It was my second hot pot dinner of the trip and I had already fallen in love with this signature meal of Sichuan Province. The waiters brought out the familiar favorites (chicken, beef, lamb, noodles) and the Chengdu specialties (duck tongue, quail egg, lotus root, seaweed), and, immediately, hands from every direction clamored together over the boiling broth in the center of the table. Chopsticks flew from one plate to the next. Our Chinese friends dumped more food on our plates than on their own and spent the majority of the time searching on their phones for English descriptions of the mystery meats we were all devouring. It was then that our Taylor-Swift-Loving friend Mike (I failed to learn his Chinese name) announced to the table: “When we eat together, we are like brothers – like sisters.” And for a moment – there was silence (the most shocking thing to ever happen in a hot pot restaurant).
I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss American food while in China. I went to bed most nights dreaming of milkshakes and Maryland crab chips. But American food lacks a crucial element of Chinese dining culture: the community built at a dinner table. Ordering food was a discussion – a table-wide compromise determining what food would satisfy everyone equally. After that came the delicious chaos of actually eating. Elbows collided, food flew, broth splashed, chopsticks clamored, and everyone shared everything. Nothing was claimed by anyone. The food belonged to the table.
Not only was it a chance to share strange and delicious food, but also a chance to share ideas. With our friends from Sichuan University we talked politics, language, education, Taylor Swift, and even High School Musical. The food was a bridge over an ocean – a shared experience to shatter any cultural barriers we thought we might have. As we walked out onto the crowded streets of Chengdu, I really did begin to see these friends as family. Mike’s words were the truest words I heard in China. And that meal was the best meal of my life.
China was such a beautiful awakening experience for me and I am so blessed beyond measure to have been given this opportunity. The reason behind me wanting to go on the trip was for self-discovery and to put the first stamp in my passport. The reason I wanted to go on this trip was for self-discovery and to put the first stamp on my passport. I had so many transformative moments while in China, one of them was meeting the Chinese students. I learn ed we are not that different and made me realize the dreams I have are not out of reach and I am capable of doing anything.
This trip has helped me grow so much as a person and made me see the value of life and the beauty of happiness. All the people I met were so happy and inviting and were always willing to help. It just showed me the type of people I want to be around and the kind of person I want to try to be. This trip has transformed my state of mind, my work ethic and success goals and my overall life, and if I could do it all again I would go in a heartbeat.
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.
Looking back on my time in China, I wouldn’t say there was ever a specific experience that stuck out to me in particular, but rather a collection of experiences. These experiences occurred in the classrooms and around Wangjiang campus, where one could see students and faculty from around the world working together. These experiences were the most transformative for me, especially in such a time of unrest. It was reassuring to see students hailing from such a wide variety of nations, ethnicities, cultures, religions and views, working together and engaging in thought-provoking dialogue, as well as learning from one another and progressing together. These experiences are indicative of the true power behind knowledge and academia, as it transcends all social constructs and epitomizes the collective human experience, which we all express in such a diverse manner. These experiences most definitely reassured me that for future generations it is absolutely imperative to foster thoughts of tolerance, empathy and diversity. I am most thankful and humbled by the generosities of Sichuan University and the College of Communication and Information for allowing me to have this wonderful opportunity.
As I sit and think back on my recent trip to Chengdu, I can’t help reflect on how important it is to learn to coexist. As human beings, we may come from different parts of the world, look different and speak differently. However, even with all of the differences, what makes us similar is our values. One thing that stood out to me particularly on this trip was the people of Chengdu and their hospitality. Their outlook on life as collectivist and not as individualist was very refreshing for me, as it hits very close to the type of values I grew up with. Studying in the United States and learning how to live independently somehow was pushing me towards the spectrum of thinking more individualistically. My experience in China helped me level down to my roots. Every person once in a while needs to realize that not everything is always about them. If we wish to coexist then we must pay attention to others interest and wishes.
During our immersion program, we also had the opportunity to meet many university students whom we learned had studied incredibly hard all their lives. Some of the students had aspirations of coming to the United States to pursue their further studies. I couldn’t help empathizing with them. As these students reminded me of myself and my aspirations. While talking to them, it made me realize how lucky I have been with all the opportunities I have had in my life so far. Thus, my recent experience in Chengdu was truly a humbling one and like all my other adventures, this one also has left an indelible mark in my heart.
WOW! China was an experience I will never forget! When people ask me “How was China?” I respond with amazing, incredible or gorgeous, but I’m happy to be writing this post to really explain why. Before going to China I was expecting it to be adventurous, but I did not expect it to influence me to learn about other languages and religions. Going through the city required a lot of pointing at Chinese translations of the “Hongwa Bingua” (Hongwa Hotel) and saying shei shei (thank you), and that was the extent of actual Chinese communication. Trying to get a cab that wouldn’t drive away was a struggle. The trick was to find younger Chinese people to help translate our English for ordering food or getting a cab. Excursions on the weekends introduced Buddhist temples and the meaning behind the color red and prayer beads. Thank you to two amazing people in our group, Amrita and Samyak; I asked them lots of questions about the religion that I wouldn’t think to ask on just any day.
At our opening ceremony for the Sichuan University Immersion Program, a professor said that the Chinese students could speak English and he had really admired them for taking the time to learn English, but he was saddened he had not known Chinese. He then said after teaching for so long in China that he had learned Chinese to communicate better with his students. Fast forward a couple days to me sitting in a Spanish class (yeah, I sat in a Spanish class), and I got yelled at for speaking English! However, I got to know the assistant professor when
I told I wanted to learn another language and she really encouraged me and gave me a website to look at.
China taught me that the world is SO much bigger than we think it is and helped me imagine all the languages, religions and cultures that exist. I ended up buying a world religions book to learn more about Buddhism, but also learn about them all! The book even includes indigenous religions. I believe with my China experience I am more understanding of international students and our world as a whole. It is so important to leave the United States and see what’s out there; we are so privileged to know a language that everyone else is required to learn as a second language.
When I think back to the short yet sweet time I spent in Chengdu, China, this summer, I realize now that two weeks is simply not enough time to spend immersing yourself into a new culture. By the time you are boarding the plane to leave, you have overcome the fear of a different culture and language and begin to enjoy the experience of a new country.
However, those two weeks of chaos and confusion were definitely gold mines of life transforming opportunities, and I took as many of them as I could.
For me, the most the most transformative experience was navigating China alone without the help of some Chinese friends. I remember there was a day I somehow ended up being in charge of leading a group of fellow Kent students to Chunxi Road by myself. This meant somehow communicating with cab drivers and remembering a foreign city’s layout without the help of anyone. At first, I was stressed and wondering how I got put in charge of this short little excursion and honestly began to want to go back to the hotel. However, without using any real verbal communication, I was able to get two cabs of people to Chunxi Road. After we made it there, I was somehow able to piece together the shopping area’s layout in my mind and kept us from even doubting where we were, let alone getting lost. By the end of the day, I felt like if I, an English speaking countryside farm girl, could get myself and others around in a Chinese speaking city, I could do nearly anything. That evening, I decided I was going to stay in school until I had my Ph.D.