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Gap Year Abroad

72 posts categorized "China"

02/17/2016

Did You Miss Me?

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I can't help quoting one of my favourite television shows...please forgive me. 

So, you haven't heard from me since November. I meant to post about my trip to Sichuan, but I got sick with a lung infection which was in part due to the temperature starting to cool down and the near three weeks we spent with smog over the city and no sunlight. I had started having trouble breathing one morning, even though I was taking my asthma medication and I took my inhaler, and neither was working, so I had told my teacher I wanted to go to the hospital because I was feeling light-headed, sick, and I could hear myself wheezing slightly. The teacher's got a student intern to help me get to the hospital, where I was examined by a doctor who spoke English (and who I'm pretty sure was French). 

He checked my lungs and said he didn't hear anything wrong, and I thought he was just going to send me home, but I told him that I wouldn't have come if I didn't suspect I was getting sick and if I was actually able to breathe. So he had me go to a room for twenty minutes and do a breathalyser, which is basically where they give you medicine to help the lungs relax and open up. He wrote me prescriptions in case I got a lung infection; one was basic medicine, and one was a stronger dosage. Then the student intern helped me get back to the school so I could let the teacher's document the medicine. Everyone kept checking on me and bringing me hot water, which is basically the answer to everything. "Drink hot water" is one of the most common phrases here, or "He re shui" or "喝热水". 

Eventually I made it home and went to sleep for awhile, and when Nainai came over, she came into my room and woke me up to ask if I was okay, because usually I greet her when she comes in. I told her I was sick and had been to the hospital because I couldn't breathe, but I said this in a mix of words and gestures. She looked over my medicine and had me immediately take the regular dosage with some hot water and then told me to sleep. And when I woke up, guess who then had a sore throat and a nasty cough? I knew immediately I had a lung infection, as this wasn't the first I'd ever had in my life. Either way, I will write a separate blog post about this time, as I plan to spend the last few weeks of my winter vacation making blog posts about the past few months. But you should know I had the lung infection for about four or five days, went back to school for a week, and then the next week a second round of my lung infection came back. This was the three weeks Shanghai was shrouded in smog, rain, and cold temperatures.

So by the point I had completely recovered from what I like to call "my double lung infection," I was basically just doing my best to catch up with my classes, because there were a few points I could hardly bare to move from my bed or the living room couch because I was cold, coughing my lungs out, or purely exhausted. Thank god for understanding and loving teachers, and thank god for understanding and hardworking student tutors. I really don't know what I would have done without my wonderful, supportive community I have here in Shanghai. 

Not too long after I recovered from my lung infection I had got back on my volunteering bandwagon, teaching English to migrant children, which I came to love to do with my team, though I had to watch how loud I spoke or hurt my throat. 

Not long after that either, we had finals, and I started to review and also work on a project for my GAP class, and then planning out a skit with my group for the final group oral project. What I ultimately learned was our final was pretty much like any other test we took at the end of the week, except it covered what we'd learned throughout the whole semester rather than just the weekly topic. Basically I am no longer intimidated by midterms or finals. University is going to be a breeze!

Speaking of university, I have been accepted into a few, but I have yet to make a decision as I still await one more decision and then to see what scholarships I can also apply for. That's all I'm giving away for now. 

After I officially graduated from the first part of the program, I moved into the Chinese university's dorm with a girl who had been in my Chinese language class, as my host family is not paid to take care of me during the break, but I've been allowed to live free in the dorms. However, I have not been here all of my winter break, which started on December 19th. 

I also turned 19 on December 23, 2015, and my roommate and I celebrated by going to buy a birthday cake, which was absolutely delicious and perfect! I also left around 1:30 am the next morning to begin my month long travels. That day I flew to Singapore, where my friend Xinzhi, who I met in Taiwan that summer, picked me up with her friend and drove me to Malaysia. I will post a whole blog post about Malaysia and Singapore, and our friends, the Philippine brothers. 

I will also make a whole blog post about my week in Korea, complete with an entirely different hospital visit!

And I'll also post about the two weeks I spent with my friend Mindd from high school, and her sister in Thailand. 

I have so much to share, but I can't write about it all here, so I'm going to spend the next two weeks doing my best to catch everyone up on the exciting things that have happened! 

My winter break will officially end around February 28th, but I've not got much to do until then, so I will work my hardest on catching you all up! 

Talk to you very soon! 

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11/15/2015

Daily Life

One thing I think a lot of study abroad students overlook in our study abroad experiences is, if we are fortunate enough, the host family experience. It's not that this aspect of our time abroad is insignificant, nor is it necessarily a forgettable part of it. I think a lot of the time it's we study abroad students are swept up in the events going on around us, like classes, clubs and sports, travelling, etc., that we talk a lot about the interesting events that have been going on around us, but we deign to mention our day-to-day lives, or even our homestay experiences. I know not every study abroad student has the opportunity to stay with a host family, but I thought, because I never did find a lot of things written about homestay experiences, I would write about my own. Warning: this post may be a bit jumpy, as I'm not always the greatest at putting my thoughts together.

As you all know by now, I live with my host mom, Lena, my host dad, Chao, and my little sister, Joy. Nainai did live with us the first month I was here, but she moved out when her husband was finally able to retire and buy an apartment in Shanghai, so now the two live together. Nainai, thankfully, is still a huge part of our lives, despite living with her husband. Nainai usually comes over in the afternoon to clean the house, start preparing dinner, and if she has nothing else to do, to watch some television. Nainai picks Joy up from school everyday and will usually finish making dinner. Then she'll go home when my host parent's get home from work.

