Written by Margaret Jackson (Georgetown University) Student Correspondent CET Harbin, Summer 2018
The weather was beautiful my first weekend in Harbin. I thought to myself, “I am so happy I choose a program in northern China where the summer is cooler than the hot and humid south!” Harbin residents often herald their city as a refuge from the heat of China’s southern cities. With the exception of a few very hot days in July, they are exactly right. When the sky is blue and we have a nice breeze blowing in the window during class, I look forward to a long run in the afternoon. I am an active person and having the time to exercise is an important part of my daily routine. I find in Harbin, as is the case in a lot of cities, going for a long run is a great way to explore a new place.
Recently, when I had a free afternoon, I set out across campus, keen to find a new neighborhood. I followed the edge of the sports fields until I found a path along a small river. I passed markets with vegetables and fruit for sale, groups of men playing cards, and people leisurely walking home from work. It was a serene setting amidst the bustle of the city. Despite the peacefulness of that moment, I had one problem. I was the only one running along the river and I felt completely out of place. The stares I got from others could have been because I am a foreigner, but they also could have been because I was running. Did they question why I was in such a hurry?
On the way back to campus, I passed the university’s large track and field stadium. As I got closer, I noticed a stream of people entering and I wondered if there was an important sporting event. I peeked in the gate to see what was going on. Just inside the gate, a man sold cold drinks and ice cream; however, as far as I could tell, there was no main event. Young men stretched along the sides of the field as elderly ladies walked in cadence around the track, chatting the whole time. Children ran across the soccer field, chased paper airplanes, and somersaulted in the grass. Couples held hands as if they were going for a romantic stroll. In the end, what I found was a wonderful community gathered around a place of exercise and outdoor enjoyment.
I return to the stadium every evening when the weather is clear. I found the place where I feel I belong, which can be difficult in a new country and a new setting. The last time I finished a workout there, my face still flushed, a young girl and her parents said hello. They asked about my time in Harbin and how often I frequent the stadium. I replied that I try to run most days, mostly because I enjoy Chinese food too much and I need a healthy balance! They replied, that yes, they know every foreigner loves Chinese dumplings.
In reality, exercise is what keeps my body and my mind fresh for class every day. The long hours in the classroom and over my desk can easily take a toll on my ability to learn and absorb new material. The Harbin CET program does a fantastic job of encouraging students to take care of their whole selves. Only by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and a good attitude can we successfully complete this challenging program.
For me, having a place to go and feel that I’m part of a community is just as important as the physical workout. It’s important for all of us to find that place we can go while abroad where we share commonalities and can bridge cultural differences.
My next sporting adventure is tennis lessons in Chinese, stay tuned for updates!