(I started writing this three months ago, and have only just finished it now.
Better late than never?)
One thing I can say for certain is that this past year has changed me. Challenging my independence, patience, and maturity, so I think it’s safe to say I have grown from the whole experience. I don’t think enough people emphasise just how testing a year abroad is. Of course, I am glad I went, I learnt so much! However, it was likely the hardest thing I have ever done in my entire life. At the beginning I wasn’t even sure if I could do it. I have always known I could do anything I set my mind to, but in the back of my mind there had been this doubt that a year abroad would just be too much. Yet here I am a year on, and I am coming out the other side stronger for it.
My year began with homesickness and worry. A whole new place on the other side of the world, I mean what’s to be afraid of! I will again admit my first night in Beijing was probably the most traumatic of my life, partly self-inflicted, partly the overwhelming feeling of arriving in Beijing at night, and being entirely alone. Persevering till morning (with the help of a few tearful phone calls to my parents), everything got a lot better. My friends arrived, and with things looking brighter I could get on with my first semester of year abroad at Beijing Language and Culture University.
The initial experience was a tad stressful. Between the health check and registering for classes on time, everything was hectic for the first couple weeks. Classes weren’t overly difficult, but jet lag and adjusting to the high temperature made things a little unpleasant at first. Lets just say having to excuse myself from class to sit on the bathroom floor so I wouldn’t pass out was not the best start to the year. (I laugh now, at the time it was not so funny.) Pushing forward I met a lot of really fascinating people from all over the world. I think that’s been the best part really, all the people I’ve met. Sometimes living in one place you can forget that so many people are out there living completely different lives, with different cultures, and different outlooks. Learning about countries from Ecuador to South Korea, Japan to Italy, there was so much diversity on one campus and it was really amazing.
First semester was hectic, and with continued feelings of homesickness, it felt like trying to run in water at times. As it got towards the end of the semester it got a bit easier, and classes made a lot more sense. Having classes entirely in Chinese was a little tricky at first, but soon enough it wasn’t bad at all. Things made sense and following what the teachers were saying slowly became easier. I didn’t just go to classes though, I traveled to Xi’an, and visited Gubei Water Town. Going on little adventures helped break up all the stress of classes and exams. Practically every little holiday we got we went to some place, or another with Hiking CET (a travel group for student tourists). It made getting to the places we wanted to go a bit safer and more organised which was pretty helpful. Prices weren’t bad either, which meant the student budget wasn’t overly impacted. To be honest I was just so happy to travel and see so many famous and beautiful places. The Terracotta Army for instance was insane, and I’m so glad I got to see it.
Before my first semester final exams my grandfather sadly passed away. It was hard being away from home, but I got an early flight back so I could attend the funeral. It was an upsetting time, but friends both at home and abroad, and of course my family, made it bearable. I still miss him, but he would want me to make the most of every opportunity. He was always excited for(and worried about) me getting to “see the world”, so coming back for second semester I did my best to travel and learn as much as possible.
Second semester was easier as I knew what to expect this time round. Classes did get harder though, especially trying to learn so much vocabulary that my head felt like it was going to burst. Traveling became a bit of a refuge, going to Inner Mongolia, Shanghai, and Tianjin. At this point I was exhausted from all the traveling, but I loved it. It went faster the second time round I felt, weeks seemed to fly past until I found myself sitting my final exams days before I was to go home. I sent home parcels as I had of course managed to accumulate far more than I had originally arrived with. Though one is currently missing in Beijing somewhere at the moment, still no luck figuring out how to get that one back… However, now I am home I think a little rest from planes and coaches is in order, though the train to university this year was a nice refresher from my international travels.
All in all this past year’s been crazy, and although I have enjoyed it, I was ready to come home. I will always love adventure. I count myself lucky getting to see so much of the world, but there’s still no place like home. So now it’s onward and upwards, there is so much more to do after all!