Written by Taylor Ginter (Rice University) Student Correspondent CET Harbin, Fall 2017
I just finished my last final but it doesn’t feel like I can start enjoying my relaxing winter break just yet — I’ve still got my whole dorm room to pack up and take on a 12 hour plane ride back to America with me! Additionally, I’ve still got to say my farewells to teachers, roommates, classmates, heck even the cafeteria lady who knows how to make tofu just the way I like. It’s really tough leaving a place and all the people you’ve grown close with while here, but that’s part of the beauty of studying abroad, isn’t it? Everyone in your program’s lives converge in the same place for the blink of an eye and then you all leave to continue living your “normal” lives.
In these short six months I myself have changed more than I can yet comprehend – I think I’ll have to wait until I re-immerse myself in the US to really see the difference – and I’ve changed more than I have throughout my first three years of college combined. I thought attending school out of state was a big step, but it wasn’t until leaving my home country for a while that I was really able to open my eyes and grow into my own skin. Obviously I’ve still got a lot of growing to do, but studying abroad has offered me a safe and comfortable community within the larger context of a foreign country in which I can explore.
Honestly, I’m a bit worried about going back to America. Firstly, how do I process everything that I’ve experienced recently? I honestly feel like I’ve only got the plane rides back to rest before hitting the ground running and starting to prepare for the holidays, for my last semester of college, for everything that comes next. My recent method of balancing school work and fun play has been driven by the fact that I know I only have a short time here, studying abroad. So how do I keep this MO while back home?
Additionally, how do I hold onto all the amazing memories I’ve made and experiences I’ve had? How do I see my own culture with these new eyes? How do I not annoy my friends by constantly talking about China this Harbin that? How do I keep my Mandarin skills from degenerating??
I’m very satisfied with my study abroad experience: I set out to improve my Chinese and challenge myself in a new context outside of the classroom, and I can confidently say I did both of those. The improvement of my Chinese is the easier one of the two to measure; I remember times before when speaking Chinese outside the classroom caused me utter anxiety — flushed cheeks and a knot in my stomach. But now I can successfully navigate my way even through Chinese airports, banks, and visa offices while using this [less and less] foreign [to me] language. But wait, looking at what I just wrote, I realize that these situations are also the experiences outside of the classroom. This is probably my favorite part of learning a language: how immediately applicable it is. None of that “teacher, when will we ever use this??”
I don’t regret much from my term abroad but I would have done two things differently. The first one is bring American medicine with me. I usually only get a cold at most once a year, but I’ve been sick three times while abroad. When my nose was plugged up and I was coughing a lung out I wasn’t too keen on experimenting with new medicines that didn’t end up being effective for me. The second thing I’d have done differently is have a closer relationship with my roommate. We didn’t hit it off right away (see: multiple awkward conversations over a meal) so I became discouraged from continuing to try. During the last few weeks we started hanging out more and it made me realize I missed an opportunity throughout the rest of the semester. Also, CET does a meticulous job of choosing Chinese roommates and matching them with Americans, so I think we actually had a lot more in common than it came off at first. However, despite these couple of things, I’m so thankful to have experienced such an amazing program whose memories, influences, and friendships I will take with me into the rest of my life.