Looking back at my high school graduation, June 1st seems like six years ago rather than six months ago. Although I knew I would be headed to China, the future was not my first thought during graduation (an hour before the ceremony, I was too busy falling down the bleachers to be focused on the future). As I walked across the stage in my silver graduation robe (with a bloody knee from aforementioned tumble), the summer stretched out before me like an endless tapestry full of beach days, work, and plans with friends.
But on August 9th, I reached the end of the infinite tapestry, and suddenly, the real future was right in front of me. I was going to China.
Fast forward six months, and here I am, typing this blog post in Beijing. In some ways, I am the same person who stepped onto that plane almost four months ago, and, in some ways, I couldn’t be more different.
I like my current self more than I’ve liked any previous version of myself — in the past months, I have learned to be more patient, both with myself and others. Learning a language as challenging as Mandarin requires patience and self-forgiveness (because, trust me, you make a lot of mistakes — who knew “mushroom” and “demon” sound so similar?). Working with a ten-year-old requires patience, because even when she calls a classmate “stupid,” and you just want to explode, you can’t can’t go off on a “HOW DARE YOU CALL SOMEONE STUPID THAT’S CRUEL AND INSENSITIVE AND I WANT TO GO LOCK MYSELF IN MY ROOM AND SCREAM AT YOUR LACK OF EMPATHY” diatribe, you can’t. You simply explain why it’s not okay to say mean things about other people, even when they aren’t there. Patience is learned.
But I have also increased my self-awareness of my bad habits, which has been a painful process. I have finally decided to work on my fear of looking incompetent in front of others, which is caused by a mixture of shame and pride. There’s a lot of work for me to do in order to have the humility I desire, but I am willing to work hard to fix myself.
Not only has my view of myself changed, but my worldview has changed, as well. Trying to live, learn, and work in a country so vastly different from my own, with a minimal grasp on the language, has given me insight to the lives of immigrants. There are so many nuanced problems that only affect foreigners, and, before coming to China, I could only hypothesize what they were. Now I understand the strange grip of fear before opening a bank account, worrying that you won’t understand anything. I understand the sense of weariness at waking up in the morning and knowing that your mother language isn’t yours to speak anymore, and some mornings, you just don’t want to speak your second language, but you have to.
Most importantly, I have come to challenge the western world’s ideas of “developing” countries and “developed” countries. Among “first-world” citizens, there’s this idea that developing countries are dirty and poor, and that they “need our help”. A savior complex has been created, and to think we need to be heroes eliminates the dignity of the people living in these developing countries (China included!). The people living in these countries aren’t sob stories, they aren’t photo opportunities, they aren’t a reason to say “at least it isn’t me”. They’re just people. China is a developing country, and has a large amount of people living in poverty; I see it nearly every day. But helping these people doesn’t have to come with preconceived notions or the expectation of a pat on the back. The world we live in presents us with many opportunities to help others, and it’s our duty to perform them with humility.