I already made one post about the things that I didn't expect to be different when I came to China, so as I wrap up my time here I thought it would be helpful to remind myself of some of the things that are the same. Studying abroad always allows opportunities for comparison and these comparisons are helpful in understanding both the Chinese culture I came here to learn about, as well as my own culture. So here are some surprising, funny and revealing (aka cheesy) things that have remained the same in my life whether I'm in China or America.
I know everyone says laughter is a universal language. I don't want to be cliché, but it's pretty true. Though most of our laughs inside the dorm come from language-mistakes and awkward translations, there are smaller instances outside the IES Abroad community that have shown me some things are funny in every language. For example, today I saw an ad on the street with a beautiful girl on it. Naturally, some college kid took a sharpie to her face an added a mustache. Juvenile as it may be, I had to smile when I passed by the ad after lunch.
2. Midterm/Finals Week
Our Chinese roommates had their midterms the second week in November and the IES Abroad students (myself included) are currently halfway through our finals. The week of the Chinese students midterms, I felt like I hardly ever saw my roommate or any of the other Chinese roommates because they were all studying or taking tests. Now that I'm in the same 学习学习 mode, I feel like I've hardly seen anyone outside of class because we're all busy working on projects, writing essays, etc. Studying before big tests is a pretty obvious similarity, but what I found more interesting is that both the Chinese students and IES Abroad students celebrate after a big test is over. I accompanied my roommate and some friends to a hot pot dinner after their English midterm, and people are already planning on how they're going to celebrate this weekend and next Wednesday night after our Chinese final.
3. Drastic Changes in Weather Overnight (For Chicagoans at least)
In Chicago, it's completely expected that one day can be 40 degrees Fahrenheit and the next can have a foot plus of snow. We joke that there's about a week of spring spread out over March and April because the weather is so unpredictable. In China, the temperatures shift less drastically, but the change in pollution overnight is insane. I always expected it to get gradually worse and gradually better, but that theory has been proven wrong several times. Today the AQI was extremely low, only reaching 45 at its worst, but yesterday was the highest we had ever seen, over 500 in some areas.
4. Group Projects Are Still A Hassle
With finals already in swing, the number of group projects adds a lot to the stress load. Even when I really like the people in my group (which is the case for almost all of my projects), finding times when we are all free and agreeing on how to divide up the work or what the project should consist of is still a bit frustrating. These problems get worse when there are unreliable people in your group, lots of strong opinions, and a limited time frame for things that should have been planned much earlier.
5. Everybody Loves Food.
I think this one speaks for itself. Sure, we may have different taste preferences, but trying each other’s food and sharing new flavors seems to interest both the Chinese and IES Abroad roommates. We've bonded in the kitchen over everything from apples and brownies to taro soup and hot chocolate.
Good or bad, everyone loves to know what's going on and who likes who. Living in the dorms and being around the same 40 or so people for the majority of the time has created conversations that remind me a bit of high school (not necessarily in a good way either...)
(Almost) Every college student knows this one a little too well. Even though it seems to me that the Chinese roommates are a bit more disciplined than the American students I know back home, I've seen a fair share of procrastination. We procrastinate in the same ways too: binge-watching TV shows, talking with friends, reorganizing things that don't need to be reorganized, napping, etc. Likewise, last-minute touches to projects and rushed essays are a common phenomenon.
Having my eleven-year-old cousin visit last week gave me a direct comparison to the Chinese kids I've interacted with over the course of my study abroad experience. She, the kids I've been tutoring, and other children I've encountered on my travels both display the same sense of wonder, curiosity, and random bursts of silliness that never fail to make me smile. The way she watched everything around her in China reminded me of the way little kids in China look at me on the subway and the way one of my student's eyes widened when she realized that I had brown eyes too (she thought all Americans had blue eyes). Yeah, yeah, it's another cheesy one, but children seem to see the world just differently enough from adults, yet the same for others near their age.
Another emotion, but after being in a country for a couple months, routine does eventually set in and it can be hard to break out of redundant cycles. Fortunately today, the great weather motivated me to do some more exploring of Beijing and I made it to the Lama Temple with some of my friends. It may be Nike's slogan, but sometimes you've got to just do it if you're feeling like you're stuck in a rut.
Two days ago I studied the wrong characters for my Tingxie and realized it just before midnight. I had to start all over, which wasn't fun at the time and made me exhausted the next day, but it did make tonight easier (silver lining). One of my friends accidently used a standing air purifier as a garbage can. My roommate burned the pear dish she was trying to make and I messed up cutting my bangs last night. We all make mistakes and while being in another country may increase the number of blunders, they still aren't the end of the world.
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<p>My name is Kelly Cunningham and I am a Chinese Studies and English major at DePaul University. I love everything about languages-reading them, writing with them, speaking them, etc. I'm studying abroad to improve my Chinese and learn more about the culture.</p>