In September of 2009, I came to Beijing completely blind, not knowing a soul, a word of Mandarin other than "hello" and "cup", or the slightest thing about the city, country or culture as a whole. Nearly ten months and at least eight cities later, I feel I have only just seen the tip of the iceberg…though when winter hit I felt the whole thing! The harsh, seemingly never-ending bitter cold provided a rude awakening to my senses, consistently reminding me of my severely unprepared Southern-California roots. Negative twenty-five degrees Celsius for nearly six months at a time was just TOO brutal for this Los Angeles born & raised "Valley Girl".
Other than the frozen nightmare I somehow managed to survive, and despite the surprising behaviors of quite a large sum of the population, I developed a fond attitude and growing curiosity to learn more about all China has to offer. Eventually, you are no longer fazed by elderly couples riding bikes in pajamas at any given time of day or toddlers running around with slits in their pants. You'll never fully comprehend the meaning of the word "crowded" until you've been on a train in China. You must be open to new experiences and be a little brave when trying new dishes, but as a safety zone, you can always rely on noodles. Taxi drivers can be your best friend or you worst nightmare, no, people will never stop greeting you on the street because you're foreign, and for the record, you do eventually get used to squatting toilets. You can find western toilets if you're really not up for the challenge, but ladies, I'm telling you, at the end of my time there I had great thighs. Initially readjusting to being back home was hard for me, much harder than it was to adapt to my new surroundings in China. I still find myself desperately missing the little things about China, especially my quaint "hutong" neighborhood located right in the heart of Beijing. How do you take all you have seen, learned, experienced, and come home carrying on like normal, as if you hadn't just witnessed people living life in an entirely different way? How do you ignore all you discovered and keep your mind from constantly wandering, "What else could be out there?" It was simply eye-opening. A whirlwind.
I went to China for many reasons. I had already spent time abroad and, as everyone tends to do, I'd caught the travel bug and yearned for more. Also, I was given this amazing chance to not only to study abroad, but to study my major, Theatre. Finally, I went for an opportunity. It was a chance to not just see, but really have the time to experience, what a "Non-Western" country was all about. I went with little to no expectations, and despite all the precautions I took planning, no amount of preparation would have sufficed. It's like the Wild Wild East. Just after the initial reformation for the Olympics, in the midst of celebrating the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic of China, and during its preparation for one of the largest World Expos, China is now in a time of significant social and historical changes. It was exciting and thrilling to watch the country develop & drastically change every day before my eyes. It was a new world to discover in the midst of incredible transformations, providing infinite grounds for exploration everywhere you went. Along with the rest of the country, Chinese theatre is adapting and morphing every day into something new. It is in a unique time of renovation, development, and experimentation. I hope to continue my Mandarin studies, and return to China with my bachelor's, in hopes of getting more involved with the theatre world there, to witness the progression. I can't thank everyone involved with this scholarship program enough, for it has benefited me in ways I can never express. With infinite gratuity, Xie Xie. 谢谢!