This isn’t a perspective I heard very often before I left, so I’m going to put it out there. I was homesick a lot this summer. At least every week I longed for my friends, my bed, the beach, and Taco Bell. But even I, the homesickest of travel bloggers, had an incredible time that I wouldn’t exchange if I could do it over again. Now that I have only one week before I board the flight home, I have the feeling that I’ll be Kunming-homesick not long after my return. Among many things that I wish I could take with me back to the US, I’ll be stuffing my suitcase with love for a new hobby, self-confidence, and a new sense of awe and humility.
My university at home has its own climbing gym that I’ve never made use of. One time, I joined climbing club’s beach BBQ, but that’s about as close as I ever got to rock climbing anywhere other than at a carnival. When my friend suggested that we try out the nearby climbing gym in Kunming, I was all in, but I had no idea what the experience would entail.
One month-long membership card, two back massages, and a handful of callouses (pun intended) later, and I can’t believe that I never took advantage of UW’s climbing resources in the past. In addition to actually loving climbing and making time to go at least twice a week, climbing in Kunming has opened up learning opportunities and conversations that I never expected. A couple of weeks ago, another climber came up to me and asked how long I’d been climbing. I said, “3, maybe 4 times?” To which he replied, “Oh, because you’re doing a couple of things wrong.” If the conversation ended there, I might’ve thought he was strange and a bit rude. Instead, he offered to help me, and spend a good amount of time watching how I climbed, showing me how I should change, and explaining everything in Chinese!
Everything was running smoothly until he said something that sounded like, “Now that you know the method of how to climb, you just need to practice a lot, so you won’t have chicken arms anymore and you’ll get stronger.” I didn’t want to assume he was calling me weak (whether or not that’s true is beside the point), so I replied, “Um sorry I think I misunderstood you, can you say that again?”
He said, “You need to practice more so you can get more chicken,” which makes even less sense. At this point I decided to look up the word in question, and as it turns out, jīròu 鸡肉 means chicken but jīròu 肌肉means muscle. This entire time, he had actually been telling me that if I keep practicing, I’ll build up more muscle so I can get stronger, since just knowing the strategy can only get you so far. Between this slightly awkward but humorous miscommunication, experienced climbers showing my friend and I the ropes (or should I say, the rocks), and meeting other foreigners who found a community with this gym, climbing in Kunming has been an experience that I wish I could take home with me. I’ll just have to practice at UW and hope that the next time I visit Kunming, my jīròu 肌肉and my vocabulary have both gotten stronger.
I don’t know about you, but I was VERY nervous about studying abroad this summer. Yes, I was excited, but hear me out. A month before boarding the flight from Seattle to Kunming, I wrote about my apprehension as the feeling that 80% of me longed to go to China but 20% of me held back.
The CET acceptance email was the force I needed to push all of me to commit to this terrifying, thrilling, once-in-a-lifetime adventure. I predicted, correctly, that at times, I would be frustrated and lonely. I also knew that I had felt those feelings before and overcome them; I have been away from home for longer periods of time working at summer camp; and I always return a better person. Now that summer is almost over, I can say for certain that I read myself correctly.
In the past, I have embraced a “fake it ‘til you make it” attitude to help get me through tough times. This summer, if I was frustrated that I didn’t understand a particular grammar pattern or had some free time that left me missing home, I accepted what I was feeling but eventually tried to fake a positive or productive attitude until I actually did feel better. “Fake it” doesn’t mean pretending to your teacher that you understand something that you don’t – it’s just a mindset that helped me acknowledge my own setbacks, envision how I wished I felt at that point in time, and work towards that goal. It doesn’t always work out this way, but I’m only human.
Even then, studying abroad has been worth every setback, every sleepy 8:30am class, and every slow and awkward and slightly misunderstood conversation. Before I left, my friends and family gave me mountains of encouragement that I only partly believed. But I took the encouragement and faked it, and now I know they, and 80% of me, were right. I came to China, took a language pledge, and loved it.
In addition to the immense language and personal growth that I had the opportunity to experience abroad, there were also many challenges I didn’t expect, and I am left humbled by the amount of growth I still have left. As the amount of Chinese I know grows, so does the entire list of things that I know I don’t know, so the percentage of things I do know actually shrinks. It’s a bummer if you think of it like that too much, but it is truly motivating to see how far I’ve come in such a short time and gives me hope that I can keep improving.
Of all the things I’ll miss about Kunming, I’ll miss the people the most. Huge thank you to my roommate for babysitting me when I don’t know how to do anything for myself. Thank you to the teachers and staff for being genuinely concerned about their students and invested in our experience. Thank you to my classmates for the friendship, adventures, honesty, and love.
Before I left, one of the fake sentences that I said to myself was, “I’m ready for you, China; 你为我准备好了吗?” (I’m ready for you, China; are you ready for me?”) In the end, I was. Now I have to get ready to come home.