it to heart because I was having all of the experiences, making sure that I went everywhere I wanted to go. I only had limited time in Beijing, and I wanted to make the most of it! But looking back at the unexpected joy of my Chinese Painting class I realize that I was only taking the second half to heart. I was making the days count, but I was also still counting the days. I may not have been sitting around simply counting the days until I got home, but I was still counting them, arranging them, and breaking them down into little units to be filled with my expectations for them. I think that “Don’t count the days; make the days count” does require planning and preparation. You can’t just sit back and wait for life to happen to you. But it also means making a little room for the unexpected because some of the best things in life do just happen to you, if you let them. That’s the real lesson I’ve learned on study abroad and I think that means I’ve started to grow up a little bit. Isn’t that a scary thought?
Written by Zoey Erdenebileg (Kenyon College)
Chinese Studies and Internship in Shanghai, Student Correspondent, Spring 2013
Under the West Yan’an Road subway station, there is a hotpot spot that goes by the name of Xibu Xibu. With a sign that is bright orange sign like a burning life vest, it is a clean, pleasant and popular place. Unlike some restaurants in town, its’ menu is almost exclusively Chinese. The only part that isn’t just Chinese is the red pepper signs, which is universal. Moreover, the menu font type is small and jammed together, a tiny terror for a newly arrived foreigner in China. While tables are line along the edges of the store wall, there is also a hotpot island in the center, with bar stools for the “casual” customer. If you elect to sit at said bar stools, which we did during our early days in the city, you will have to communicate with each other through the telephone game that was so popular in middle school (and still to this day I would argue).
This was the place that the students of CET Shanghai 2013 first went for dinner after getting picked up from respective airports by a few energetic and outgoing Donghua University students that would later become our close friends. As we sat bright eyed in our first meal in Shanghai, the conversation revolved around the usual, “Where are you from? Where do you go to school? How many siblings do you have? Do you like cats?” The usual topics came and went, and finally we were just anxious to get back to our freezing February rooms, some of us lucky enough to be able to borrow our not-yet arrived roommates’ comforters.
Since then, we have grown to be a bit more 厉害 (awesome). We’ve managed to not only study in Shanghai, but to work here, and to live here. Many of us plan to return, while some of haven’t thought about it yet. The same terror of the Chinese menu, the bewilderment in the city and the unfamiliarity with each other soon receded. And after belly aching about classes, homework, real work, commuting, dinner plans, brunch plans, spring break plans, Hangzhou bus rides, train tickets, Moganshan lake adventures, Wenzhou stairs, Wenzhou outhouse, and all else in between, I think China and Shanghai has become something of a home.
We salute the history and economics lessons, the Chinese classes, the one on ones, the 中文桌子（Chinese Table), and the wonderful collection of humans known as the roommates. Shanghai, we salute you, your past and your future. See you later, Shanghai.