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My host father is an accountant, very smart, and pretty funny. Both my host parent's are pretty young, his 37th birthday was a few weeks ago, so his wife bought him a tiramisu cake and we all shared. That was as special as it got. Lena is the same age, and for me, it's a bit strange having really young parents, because my American parent's, in age, are closer to Nainai's age of 64 then to my host parent's, so I've had to adjust to these younger parent's, which isn't a bad thing at all. Lena and I talk a lot and I could almost think of her as an older sister in some ways, even though she's my host mom. They all take care of me, though, so it is strange to have younger parent's, but I also get to see their parenting style for Joy, who's only five years old. 

Since I arrived in China, my host family has been like a team unit, and I felt like I fit right in real quickly. Early on we started figuring out schedules, I learned what they expected from me, and I learned what they would do for me and what I would do myself. In terms of chores, keeping my room clean and orderly, doing my own laundry, and getting my homework done is pretty much all that is expected of me. Everything else my host family does. I've tried offering help on multiple occasions to do more chores around the house, but they have told me plenty of times they will take care of it, and there was no arguing, it was their chore, I should study. 

Meal times are probably very stereotypical. During the week Nainai makes dinner. My host parents will make the rest of the meals. But usually it is my host father who gets up in the morning to make us all breakfast, and I know he gets up earlier for me, because I leave for school early, so it's a very sweet gesture on his part. He usually will make rice porridge, aka congee, and sometimes I get the special squash and congee breakfast. Usually we have other things to eat with it, such as sticky buns, fried bread (you tiao)--my favourite!, hard-boiled egg, or moon cakes. My host mom makes a lot of the other meals though on the weekend. However, when we eat, I'm the one always served the most amount of rice, and I have to tell them all the time I would like less rice, because lately I've been eating less and less. But when I ask for less they basically remove a few grains of rice and go, "Okay?" and I have to go, "No, a bit more," probably three to five times. This happens pretty much every night, too, they're convinced one night I'm going to eat that original serving of rice again. 

Sometimes my host family has surprised me with bringing me American food, and last month they even took me out to eat at a restaurant at the mall, and they let me try a bunch of new Shanghai special dishes. My first month I guess they could tell I was homesick because they stopped at a pizza place after going out and brought pizza and pepsi home for dinner and it actually made me laugh. The pizza is actually really good here, even though they put some strange things on the pizza, but, who cares if it's good right? Sometimes, they'll even surprise me with desserts, which is always incredibly sweet. My host father bought Haagan-Dass gelato home and we had that one afternoon. Another time they brought home pastries and we ate that. 

One of my favourite things to do with my host family is to go out together. They've invited me out pretty often with them. They've taken me to a nearby market, to a sporting goods store, and plenty of times to Tesco, the supermarket in the mall. Spending time with them makes it easier to feel like a family, and I love getting to interact with them and actually feel like I'm getting a real cultural experience. Of course I get strange looks for being with a Chinese family and for even speaking Mandarin at all, but it's something I've come to overlook because I only care about the experience of being with my host family and getting to practice my Mandarin. 

Tesco outings have always been pretty fun. My little sister is very active, so getting to run around a little is always good for her. My host mom has asked me to help her pick out meat and vegetables, and since I liked doing grocery shopping back home, I always enjoy the moments where I can help in some ways. Sometimes I do go shopping for food on my own, because of my sweet tooth or when my host family has been away, as well. Most of the time though, we go out to Tesco, and usually my host parent's will buy my little sister and I something, like a treat. Yesterday it was juice. 

Our day-to-day life though isn't much, but will usually go along these said lines;

During the week, I will go to school, go to tutoring. I'll come home for a few hours depending if I don't have class or volunteering, spend some time with Nainai before she picks Joy up from school. We usually have dinner, and then I'll go to my second tutoring. My parent's will arrive home around seven every day, sometimes I am home before them, sometimes after. Usually we will be up for a few hours, then they'll start getting Joy ready for bed. She's usually out around 9 pm. Usually I will go to bed around 10 or 11 pm. They usually go to bed between 11 and 11:30 pm, though they have stayed up later. 

On Saturdays they usually go out. To do what, I'm still not entirely sure. Sometimes Joy will spend the weekend with Nainai and Yeye, others she is home. Sundays, Joy has English school for a few hours, so I will usually stay home and work. We usually go to Tesco Sunday nights too, but as of this week, we went on Saturday.

Within my host family, Nainai and Joy do not speak fluent English, nor can they comprehend anything I would try to communicate with them, so a lot of my afternoon is spent communicating with Nainai and two of us doing our best to translate and for her to find vocabulary I understand and for me to explain as much as I can through as much as my limited vocabulary allows and to use as many gestures as I can. Joy and I will play games sometimes, and sometimes I learn some vocabulary words, but Joy also like watching television, and I will be busy with schoolwork, so the amount of time we get to spend together isn't always long. My host parent's are actually quite fluent in English, and I do my best to speak Mandarin to them, but if I need something and don't have the vocabulary, it's also very nice to be able to communicate what I need and for them to understand. Usually I go to Lena though, seeing as she is the "head" of the household. If I ever consult my host father, he always goes to his wife. 

My host parent's remind me of high school sweethearts. Lena is really beautiful, and her husband is incredibly smart. The two of them are a team. They both work full time, and they both carry out equal responsibilities in the house when Nainai isn't there. Together they will clean the house. Lena will cook and Chao will clean the dishes by himself. Lena will sweep the house, and Chao will mop it. Both of them take equal part in Joy's life. They both sit with her and help her with her English homework, and of course I help too. They both take part in giving Joy a bath, and in playing with her, though Lena is probably the more active one. Honestly it's really amazing to see. Both parent's say "I love you," to their daughter, something I was actually surprised at. It's rarely, if ever, said in public, but they say it to each other quite a bit in the comfort of their home. 

One day in particular, Chao decided to mop my floor after I'd finished dusting and sweeping and I laughed because I hadn't expected it, and Lena saw and she smiled and said to me, "He is a very good husband, he is very helpful. I love him very much." 

