During our first week of orientation, each individual was asked to state their name, school, major, and reason for coming to China. Unlike my peers, who were more so looking to gain something tangible/external from the experience, ability to speak Chinese more fluently or expertise in Chinese economics, I was seeking to grow more intrinsically. Coming to China for me meant putting myself in an uncomfortable environment to drive self-growth and to visit a new part of the world I had never been. In removing myself from an environment where everyone looked liked me and shared similar beliefs, Morehouse, I would be forced to become more vulnerable and see things from a new lens. I wanted China and all of its culture to engulf me and make me more culturally relative. However, while optimistic, my time in China would not always be one of comfort and happiness.
After my first few weeks, I soon realized that the language requirement would be one of my hardest challenges. Some would say to learn another’s language is the best way take in or experience that culture, but for me it seemed like the barrier between my happiness and actual enjoying of my time here. While this may be an exaggeration, I was so caught up in trying to master the language, memorizing the tone marks and characters, I forgot to appreciate and enjoy the journey that accompanies learning a new language. In realizing that quitting was the easy thing to do, I decided to fight. I made my Chinese class a fun and pleasurable experience. Each topic or chapter represented a new level in my fictional game that I would use and incorporate into my daily life here. Once I changed my whole outlook on the process, that is when I began to see improvements in my Chinese and began to feel more included in the culture.
Aside from initial struggles in Chinese class, I also generally felt isolated from both my traveling group and the Chinese citizens. Thoughts of loneliness clouded my conscious as I began to feel as if no one in my program or in China period would truly understand me. As a Black gay man that went to a Historically Black College, I could not see or find myself in the people here. My ancestors were not revered in Chinese history books nor was I raised in a country that celebrated my blackness. These feelings became almost impossible to shake and being away from home and every person I had ever loved, only heightened the matter. Yet the time would come too when I realized that despite or ethnicity or nationality, the people in China are a lot like me and those in my group may understand what it is that I am going through. What makes us different is not necessarily the things that we do. We all work, eat, gather with friends and family, and like to have fun. What makes us different is our history and the stories that are told to keep that very history alive. In removing my insecurities and built in social constructs, I became a human who was able to relate to and feel the experiences of others. I began to listen more and open up to the very people that would share in this experience with me. I would too learn from them and before I knew it China became my home in the East.
Despite the inevitable cultural, linguistic, and social challenges you will face in a new country, view seize your study abroad experience as an opportunity to change your outlook and approach to life. When you cross the United State’s borders, I became susceptible to discomfort. Everyone I knew or loved may not be there with me physically, but my memories of them can in fact go with me everywhere. My abroad experiences have not been perfect and there are things that have gone wrong. There are times when I get mad and have hiccups. However, even with all the negativity that came my way, I still had to remain confident in what got me here. To cope, I had to find a place where I could relax and vent. It’s okay to scream and I wanted so badly to cry as a release, for I now know it’s okay to hurt while abroad. Don’t let your struggle deter you from your triumph as I almost did. In going abroad, you make a commitment to allow yourself to grow and mature. You take a vow to better yourself and solidify your humanness. These two months have been extremely difficult, but I smile today because I am exactly where I am supposed to be.
Blog post commissioned by IES Abroad. Visit my blogger page for IES here.