Today was my last day in Beijing, and I was battling a lot of different emotions as I left our dorms and headed to the airport. A part of me missed my family, my dog, and the familiar smell of cheeseburgers. However, a part of me recalled all of the hard times and the amazing memories that this country has given me. I began to feel a rush of emotions as I hugged Emma, our beloved friend from the University of Pennsylvania, the same girl who dyed her hair blue and bravely ate live scorpions. I felt the same rush when I bought my last mango ice cream from the convenience store that we went to every single day, and as I was packing my luggage, every object reminded me of a specific memory, whether it was bargaining at one of the markets or buying something from a street vendor. It was an unforgettable eight weeks, and I’ve been so fortunate to have this experience, to meet some of the most amazing people, and to have a more authentic perspective of China.
Before going to the airport, one of my instructors, Hu Laoshi, treated me to a pizza dinner and to coffee right after. As we were eating, I asked him why he chose to be a teacher, and his response left me feeling inspired. He told me that he chose to teach because he learned as much from his students as they learned from him. Exchanging different opinions and perspectives with his students, who came from all walks of life, inspired him to become a better teacher. I related to his response because I strongly believe that building perspectives around authentic and immersive experiences lead us to become more empathetic and aware as students. I’ve corrected a lot of preconceived notions that I had upon coming to China, and I feel as if I am leaving this country with a motivation to continue gaining these authentic experiences and learning more about the world.
I have a week to rest before I continue my Chinese studies at Notre Dame, but being in China has transformed the way I learn and retain the language. I am interested in seeing how this change exactly goes about once I start class. For example, speaking with local residents really heightened my sense of how colloquial Chinese is spoken, and I am finally more comfortable with presenting speeches and engaging in basic conversations. This was such a rewarding experience, and I am so thankful for this amazing opportunity to not only learn about a unique country, but also learn more about myself in the process.