I would never have expected her to be so open about it to me, seeing as I had only been their for a month, but her husband just smiled over at her, and it was very sweet to see that love they have for each other, that they were so open about it too in the comfort of their home. It doesn't mean I don't hear bickering or their near shouting sometimes, which is something I'm not entirely used to, but it gives me insight to the fact this is a real relationship, and despite the disagreements and bickering, they still love each other and always put their daughter first. 

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Living with this host family has made me see a lot of the things I value in my own family, but also gives me insights into the flaws of my own American family and other families as well. I see some Chinese values within the way they live, but I also see the Western values that have influenced them as well. Living with this particular host family has been one of the greatest experiences of my life, one of the places I've learned the most through, and one of the places I'm so thankful to call home. 

 

10/12/2015

Suzhou and Zhouzhuang

So what did I do on this mysterious weekend I eluded you about?

I had only just had my first week of classes, but the CIEE program had decided to send us on a weekend trip. There were four weekend trips, and I went on the one to Suzhou and Zhouzhuang: two beautiful cities probably no further than two or three hours from my school in Shanghai.

Saturday we spent in Suzhou and Sunday we spent in Zhouzhuang. My new friend and dear companion, Leecam, was almost always with me when we went out. We had a pretty strict itinerary that we stuck too, but, I must confess, we did end up late to quite a few places.

Honestly, it would take me a lot of time to go over everything that happened, so hopefully the videos below will give you some insight as to what we did in Suzhou and what we did in Zhouzhuang. Sorry that there are three of them and they are at minimum, eleven minutes long. But if you like nature and you want to know about what these parts of China look like I recommend you watch them all through. After all, it is the weekend for you all. (Quick note: I do apologise if there are any errors in the video or if it freezes or the audio doesn't play. It just does that but hopefully it will all go smoothly. My movie editing program is just being mean as of late...)

  

 

 

We did some market shopping, and there aren’t many pictures of either markets, but I did get some pretty amazing things. I have bought silk scarves (for incredibly cheap), a hand-made comb, a pocketwatch (that already broke), and a glass egg in which the artist painted inside and even wrote my Chinese name in!

The night I was away my host mom sent me a voice message of my little sister saying she missed me, and my host mom wished me well and hoped I was having fun. It really made me feel even closer to the family, knowing they were missing me, and of course, I missed them too. I was very happy to see them when we got back. I have now realized I literally do not like any restaurant food because it never compares to nainai’s food, even if it’s good, but nainai’s is the best food, likely because she puts so much love in it. I’ve eaten out in a few good places, but ultimately, nainai’s food is my favorite here in China.

As for the past few weeks…well. School has been an adventure, I will say. I have, of course, been learning lots of vocabulary and my speaking is getting increasingly better, especially at home. For me, speaking naturally with my host family is the time I’m most confident in speaking Mandarin, and they are always able to understand what I communicate. I’m also very happy, as I’ve also begun to understand some of the sentences and phrases my nai-nai and mei-mei have been saying to me. I’m very proud to announce I have been able to communicate with Joy and been able to play games with her. My tutor’s are helpful, but for me, it’s always a bit more forced when I have to speak, but I could just totally be adding extra stress there at the same time.

The homework feels like it’s never going to end, and I feel like I could very well be smothered by it all on top of the soon-to-be volunteering on top of meeting with the tutors. I remembered over the past week my goal for a gap year wasn’t to focus on grades. For me, my grades have been average, but I have been learning the material overall, even if some words/characters don’t actually make sense or register until a week later. I am certainly trying to do my best, but I do realize I do not have all the resources some other kids have (Pleco, Windows, why do you not have Pleco for Windows phones do you realize how much better my life could be), nor do I learn the same as they might, but I did speak with my teacher’s about my need for visualization when learning, and they have been more than willing to help out in that aspect. I do actually like how even on the oral tests, they will correct my grammatical errors and have me repeat the sentence until I can say it practically fluently. It is certainly my least favorite thing to do, but every one of my teachers and tutors will do this with me and it may take me five minutes of practice before it works, but I can not take for granted how much it helps in the long run.

I’ve been on break for over a week now, as it was the Mid-Autumn Festival, which had its ups and downs. But, considering how much I have splurged in terms of time with the videos, I will write another post and post it hopefully within the week, as now I have a VPN and can access this blogging website from home. Otherwise, hope you all have a wonderful rest of your week and make the best of it all!

09/24/2015

Staple Foods Are My New Best Friend

I might be making the biggest understatement in the world right now, but I have to get this off my chest. I have never eaten so much rice in my life.

Even in my trip to Taiwan, I did not have rice like I have now. At least one if not every meal consists of rice. Rice with squash. Rice with vegetables. Rice with soup. Rice with foods I don’t even know the names of but make my saucy taste buds dance.

But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself now. I’m going to try to catch everyone up to where I am today.

See, after graduation, I got an acceptance letter from CIEE stating I had been selected into their program. No scholarships were a bit of a hard thing, but it was agreed that this would happen. About a week later I applied for an internship, which is to do what I’m doing now; blogging. I was already planning to blog about my travels, but why not give myself more motivation to actually make it happen? After I’d been accepted to both, I flew down to visit my family in Texas.

My cousin had recently had her first son, and getting to meet him, plus see all the other cousins (firsts and seconds) was an absolute joy. The weather was indeed sweltering, as Texas would be in the middle of summer. I spent ten days down there getting to see and love my family and to also learn many new things as I went sight seeing, volunteered, and experience life down in the sweltering south, compared to my northern home.

