Well, it’s all over. On May 12, I arrived home at the Philadelphia International Airport, and touched down on American soil. The past year of my life, the good and the bad, is all coming to an end now, and as I reflect upon it, I notice that reality differed from my expectations of a gap year, both in positive and negative ways.
Living overseas is certainly not easy — no one has ever said it was. However, some things are easier than others. For me, one of the most challenging aspects of my 9 months in China was acclimating to the host family environment. I’m not sure I ever really did fully adjust to it. I struggled to adapt to the constant barrage of other people’s emotional baggage — family fights, drama, emotional turbulence — if you live with a family, you’ll be there to witness all of it. I never quite felt comfortable around the house, because despite being a “sister”, my work was my home life, so there was never really any way to “be myself”.
Throughout my time in China, I took regular Chinese lessons, one-on-one, with my teacher Vivian (you can read about her here).These were complimentary, provided by the au pair agency. I spent countless hours, both in the classroom and at home, working on my Mandarin. On April 22, I took an HSK exam (level 4), and a few days ago, finally got my score back. I got a 299/300. One point away from a perfect score. Though life is not measurable, there is immense pleasure in letting one number speak for your efforts and talents. There were so many amazing things I learned while learning the language. One can’t ever realize how complex their language is to an outsider — there are so many learned habits and slang words you can’t find in a dictionary. The only way to really pick up on those is to live in that environment, which was so rewarding!
This one may be the most difficult to answer. There are so many moments from the last 9 months that just seem too amazing; I want to write them all down. Every moment of awe, amazement, happiness, or humor just begs to be shared. However, I have one in particular that makes me happy — the day before my birthday. The agency hosted a calligraphy event, to teach the au pairs the art of traditional calligraphy (I’m horrible at it). Someone must have known it was my birthday, because they brought a cake and a little paper crown for me. The calligraphy teacher gave me one of his artworks as a present. I can still remember all the little details of that day — there was kiwi on the cake, we practiced calligraphy using 永, it wasn’t even too cold for mid-December. But what strikes me most is how welcomed I felt. I was surrounded by people who cared about me and wanted me to be happy. I saw many beautiful and awe-inspiring things in China, but there’s really something special about your friends.
Though I haven’t scheduled my classes yet, I do have instructor permission to skip several basic Chinese classes and start at a more advanced level. I hope to improve my Chinese more and more as time goes on, and I’d like to pass the HSK level 6 exam before I graduate from FSU. I would like to engage more in the Chinese community that exists in Tallahassee, and the international student community. Now that I know how difficult it is to feel like you belong in a country so different from your own, I can definitely help anyone who’s coping with feeling alienated. At FSU, I want to learn more about the planet we call home, and hopefully get some ideas about how to improve it.
This is my last blog post. It has been a pleasure keeping everyone virtually updated. A few days ago, I got my first tattoo to commemorate how much of a profound impact this year has had on my life. On my forearm, it says 饮水思源, which means “when you drink water, think of the source”. Go through life conscious of, and grateful for, the people and things who helped you achieve what you have. A big thank you to FSU, a big thank you to Kim, and a big thank you to everyone else who supported me this year.