On Change and Contradiction

Micol Striuli
September 23, 2019

It’s been a while since I’ve written. The first couple weeks of being back in Shanghai have been more tumultuous than I would have liked. Combining personal drama, readjusting to being away from home, and starting senior year makes a very unsteady foundation to your semester abroad. I find myself feeling lonely, scared, excited, guilty, liberated – a wide and contradictory range of emotions. The sense of loneliness comes from not living on a college dorm, being relatively isolated in a vast city, and having a falling out with a close friend. Last semester, I was able to live on campus with a large community of foreign students. There was abundant opportunity to meet new people and you were certainly never bored. This semester, however, I live in a much nicer apartment in one of the most central districts of Shanghai. Despite having great accommodations and great roommates, me and my five peers seem to be the only young foreigners in the 28 floors of our apartment building. I also only take one course at the local university. Since it meets just once a week, I don’t have a lot of opportunity to go on campus and meet more people.

A lot of this I had already anticipated, as I wrote in my first blog post. I have to carve out a new experience in Shanghai without the people who made it great last semester and make new memories for myself. The situation with my friend also contributed to the loneliness and guilt I feel in recent weeks. Problems with the language and cultural barrier put many obstacles and limits on our friendship. Although these factors were beyond our control, it put quite a burden on us and our ability to understand each other, ultimately leading to our falling out. Was it me who was not open-minded enough? Should I have sacrificed my boundaries of personhood and put my “American-thinking” aside when she asked me to? I feel liberation and self-growth when I gain confidence in the decisions I make for myself and my life, who I can keep in it and who I can be without. Yet, those words still ring in my head, what “American-thinking” do I abide by?

Fast-forward a couple days after that, and the answer had come to me in Chinese philosophy class. My professor begins class and asks us what the fundamental principle of Chinese philosophy is. She tells us that the state of everything is in constant flux, nothing is fixed. It reminded me of a famous proverb of Confucius he says by the river:

 

逝者如斯夫!不舍昼夜。

All things that pass are like this! Night and day it never stops.

 

Upon hearing this, I felt almost relieved to know that the chaos, the current cycles of my life are in fact what life is supposed to be. While it might seem paradoxical, it still is nice to know that the only thing constant in life is the constancy of change. My feelings in the present moment – all the loneliness, guilt, liberation – are nothing more than ephemeral, they will change and evolve into new feelings and continue to help me grow. Until I heard my philosophy talk about these things, I was having a difficult time reconciling the multitude of emotions I was feeling. Contradiction is usually something unsettling and conflicting. In Chinese culture, however, contradiction is embraced. Yin and Yang is most representative of this way of thinking and symbolizes that black is white and white is also black; each part has a piece of its other and instead of being opposites (in conflict to each other), they are harmonious equals. At the heart of Western philosophical tradition is Aristotle’s law of non-contradiction, which posits that one thing cannot be simultaneously another. Everything has its own proper and logical definition that is not to defy this principle: black is black and white is white.

So, going back to the Confucius quote, he means everything is like a river. All night and day, everything is in constant motion and running forward – moving from the source to its destination and never backwards. Life is also defined by motion and change, it is the very thing that propels us forward and allows us to grow. Not everything has to have its own definition, and the collision of different emotions doesn’t have to be distressing – there can be a lot of comfort in contradiction and the synthesis of those feelings greatly influence my writing, my creativity, and my enjoyment of life.

I guess you can say that the culmination of the tumult of the past weeks has led to this very Chinese revelation. I am glad to have found this outlook while in Shanghai and feel that studying abroad is definitely making me more introspective, self-sufficient, and confident. Being across the world away from everyone I know definitely has its ups and downs and it’s common to be hit with a million different feelings at once. Just know if you are also going through this, things will soon change. They always do.

Micol Striuli

<p>I'm Micol and I'm a fourth year student at Providence College studying Political Science and East Asian Studies. I am fascinated with Chinese culture and politics, which has led me to come back for a second semester in Shanghai. My favorite things to do in Shanghai are going to art galleries, eating at one of the million cute dessert shops, going to karaoke, reading about Chinese Marxism, and waking up to a day with blue sky.</p>

Destination:
Term:
2019 Fall
Home university:
Providence College
Hometown:
Barrington, RI
Major:
Political Science
Spanish
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