Not even three weeks later, I was heading to the airport again for my trip to Taiwan. Taiwan is one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen in my short life and limited experience. I had never been somewhere tropical before, but my two weeks there were beyond magical and special. I had my host sisters from Taiwan, my sister Marlene from Austria (who is currently doing her own gap year and is currently in Thailand – you go Marlene), and my sister Caitlyn from Ireland (who is finishing up her last of year of secondary school – you got this sweetie)!

Taiwan became the place where I made countless friendships that I will always hold close to my heart. You don’t think that two weeks, or even one, is long enough to make you become a family, but sometimes, being so close together and doing so much, like paintballing or working as a team to come up with an astounding performance can really bring you closer to people more than you ever thought.

Watching everyone leave at the airport was one of the most heartbreaking experiences I’ve ever gone through, but as Marlene said, “This isn’t goodbye. It’s just ‘see you later,’” and that was enough to keep the waterworks going. Coming back home was heartbreaking too, but those friendships and the love I have for them will never fade.

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In between all these trips I worked my rigorous job at Walgreens, trying to earn some spending money here and there, or trying to get some new clothes for the new environments I was heading to (because, living in Wisconsin, I had come to own more winter clothes than summer clothes: go figure).

I spent another three works at home, going about working and helping to pack up my things for storage or to clean my messy bedroom.

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After those three weeks, I was back again at the airport, after a hard goodbye to my dog, who is in fact, very much my baby, and after a great breakfast of a chocolate scone and a French vanilla latte. There was a bit of a hassle at the airport with my luggage, but I eventually got everything to fit (not without sending some things back home but it was all things I wasn’t sure if I should or shouldn’t pack). In the middle of saying goodbye, my stepsister called from Arizona to wish me good luck, and that was when I started crying. It didn’t last long, but I admit, a part of me was very scared to be going somewhere where I would basically be pushed entirely out of my comfort zone.

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Of course, because they care, each of my parents spent their good time nagging me and giving me tips and reminders. I admit, while it’s annoying to be eighteen years old and an adult and have your parent’s nag you, when it’s gone, sometimes, you can really miss it. In fact, I’ve been gone two weeks and I do sometimes miss having them constantly asking things that would have made me sigh in frustration and caused me to give a sarcastic answer.

But leaving them to go through security was such a surreal experience, not knowing for sure if it’s really happening or not, if it’s just a dream or not. Waiting that morning in the airport, my oldest brother called me from his base to wish me well and keep me company (and even though I’m all grown up, he is still looking out for me and loving me in his own special way). Our other brother and I had talked the night before, and he’d given me some tips for applying to colleges (which will be my main goal these next few weeks on top of classes).

My plane was delayed twice. Once for maintenance, and then again after everybody was on the plane and they told us the luggage was causing the plane to be off balance and had to readjust everything which took about another two hours. By the time we took off I was so relieved, but of course, at the end of the ride, my bum was surely sore, and I was more than happy to stand crouched until I could grab my carry-on.

Some CIEE staff were at the airport to pick a group of us up. There had been a whole group of us who had taken the same flight out of Chicago, but I had mostly slept through the flight and had had a seat far enough back that I didn’t meet any of them until we were finally in Shanghai.

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We were taken by bus to the CIEE center and that was where I met my wonderful host family. I live with a husband and wife, their five-year-old daughter, and the husband’s mother. I call the grandmother nai-nai (奶奶), the Mandarin term for father’s mother, and I call my little sister mei-mei (妹妹), the Mandarin term for little sister.

My first week in Shanghai consisted of orientation and getting lost on campus a good dozen times. I made a few friends that week and went out to lunch with a group of them and met all the GAP year students (there are a total of five of us, and three of us are here for a year). Orientation week was a mix of strange times and feeling totally out of my comfort zone. My friend Lilly and I have done the most exploring, seeing the mall right across from our neighborhood complex and visiting The Bund (which we went to for Starbucks and to study).

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My host family took the liberty of making me feel like a team member, letting me do some things on my own, such as laundry. My host mother taught me how to make Shanghai dumplings and my host father showed me how to make the inside of the dumplings. They also took me to a Chinese market to get food and to get the items to make the dumplings. They showed me to a sports store that carries all sorts of clothes and equipment. My little sister is learning English, while I am learning Mandarin. The language barrier might be a struggle, but it’s so much fun to watch her learn my first language and see how smart she is and how well she already speaks.

This past week I have had my first round of classes. Accelerated Language Learning from 8:00 to 12:00.  We were told that for every contact hour spent in class we would have two hours of homework, which would equate to about eight hours of homework a night. So far, I’d say it takes me anywhere from two to five hours. On Tuesday afternoons I have CORE class, which is all about exploring Chinese culture and understanding things about China so you become more than just a tourist. I meet with a tutor every night Sunday-Wednesday for one hour. I will be taking a training course to learn how to teach kids with disabilities English for my volunteer hours (in which I’m required to have a minimum of six per week). I also have to meet with another tutor, who I will be speaking with one-on-one for at least half an hour a day, with the same dates as my other tutor. To say busy is an understatement.

I can truly say though, China is incredibly different from anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s still a developing country in some aspects, and traffic is absolutely terrifying for someone who doesn’t come from a part of the world where over 20 million people populate one city. Pollution can be bad some days, to the point where I think I might need to where my mask, but so far, I have not needed to wear it unless I’ve been caught under a bridge during rush hour while crossing the street.

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One of my favorite places to go is to the mall directly across the street from my house, which is called Global Harbor (I mentioned it before). It is a very large mall, at least half a mile long and has seven stories in total. It has a Tesco, which is very interesting, and has a bunch of clothing stores on top of comfort good stores. A friend and I have located a Starbucks in the mall, which has fewer options than any Starbucks in America, but it’s all good. Lily has one sushi place that is her weakness, and I have one gelato store that is my weakness as well.

