Written by Elizabeth Kennedy (University of Washington), CET Kunming Summer 2019
They told us we would get sick at some point this summer, but I didn’t expect it to happen so soon.
辣肚子 là dùzi literally translates to “spicy stomach” – a fitting name for the disease that, for many of us, had no known origin. Did the water that I used to brush my teeth cause the upset stomach? What about the ice in my drink, or poorly washed mint leaves? Could unfamiliar food have left me running to the bathroom every 30 minutes, dehydrating me even as I drank as much 瓶装水 píng zhuāng shuǐ (bottled water) as I could?
没关系 méi guānxi (nevermind). Maybe I’ll never know for sure. I was lucky – I woke up with 辣肚子 on Day Four, the same day that many of my new friends began experiencing the same symptoms. We shared a common pain, some jokes about how we jinxed ourselves the day before, and blister packs of Loperamide HCl.
Day Four was scavenger hunt day, a time to explore Kunming, locate useful stores such as copy print shops and 咖啡馆 kāfēiguǎn (coffee shops), and bond with each other and our roommates on our last day before taking the language pledge. It was also a time to run around the city for 3 hours with no known bathrooms. In my group of 7, three of us had 辣肚子 and one had just recovered the day before. Though it was not an experience I would want to repeat, scavenger hunting was full of potty jokes, relatable stories, concerned friends asking if I needed to hop into a store and find a 厕所 cèsuǒ (bathroom), and the somewhat proud moment of conquering a squatty potty when I least wanted to.
Waking up with 辣肚子 can feel like a sign that the day to come is bound to be miserable. I could have laid in bed all day, steeping in stomach pangs and loneliness, exploring Facebook instead of Kunming. But I was well enough to leave my dorm and even though it was scary at first and 不舒服 bù shūfu (uncomfortable) throughout, I had such a good day. Not only was it great to bond with new friends through our shared suffering, but even if I had been alone in my discomfort, I realized that everyone around me cared about each other’s wellbeing. We made sure everyone had water, the proper food, and plenty of bathroom breaks. The potentially terrible experience of scavenger hunting with 辣肚子 turned into a surprisingly good day.
Two (Maybe Not Super Obvious) Ways to Handle Sickness Abroad:
Don’t Keep it a Secret! Tell others what you’re experiencing.
Your resident director is like Nick Fury bringing the Avengers together to save the world, only her name might be Rosalyn and she connects students to wellness resources and brings you to the doctor – and that, to me, counts as saving the world.
If you are in a program with a roommate, they will be totally understanding, empathetic, and helpful! Your roommate knows what to do when they get sick. They will go above and beyond to make sure you are taken care of.
Your healthy classmates can keep you posted on what is happening in school or other activities and might even cater food to your bedside; on the other hand, your sick classmates can relate to you and help you persevere! Even if you’ve just met each other 4 days prior, your classmates care and will try their best to help. You are in a foreign country with semi-strangers, but you are NOT alone.
Rest and nutrition are number 1, of course. But if you are able, don’t skimp on physical activity completely.
My first day with 辣肚子 also happened to be Day One of my period, but I still felt that I could make it around Green Lake with perhaps a bathroom break or two. I wouldn’t recommend running to everyone who comes down with 辣肚子 – I’m just sayin’, if you’re able, your body might appreciate some movement (no pun intended).
I wouldn’t wish 辣肚子 or any other sickness upon anyone, especially during an adventure abroad. But if it happens to you, I wish you a speedy recovery, the best of circumstances, and dedicated new friends. 加油 jiā yóu! (Keep going, you got this!)
Cover photo caption: A huge group requires a huge platter of food, right? Luckily, most foods, including this awesome dinner, don’t give you 辣肚子. (Courtesy of the waiter, who took our picture.)