This week, one of my friends from home came to visit me in Shanghai! She is spending this year studying in Japan, but due to Japan’s different school schedule, she is currently on winter break and managed to find time to pop over to China for a quick visit, which was awesome! I think one of the reasons it was so great is that since it was her first time in China, I had the opportunity to see Shanghai as a tourist again. I think that one of the downsides to living in a different city versus just visiting is that it is very easy to quickly become comfortable in the city and to stop exploring. I myself am very much a person of habit, in that in the long-term I like having a set day-to-day schedule, which usually means that I will stop exploring new places and just go to ones I am accustomed to. Having a friend visit was refreshing, since it forced me out of that comfort zone and gave me a new perspective for a while.
One of the great things about getting to hang out with my friend after being in two separate countries for so long was getting to talk about the differences between Japan and China. One of the things that I have discovered during my travels over the past year is that although the term “East Asia” is commonly used to group South Korea, China, and Japan together, making generalizations about “East Asia” disregards the fact that all three countries are completely different in terms of culture, politics, people, values, etc. It is true that there is overlap in some aspects of theses countries, but for the most part they are very, very different. This is one of the reasons why I think that taking the time to travel while studying abroad is important. In my opinion, it is not enough to go to one country and assume that what you see there is anything like what you would find in its neighboring countries. And even within one country, different cities will often have completely different vibes, customs, and opinions on current topics.
In my experience, traveling is also more or less guaranteed to change for better or for worse the way you view international relations, and even how you view your home country. For example, last semester I wrote a blog post about America’s exportation of racism across the globe (you can read about it here: https://www.travelblog.org/Asia/China/Beijing/blog-908465.html). Realizing that racism, among other values and attitudes are spread so easily surprised me, and really made me stop and think about how much influence the US has over the rest of the world. Influence in and of itself is neither a good thing nor a bad thing; it is what is done with that influence that determines goodness or badness. And not only that, but whether the influencer is aware of their power and how they may be inadvertently using said influence. It is imperative that the most powerful countries possess both awareness and a sense of responsibility to make the world a better place.
TL;DR: Study abroad if you have the opportunity. And if you go abroad, take advantage of it and try to visit as many places as you can and experience as many cultures as you can!
Speaking of traveling, I leave for Vietnam tomorrow! I will be in Vietnam with some of my fellow program mates for the weekend, and from there we travel straight to Hong Kong to meet up with the rest of the group. The last time I was in Vietnam, I would have still been in kindergarten, so I am excited to see what it is like!
That’s all I have for this week. Until next time!