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I would tell you what I did this weekend, but currently I am putting together a video of all the pictures I took for you to watch. Expect an update within in the week (besides this one)! For now, I hope you all have a great rest of your day and I hope you all make the most of it!

By the way, this girl has lost about six pounds since she's been her, hence why staple foods are my new best friend!

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09/14/2015

It Must Be the Start of Something New

Hello everyone! Or should I say, 大家好!

For those of you who don't know, my name is Sage Cheyenne McCormick and I am 18 years old. I am currently a GAP year student (which means I've taken a year off between the end of my senior year and the beginnin of my freshmen year of university). I come from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which is a beautiful, cultural city, but can also be very cold for at least seven to eight months of the year. 

So why did I choose China of all places in the world to go? Good question.

My mother is a practitioner of Chinese medicine, so my interaction with Chinese culture and language started then. When I got to high school, they offered Mandarin Chinese as one of the langues, and I certainly wasn't going to take Spanish or French (because everyone else was taking those)! So I studied the language for four years, my first years under a Taiwanese teacher, and the other under a Chinese teacher from Shanghai, which is where I'm currently located! Somewhere between those two teachers, I made up my mind that I wanted to travel. Europe was on e of the first places that came to mind, but I was learning a language that not many people without Chinese roots know, and I knew quite a bit about the culture, but had never actually lived in a culture so different from my own.

It took a bit of convincing, but eventually I got both my parents on board. I spent time applying to exchange programs instead of colleges, and here I am now.

I have officially been living in China for a week now, and have been working on getting video footage and photos of all the things I have seen. It's been a busy week of orientation and getting to know the city I live in and how to navigate it! 

I will be sure to make a post in the next few days of everything I have captured by camera (having some technical difficulties in this new country). 

But the most important things are, I love my host family. I truly got paired with the perfect family, and I can't wait to show and tell you all I can about them. 

Stay tuned as I will be posting in the next few days and you can truly see all the wonders of Shanghai with me!

06/12/2015

XieXie's and Goodbyes

Hello my lovely, lovely friends. I am so so horribly sorry that I have been even worse this semester than the last, but I have just been so wrapped up in existence here, I can't even believe it myself!

Right now it is 10:07 PM on June 12th, and quite honestly I don't understand how I got here; the night before I go back to reality.
Let me be clear here,
I have been absolutely aware of what has been going on around me. (Maybe even a little too much, keeping in touch with people who are not around me is not my forté, I'm sure you've noticed!) Every bite of every meal, every lovely word spoken by those I have chosen to surround myself with, every easy wind blow and even the challenging times were all very deeply felt.
But what I don't understand is how it is when things are so lovely we are constantly looking at things that may seem even lovelier and we arrive there and you realize that everything has always been lovely, why did you wait to appreciate the innate loveliness of everything already around you?
BUT VERONICA, you may say, looking at your blog, you have no problem with seeing the good in the CURRENT moment!

Unfortunately, this is not true. I am much more skilled in the art of seeing the good in what has passed and what has yet to come which makes me a very easy excitable person in many ways, but it also has its downfalls, like most things.
That being said, I look back on my year, this year, the shortest year of all my life, and I can't help but think of one thing- Grace.

This is a concept that is shared all over the world in many different ways. To some it is grace, to others it could be anything from "good vibes" to simple thankfulness. This year, I was granted the privilege to feel it all with a strength of a thousand suns.
If I have learned anything this year at all, it's that everything is not what it seems and that I am not the absolute and final word of anything at all, so who am I to judge anyone or anything at all?
Of course I believe everyone is entitled to their opinions, but I believe there's a profound difference between disagreement and judgement... (But thats for another time).

Forgive me, I am trying to condense what feels like a lifetime of lessons in a few paragraphs.
I am trying to figure out how to examine my soul and the souls of those around me so that I can show you a piece, hoping that you will see the goodness I see here, but these beautiful things do not come out in full complete sentences, but instead in short bursts of clarity and undeniable truthfulness, which is what I am sharing with you now.

Today us CIEE students had graduation, a lovely ceremony filled with joy, of course a touch of sadness and sentimentality, and thankfulness. Completely student run, the ceremony began with the introduction of some of the CIEE coordinators, as well as a bilingual speech given by one of our own; a CIEE student. This is followed by the distribution of the "diplomas" and other special awards for those exceptional students, and finally with a lovely talent show. I will never forget what it felt like being able to share just a few more hours of love and joy for this lovely country and it's culture.
After the ceremony we all (slowly) made our way over to a nearby hotel to eat a quite incredible meal. Surrounded by all CIEE students, Chinese home-stay families, and the staff members of CIEE it could be described as nothing less than... home-y.
After eating an impressive amount of food in a impressively short amount of time, we were forced to say goodbye to members of our ever growing CIEE family, and the GAP students and I took one last stroll through my favorite park in the world-- Chang Feng Park.


I find it enormously challenging, finding the correct words to thank those involved in making this year happen for me, so goodbyes are not an easy task. I did my best today, and I shall try my best again... This is about to be truthful and dramatic and I apologize in advance.

