Looking back on Beijing: Rachelle revisits her two months spent in China during her Master's program in International Relations. In Part 1, she reflects on "the sound of no silence" in Beijing.
Well, the time has come, y'all - it's my final post from China. I'll admit that when I first landed, I thought the following eight weeks would crawl by. It actually ended up being the opposite, as we were kept very busy by school work and sightseeing activities. While I did choose the cohort that included China on purpose, I definitely underestimated the challenges of living and studying here for a fairly prolonged period of time. However, I am pleased to report that I survived (yay!) and learned a lot in the process.
Rachelle's Reflections: Made in China [Two Months in Beijing: Part 2]
Our classes this term were excellent, but I think most of my learning came outside the classroom. I learned to take things as they come, as opposed to trying to control the outcome - after all, there are some things you just can't control. In China, that includes a lot of things: frustratingly slow internet access, lack of access to certain websites due to the Great Firewall (yay for VPNs), the fact that you can't communicate with someone due to a language barrier and must rely on others to help, the fact that your bed feels like little more than a flat board (not a joke, someone could make serious cash selling cheap, comfy mattresses to Chinese universities).
This is China. It is what it is. Fortunately, the internet came through often enough that I could Skype with family and friends back home and in Europe - this was a godsend. I've missed having friends around - those in my cohort are great, but there is no substitute for best friends with whom you can share anything. Thanks to Skype, I didn't always feel quite so far from those I love.
I should make clear that I've had lovely experiences here, too. The Great Wall was a definite highlight (see photos at end of this post) - I really think I could have spent several days there, hiking, taking in the scenery and soaking in the tranquility.
Other stops I highly recommend include the Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City to those who are interested in Chinese history, and the Summer Palace (see below). I know it's a shame, but I never made it to the Pearl Market or the Silk Market – I suppose I had to leave some things to visit the next time I find myself in China. I think that someday, I will want to come back here. After all, I also didn't get the opportunity to travel to Xi'an to see the Terra Cotta Warriors. Before I landed in China, I had planned to make that trip - let's just say that I vastly underestimated how difficult travel is if you don't speak Chinese. I also have met local Chinese students who have helped me understand China in ways that I would never have been able to understand it otherwise. It's a complex society, and one that you can't learn enough about in eight short weeks.
This past week, we squeezed in one last sightseeing adventure, to the Summer Palace. Though the day was hazy (we are in Beijing, after all), it was still lovely and my language partner proved an excellent tour guide.
I also was asked several times by Chinese people to take photos with them. This was not the first time this happened, but this was the first time I fielded three requests in one day. During the last photoshoot, my classmate managed to snap a couple photos for me, as proof. Living in Beijing or Shanghai, Chinese are more likely to come across foreigners on a daily basis, but for those living in areas less frequented by tourists, we are still a novelty!
Post Script: Overall, my time in China was a mix of emotions, but the farther removed I am from the experience, the more I appreciate it. One of the aspects of travel that I find most challenging and also the most rewarding is adjusting to new cultures and ways of life. China certainly put that to the test, but also allowed me to grow in ways I didn’t think possible. Do I always step back and allow things to happen as they should? No. But I am fortunate that I can reflect on my time in China whenever I need a reminder that we’re not really in control, as much as we like to think we are.