By Jamie Brian
I used to think traveling was about places. We climb in a plane, a bus or a car, with the intention of seeing a thing of beauty so that we can snap a few photos and share them with our friends. After studying in China for two weeks, I realized how wrong I was. Traveling is about people, not places. Seeing the Leshan Giant Buddha and Mount Qingcheng were incredible opportunities, but they are not what defined my trip. I will remember the Chinese students I had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know. They showed us the true Chengdu by taking us to their favorite restaurants and stores, by teaching us Chinese phrases and by swapping stories with us. I thought I would feel isolated in China, but I formed some wonderful friendships and always felt welcome. Even though we live on virtually opposite sides of the world, we care about many of the same things. I realize now how scary it must be for international students who study at Kent State, and I hope we offer them the same hospitality they have shown us. If I ever see an international student sitting alone on campus, I’d like to be a friend and a tour guide. The Chinese students have shown me what a difference this can make.
While in China, I also had a moment of clarity that made me feel ashamed. The Chinese students speak exceptional English (even though they’ll tell you otherwise), and we know so little Chinese. They were always eager to talk and practice their English, and my knowledge of Chinese was not enough to do the same. There were many situations where I wished I could talk with someone, but couldn’t. I wanted to ask a shopkeeper about her life in Chengdu, but I couldn’t find the words. I left the shop feeling so disappointed that I went home to order an integrated Chinese textbook. I wish we valued language learning more, but I can’t do anything about it except learn on my own. I would love to go to China again, and I hope I will be able to have more in-depth conversations with the people I meet.