Thank you, first and foremost to the LOVELY teachers at CIEE, and every single one of the staff members, who without, I surely would have perished from this earth. I can tell you, dear readers, with certainty that CIEE only hires those with hearts of pure gold.
Next to my lovely and dear friends and classmates here, thank you for giving me the privilege of showing me your heart and soul and everything that encompasses. Thank you for teaching me tolerance on the days when CIEE was just WAY too small. Thank you for teaching me self reliance, on the days when it seemed too large, and on all the other days thank you for teaching me of love.
TO CHINA!!!! Thank you for accepting me into you're large and overpopulated hands, and never kicking me out even though I may not always fit so perfectly here. Thank you for showing me that losing myself in a new culture is the only way to retrieve the real me, but more importantly thank you for showing me that this life is not meant to be all about me. (PS. I'll be back sooner than you think....) :)
Lastly, to my lovely and forever supportive parents. There are no words to express my thankfulness, and no amount of presents can repay you for what you've given me here (but I sure tried!!!). I love you, and when I return home I bet you will be able to see it in my eyes, feel it in my heart; this year was not a waste of time or money. *disclaimer* (GAP YEARS ARE AMAZING EVERYONE SHOULD TAKE ONE AND GO ABROAD)

To my dear readers, you are probably few, but thank you for reading this over-the-top blog anyways, and thank you for your patience with my flakiness.
This is the end of this for me, but I can promise you that it won't be the last time you see words written by me, yelling about the beauty in this world, in this life.
Because if I learned anything from myself this year, it's that beauty is anything and everything that the senses can't reach.
Until next time, my dear, dear, China.
再见我真的爱你❤️❤️❤️

04/10/2015

A Walkin' We Go.

Hello, friends! 

Just some thoughts for you today.
I have just returned from one of my favorite routines in China: my daily after-dinner walk around the track at my university here, ECNU. 
 
Now what you have to understand this is a very important Chinese custom. Chinese people believe that this is essential to maintaining good health. This custom, among others such as drinking tea, are things that I have come to love participating in. Around 8 every night you will find the streets and tracks all filled with walking, running, stretching, and even singing and dancing Chinese people. My host mom, after finding this out, would often tease me with comments like, "you really are becoming Chinese now, aren't you!!!" and to be honest these comments are often the highlight of my day.
I take this very seriously. If I am invited to any activity that is happening at or around  8 o'clock, my friends, after my constant refusal, have learned that this is a part of my day I am not willing to negotiate.  

My friends have often asked me why it is that I hold this simple activity so dear to my heart. Honestly, at first, I didn't know. However, upon thinking about it on tonight's walk, I have finally understood the reason why this is colossally important to me. 
 It may seem ordinary to you: just a few circles around tracks, a phenomenon both China and America share. But what makes this special for me is the darkness. 
 
You see, during the day I am a white person. I am a foreigner from some extraordinary far off land that everyone wants to talk to, avoid, or get their picture taken with. It doesn't matter if my broken Chinese is not so broken for a fleeting moment of accidental tonal accuracy, because Chinese people take one look at me, and I become  just another foreigner trying to know Chinese language and culture. 
However, in the dead of this drenched- in- ordinary darkness, I am just one of many Chinese people. The color of our skin fades, the shape of our eyes no longer visible, the curl, or lack there of of our hair, no longer a characteristic you can easily distinguish from the crowd. The far off light coming from the street allows others to know someone is near by, but not enough to be able to categorize them as anything other than simply: 
a person.
 
 And what a beautiful thing the darkness can be sometimes.
I am no longer a "wai guo ren" or foreign person for people to point and gawk at. I am simply a person who wants to maintain their health just like everyone else. The ability to blend in is a privilege I have come to respect and yearn for, so these few dozen minutes of walking are some I have come to truly treasure. 
So, every night, I come out here, I walk, throw a few "Ni Hao"'s out there, sometimes, if I'm lucky, exchange a few more words then that but never anything more, (this is walking time not talking time!).
And I feel bliss. 
Because even if it exists only here between the lines of the track or in between songs of too many Chinese tunes playing at once, 
I am able to get just a mild taste of what it is to be one of many OTHER Chinese people. 
 
If you, reader, are another person who finds themselves in love with somewhere other than your home land, I have one simple recommendation for you. 
When the differences between two cultures seem they've become too great, and it seems that you will lose your mind if you can't have a simple moment of feeling authentic togetherness, just turn off the lights. 
Extinguish the light that places cultural blocks and show everyone you can that you and I are just beautiful products of this earth we all call home. 
We are all people just trying to make it another round around this track in the dead of darkness. 
 
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Until next time, my dear friends...

 

03/21/2015

Back At It

Hello once again my lovely (and patient) readers! I am so terribly sorry it took me this long to write another post! I won't waste your time telling you that I will get better because at this point I'm assuming it just won't happen. 

I have to tell you, friend, what an amazing first semester with CIEE. I made relationships that I truly believe will outlast many lifetimes, experienced so many new religions and cultures, and just one other little thing: learned some Chinese. The confusion, the at times unspeakable frustration, and laughter my fellow CIEE students and I shared is something I will hold dear in my heart forever.

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Bradley & Jon, we miss you dearly, PLEASE come back soon.

It just makes me wonder-- who wouldn't want to take a gap year?!

After countless hugs and a few shed tears, we said goodbye to each other in December, and off we went to re-explore our own worlds, that we had left behind just four months before. What an odd thing. Being home, and being this person that everyone has come to understand, and being comfortable with this, and then leaving every single thing you were brought up to know, to pursue the great unknown. Then all of a sudden the unknown is the only thing you truly want to know, and you can't imagine living your life anywhere near the word "comfort." 

Being in sunny florida was absolutely lovely, and I had never felt so blessed to feel the familiar hug of my family members when I arrived home after the long 20 hour trek back to my part of the states. After one very short month of speaking english (so strange), and a very excessive amount of Chipotle burritos, I was back in chilly Shanghai with some of my lovely Gap friends. Over this two and a half month break, I was fortunate enough to be able to go backpacking through Northern China, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia with 3 other gap students. 

Simply spoken, it changed my life (just like everything this past half year has), and I truly am in awe that this life is the one the universe feels I deserve. Southeast Asia, as you all may know, is absolutely beautiful. Through its culture, food (oh, wow), landscapes, and spirituality, every single person who travels there, whether they like it or not, finds themselves drowning in their love for these countries. Yes, tourism is unfortunately a very present force here, yes, there is trash in a lot of areas trash has no business being, and no, it was not a perfect experience. However, the type of energy and spirituality that is surging in this part of the world is something I believe needs to be felt to be understood.

