Written by Bryn O’hara, (College of the Holy Cross) Student Correspondent CET Beijing, Fall 2018
It’s 8:00 am and I am standing on top of the Great Wall of China.
I’m looking out over the sunlight just beginning to graze over the tops of the trees, and I’m standing strong in the face of the wind that could literally knock me over. In this moment, any difficulty I’ve faced since coming to Beijing doesn’t exist to me anymore, and I know it’s moments like these that I may never have again, and moments like these that inspired me to study abroad in the first place. I feel so incredibly grateful to be standing here and for having the opportunity to study in China.
After staying overnight with a local Hebei family, my classmates and I got up at 6:45 am to start our climb. The night before we had a campfire and made s’mores, while also eating mooncakes and learning about the upcoming Mid-Autumn Festival. Although it was brutally cold, we played 踢毽子, which is a fun game similar to “hacky sack” in the US. That morning we were pretty tired, but excited to take on whatever was to come. Especially with the wind, it was colder than you would expect for the start of fall, and we learned this pretty quickly as we began to hike up the steep trail that would eventually lead to the Great Wall.
We hiked an unrestored section of the Great Wall, which means two things: 1) there were no other people there besides us and 2) it is a more difficult and dangerous trek than that of other sections of the Great Wall. When we finally reached the Great Wall, we continued to climb as the wind gets stronger and stronger, even climbing some sections of the Wall so steep that they almost feel vertical.
At the highest point, I stop and see water in the distance, and even buildings that look like specks, and I think about how people are probably just beginning to wake up down below, or how my friends on the other side of the world are probably finishing eating dinner or studying. I think about how many people helped build this wall and wonder how many people before me have walked along these stones. By now, my phone has died from the cold, and I am not able to take any more pictures to show to my friends and family back home; I try to soak everything in, from the invigorated feeling washing over me to the beautiful blue hue of the sky. It’s moments like these that I want to remember for a long time.