Reflections on a Year in China

Now that I have been home from China for almost three weeks, I wanted to share some post-study abroad reflections.  People will often ask, “How was China?” and my response of “Awesome/Amazing/I loved it!” will never fully express my accomplishments, emotions and even newfound nostalgia for my year abroad.  When I say, “It was incredible”, I truly hope to encapsulate all the raw emotions of my time abroad.  But how can just a few words explain my love for 小笼包 (Soup dumplings), my frustrations with the blur between individual privacy and safety, my gratitude toward my Chinese teachers, my unforgettable experiences while solo backpacking, my pride in my work at my internship or the character of some of the best and most passionate friends I have ever been fortunate enough to make?

I am very proud of my academic accomplishments and the opportunities I was afforded.  I came to Beijing feeling shy and slightly uncomfortable speaking Chinese, and tested into level 260.  I left Shanghai speaking at a 400 level and perfectly comfortable engaging in conversations about phenomenon in Chinese society.  I conducted research through interviews to learn more about Chinese artwork.  I enrolled in classes such as International Marketing and the Chinese Economy to diversify my knowledge about China.  My ultimate test was my ability to read and translate Chinese documents in order to write client reports at my academic internship at an international consulting firm.

However apart from academics, I have realized that it is these challenges and even more so, the people that I was surrounded with in my time abroad, that made my experience as fantastic as it was and helped me to grow as much as I did.  I want to share below an excerpt from a journal entry I wrote upon leaving China:

“I’m on the train from Beijing to Shanghai now, and I can’t believe that it’s my last day in China, the last day of my beautiful, marvelous adventure.  My eyes are brimming with tears at the thought of the best year of my life coming to a close.  When I arrive in Shanghai, I’ll take a taxi to the airport across the city and finally return home to Boston.  It reminds me of the nervousness in my stomach the day I departed for Beijing so many months ago, when my mom told me to take things one day at a time.  At that time, I couldn’t even begin to picture in my head what this day would look like, and as time throughout these two semesters continued to pass, the less that I wanted this final day to come.  That’s because I’m so proud of the person I have become and the accomplishments I have achieved with the opportunities that studying in China afforded me.  Aside from my academic goals, from increasing my Chinese language proficiency to completing an internship at a consulting firm in Shanghai, I know in my heart my own progress in terms of mental fortitude, confidence, motivation and passion.  But most importantly, and what I think will stay with me the longest, is the relationships I have been fortunate enough to build here, with people who have allowed me to be my most honest and vulnerable self, and who have driven me and supported me in progressing to be my best self.  I’m crying as I leave these people and places behind, but I know that these tears mean that I had a transformative and unforgettable experience.”

Though leaving China came with some of the most profound sadness I have ever experienced, I have embraced it as my part of my journey, and I want others to do the same.

If you are an underclassmen at Holy Cross, or a prospective student reading this blog post, I want to leave you with this final message: study abroad!  Whether you choose to study in China or elsewhere, I know you will grow and gain so much from the experience.