Forgive me, but I feel that my description of my visit to these countries will only be small taste of a large, large portion. I, myself am still trying to digest what in the world happened to me in that 6 week time period, so I will just give you your taste in the form of visual sugar. 

Harbin, China

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Beijing:

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I'm a Hun. (Mulan!!!)

Thailand (Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai)

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That has to be the best hug I've ever received. <3 

Laos (Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng)

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We are a cool bunch, aren't we?!

Cambodia (Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville, Koh Rong Island)

 

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...and then back home:

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It saddens me to reduce it to such a degree, but it is for the best. On arrival in Shanghai, we had the pleasure of meeting our two new gap students, Alexandra and Maddie. What a lovely blessing to receive. After our first week of school and meeting some of the new CIEE students this semester, I have concluded that the kind of person who chooses to study abroad, or take a gap year and go abroad, is the kind of person that I would like as a friend. There is a certain kind of spiritual joy that shines through them. Maybe that's what travel does to you. Maybe it forces the  "yang" of life out of your soul for all the world to see. Shanghai has been quite polluted recently so it can use all the sunshine it can get. 

It is so nice to be home. 

Until next time lovely, lovely readers. 

11/26/2014

The Silkiest Road in China

HELLO FRIENDS!!!

Once again, so very sorry for the rediculous delay, maybe it's taking longer than i thought to get into a routine. Ayways, thank you for your lovely patience.

We have alot to cover in the last MONTH (or so) so lets get started, shall we?

So, while you are off doing whatever it is you do in your day to day life, in late October, all of CIEE went on a week long trip. We had the choice of going on one of four trips. Some went to Hong Kong (mostly business A.K.A. NOT for me), some went to Yunnan provence to do service oriented activities and outdoor shenanigans, (could be for me but didn't feel quite right), some went to Taiwan to experience some more leisurely activites like laying on the beach and snorkeling (definitely could have been for me but still wasn't feeling it), and the others, including me, went on the Silk Road trip. 

I LITERALLY have no words to sum up my experience in a small little sentence or whatever so here we go. Hold on to your seats kids West China is calling our name! 

This blog post, like the others, have some sort of weird theme and this one is KUNG FU!!! I watched Kung Fu Panda just before leaving for the trip and I believe I relate to Po, the protangist panda, on a spiritual level so he has channeled into my pictures. Just a warning...

So my journey begins on October 25th at 4:00 A.M. 30 zombies slithered out of their beds placed the 10 closest articles of clothing in a bag and zombie-ran to meet the rest of the group to go to Pudong International Airport. After a quick little delay we were on our way to destination #1. 

Where you ask? 

XI'AN!!!!! 

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Xi'an, translates literally into Western Peace, and a very fitting name it is. This city was comforting to me was we listened to a traditional bell show and relaxed a little, mentally and physically preparing ourselves for the coming days. Aside from the smell of stinky tofu that my poor nose really is still NOT used to, I enjoyed seeing another Chinese city. 

After a much needed looooong sleep, we were back on the move and traveled to the infamous Terra Cotta warriors, where we spent the majority of our day in awe of what we were witnessing. For those of you who don't know, it's essentially this Chinese emperor who wanted an army to protect him after he died, so he had all the sculptors he could find build him 8,000 life size warriors and horses with carriages and all. But get this, each and every warrior that was built is unique. Every single one has it's own personalized face and size and shape and is doing a different stance or whatever. Too cool, I barely passed ceramics class so this is just, you know, MINORLY impressive...

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That's me freakin' out. I mean, what's new? LOOK AT ALL OF THOSE SOLDIERS. 

Oh, and get this, from what I can remember, there is a whole OTHER massive palace area where the emperor's body actually is, but I guess archaeologists don't think that they have the proper tools to preserve what they find, so they haven't touched it yet. I get that, I mean, how would you feel if you ruined thousands of years of history just to get some good pictures? Better wait. Good call, China. 

NEXT we went to see Xi'an City wall. Fun fact, this awesome wall is actally OLDER than the United States, just to give you some perspective. Rediculous. Beautiful.

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(Excuse my face but, CITY WALL KUNG FU!!)

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So Peaceful. After some DELICIOUS green noodles (oh, yes. green.) we were on the road again!

然后 (Next) We hopped on a bus and took a (unexpected) 6 hour journey to a personal favorite city of the trip, Xiahe. There were some issues going into the new provence, but it was figured out eventually. After 6 hours though the 30  zombies once again returned. Some people really do not wear 6 hour bus travel well. 

Man, oh man. It was so worth it. 

Xiahe is without a doubt the most remote location I have ever been in my life. It didn't even feel like China anymore everthing was in Tibetan and the even the people looked different. The entire town is Tibetan Buddhist and simply driving into the town I just felt this energy come over me. Honestly, it was a kind of calm I've never experienced. As we got closer I could just feel myself feeling calmer and despite the fact that it was around 50 degrees, I felt almost warm. A feeling I will not soon forget. 

If you wanted to, you could run around the entire town in like 15 minutes, but the kind of spiritual energy that was surging from that place is something that can blow a city as big as Shanghai out of the water. Looking at it, it doesn't seem like much. It is pretty run down (aside from the gold temples). Everyone is just kind of walking or doing this repetitive motion where they put their hands by their waist than above their head then they lie down and so on. 

I soon found out, it was prayer. Which makes sense because Xiahe is prayer. It is meditative peaceful prayer. It is love. Of course this is just one person's opinion, but if I felt anything, it was just pure love. Because to me, love is a town where you see the most joyful hilarious monks ranging from ages 8 to 80. Love is a town that is welcoming and is home to people who uncondtionally honor their souls.  IMG_0241

MONK FRIEND :)

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(XIAHE KUNG FU!!!!!!)

