The China I remember from five years ago is vastly different from the one I got to know this past summer. In the past few years, this country has completely revolutionized, as I have too. I didn’t even consider this until I met up with my relatives and thought to myself, it’s strange that when I last saw my younger cousin I had never been to a debate tournament or even heard of Northwestern.
China’s streets are more modern, and shopping complexes seem to have popped up everywhere. I’ve seen fewer homeless people than ever, and even the most rural of places seemed to be outlined by a few telephone lines. While there’s a new president in charge, the food is just as delicious as I remember it, if not better.
And on this trip, I was more eager to improve my Chinese than ever before.
Living life in another language forces you to consistently learn it, in real time. But it becomes so much more than just a chore or a class when you have to order your meal or speak to your friends/coworkers in Chinese. In America, I chose to mainly speak English because it was simply more convenient and efficient to do so. Speaking Chinese required brainpower and patience, two things a college student like myself is often unwilling to exert if unnecessary.
After living here for a month, however, I had grown so accustomed to the language that I naturally chose to speak it without a second thought.
But going back to China is about so much more than learning a language. I took 10 years of Chinese class in America and people can still sense that I’m not a native Chinese person after I say just one sentence to them. Sometimes, before I say a single word, they can sense it by my appearance and demeanor.
No, going back to China is about steeping yourself in a culture, learning about traditions that make up so many people’s daily lifestyles.
For most Chinese citizens, internet freedom is a purchased privilege, not a right. There’s also no tipping culture, which takes a huge toll on restaurant service. Students in high school get out of school at 9 pm, while most Americans are out before 4 pm. Their ideals of beauty are quite different. They opt for lighter, dewy skin, and subtle lips, while Americans are all about bronzed skin and bold lips. It’s encouraged that college students find long-term relationships as soon as possible, while much of America is all about hookup culture.
Going to China makes you realize that the US and China are both better and worse than each other in all sorts of different ways, but of course, many of these characterizations are subjective. The point is, however, these aren’t things that you learn from sitting at home. You’ve got to come here and make these discoveries firsthand.
If we all live and die in our zip codes, we’ll end up steeping ourselves for far too long in just one culture, and start to believe that it’s the only culture there is.
You can see how being immersed in the Westminster culture for 7 years was disheartening, to say the least. Getting to know the rest of the world is crucial.