Just two days ago I returned back to the UK from exactly a year spent away at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University (XJTLU). I think the best way to really reflect on my experiences is to look at some things that have changed about me and my life.
I remember, during a preparation meeting for a summer school I was going to do in Wuhan, China, that a guy who had previously been on the summer school said he learnt how to order his coffee in Chinese. I remember thinking that was really impressive and I could probably never do that. Now, to me, ordering coffee in Chinese is actually one of the simplest things within my daily life. The word is even roughly the same as in English (kafei)!
I remember fully regretting my decision to come to China before I even went. I remember thinking, “What on earth are you doing?! Have you seriously just applied to spend a year in China?!” Now I’m glad that I chose China; China specifically.
I have now formed a habit of holding an umbrella up when it’s raining with one hand, whilst the other hand steers the bicycle I’m riding. I also sometimes check my phone.
I now prefer hard beds and squat toilets over anything else.
I already miss hot water machines because it means I can’t easily refill my tea bottle.
I’m now really interested in sociology, politics and film studies.
I now listen to pre-downloaded podcasts a lot, having gotten used to slow or no internet at my accommodation.
Now, my idea of a good night out is going to KTV (karaoke) and banging out some of those cheesy tunes everyone forgets (but doesn’t really).
I now know that I can properly argue with a taxi driver in (simple) Chinese.
I discovered I’m obsessed with the chubbiness and cuteness of Chinese babies.
I now have many international friends, which means there are many more languages I want to learn, including Dutch, Japanese, German and Turkish.
Much of this probably doesn’t ‘sell’ China as such, but to me it means I’ve adapted and changed as a person. Aspects of my experience in China have become core aspects of my personality and life now. That’s the most important thing about being on a year abroad: learning new skills, facts and ways of life. I think being in a country where there’s a new language, new systems, new cultures, new foods, new attitudes means that you are most likely to achieve that. I feel like I’ve achieved a lot from my year abroad, and for that reason it was worth every single minute spent away.
Written by Shreya Patel – Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University (XJTLU)