It’s been a year since I hopped on a flight to China to teach English with the International Language Programs. When I left, I had no idea what I would see and experience in the following four months. I had some sort of expectations of how the trip might change me or impact my life, but the reality of it far surpassed those expectations. Most of my best stories start with ,”when I was in China…”.
When I was in China, I got to climb across the Great Wall and check another world wonder off my list. I cradled a baby lion cub at the Shanghai Wildlife Park, and another one at the Changzhou zoo. I got to hold a little baby monkey and get picked up by an elephant’s trunk. I saw where the emperors once lived in the Forbidden city in Beijing and went shopping at the Pearl Market. I mustered up the courage to eat a scorpion. I drove a moped, swam in mud, went on a stair hike with the most breath-taking view and went river drifting through a China jungle in Yangshuo. I went to the world’s largest Disney store, strolled along the bund in Shanghai, and drowned myself in Coco’s chocolate with pudding drink on the regular. I stood under a 288-foot Buddha statue, observed the Chinese practice their buddhist religion, and learned how to eat with chopsticks. I danced, performed at a Chinese wedding, sang my heart out at KTV, met new people, tried on wedding dresses, and rode a boat in the “Venice of the East” (Suzhou). I taught English to second and fourth grade Chinese students in Changzhou and cried my eyes out when I had to leave them.
While volunteering in China was the best experience of my life, there were some moments that weren’t so fun. Going into the cafeteria for dinner and seeing chicken feet or mystery meat with hairs sticking out from it wasn’t exciting. Standing up on a K-train ride in the smoking area was gross. Squatting to go to the bathroom in what resembled a trough in a train station restroom wasn’t a particularly positive experience. Being in a country where most people can’t understand you and you certainly couldn’t understand them eventually got to be frustrating. Walking up and down five flights of stairs just to get to and leave from my room was tiring. Going site seeing in the freezing cold rain and snow in Beijing was hard. Enduring a 25 hour train-ride to get to Yangshuo got rough. Losing my phone was tragic. Getting lost and having to speak through charades to Chinese people for help was a challenge. Getting bit in the middle of the night in my own bed and waking up to allergic reactions on my face wasn’t cute. Lastly, teaching English to crazy foreign children tested me and my patience the most. Despite all the small trials I faced, the good always outweighed the bad.
A year later after leaving to China, I still think about my experience everyday. Going to China changed me as a person and significantly impacted my life when I returned back to America in ways I couldn’t have ever imagined when I first left on that adventure. This country, the people, and the weird cultural quirks will always always have an extremely special place in my heart.