At night, we had the absolute priviledge of teaching a little under an hour's worth on english to children at a nearby Tibetan orphanage. We split into groups and each taught a class of maybe 8 or 10 students. All of the students were the kindest and happiest kids I've met in a while. When we met them, this is where they were.  IMG_0372

Now, it could be they were just very happy to see Americans, something they see maybe once a year, or they were just happy kids, but we all had a fantastic time. After indtroductions and some real school stuff we played the game "Simon Says" with them, (edited to Eddie says because he was the M.C. that night) and they LOVED it. All a little embarassed, eventually they felt comfortable enough to talk with us and play with us. Definitely the most fun i've ever had playing Eddie (Simon) says. 

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I plan to visit them again someday. All I could think about is where they are gonna be when they're 18 like me. Will they have the opportunity to leave their community? Will they want to? I really don't know. I will be back though. 

After one of the most humbling experiences of my life, it was off to bed for the night in the single most flamboyant hotel with no heat that i've ever been to, and absolutely no complaining... not as much as usual anyways. 

After some more shenanigans (and new winter wear),IMG_0395

we were off to Lanzhou to take an over night train to Dunhuang!

Dunhuang is home to the most delicious street food i've had, deserts and CAMELS. All you really need in life, right?

First activity in Dunhuang was visiting the Great Jade Pass which is this super super old pass. I was scared to look at it so touching it wasn't even an option. It was very large and had a KILLER view. Unfortunately I don't have access to the killer view pictures so you can use some imagination.

After the pass we saw the oldest wall in China. That's right, the Great Wall in Beijing is not the oldest. Although I do believe it's a little more effective than this one... IMG_0426

For those who can't tell this wall is about 2 feet off the ground. But it was made in 1st century BC so that is more than enough for me not to want to go near it. Well done wall. 

After a very yummy dinner we headed to bed early preparing for an exceptionally lovely day the next day. No zombies can be present for this day. 

It seemed that waking up the next day was much easier. First we had the absolute treat of visiting the Mogao Caves of Dunhuang. This was without a doubt one of the most sacred things i've ever seen. It was a testament to human kind and the kind of things that we can create and I was in literal awe. These caves were built by buddhist monks traveling from India to China on the silk road to trade.

These monks felt a spiritual connection to this road and were called to build these caves. They have found 735 caves so far. 735?!?!?! WHAT??? And they're not just caves. They have these amazing and beautiful paintings of buddha and stories and they have sculptures inside them. These caves are home to one of the biggest buddha statues in the world. I could literally live inside the toe of this Buddha. Would i want to? Absolutely. Wouldn't you? 

Anyways, here's me freakin out about the caves. 

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In my defense it was an exceptionally sunny day... I wish I could show you the beauty that is these caves but no pictures were allowed. I guess that means you'll just HAVE to come see for yourself then. Gosh darn. 

After the caves we had the priviledge of going to a local farmers home for lunch! The family prepared a delicious soup noodle dish that was so delicious I literally inhaled it in about 5 minutes. I inhaled the seconds, too.... And thirds... 

We talked with the family and they told us about how much they love where they live, and that living in the desert is a fantastic place to live. He told us all about much he loves his house and that it has been in his family for many generations. 

It was very hard for me to understand, honestly, staying in one place all your life and not even having desire to leave. I've always felt the world is such a large place and is absolutely all ours to see, so why not? Why stay in one place? It was a hard concept to grasp. Was...

After lunch we headed back over to the desert, our lovely home for the week. 

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((DESERT KUNG FU!!!!)

After some freakin out about the beautiful day and wondering what in the world I did to deserve this kind of day, we made some new friends! My new friend was minorly smelly, however a very kind soul. 

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Meet my good buddy, Ditu A.K.A. Map. Why did I name him Map you ask? The better question is why not? My deep answer is that he guided me through my spiritual journey through the desert; he was my map.. to my soul. Booooom!!!

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Here's me and bud.

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AHHHHHHHH

After some sand dune riding and going to see a beautiful temple in the middle of this desert, I said gooodbye to my lovely Ditu, and my even lovelier desert. 

 

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I mean come ON. This is not a final goodbye. NO. I'll be back, dear Gobi desert, don't worry. 

After that tough goodbye we were back on the over night train going back to Lanzhou. 

Back in civilizatio (and pollution) I have to admit I was a little sad. Being secluded with absolutely nothing but sand, camels and some clouds, it made me think. And I came to the conclusion that if I was born and raised here, in this kind of peaceful area, why would I leave? Why would I WANT to enter a world that introduced anything other than peace? 

Again, just me and my quite frankly hippie opinion. 

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Besides, Lanzhou has some pretty beatuiful secrets of it's own. 

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(LANZHOU KUNG FU!!!!!)

After an... interesting trip on a shady boat down the yellow river, we boarded a plane and returned back home to Shanghai.

Going over what I've written thus far I've realized how much I say that things were "amazing" or "Changed my life" and saying all these really intense dramatic things. I want to make something clear about that. Yes, I am a little dramatic, as I've told you before. Yes, I do feel things pretty intensely. However, what this trip has given me, what it's shown me about this world and myself, what it's made me question in this life... THAT is something that rightfully deserves some dramatics. 

Until next time, my lovely readers...

 

10/13/2014

Dui Bu Qi Wo De Zhong Wen Bu Hao (My Chinese Sucks)

HELLO ONCE AGAIN LOVELY READERS! 

I am deeply sorry for my absence, I really have to get better at this time management thing. When choosing to apply for the opportunity to write a blog for CIEE, I never quite realized how it can make time move so very quickly. 

It seems as though I wrote my last post just last week, and now i've seen it's been almost.... a month! HOW????

Anyways, here's what you missed. 

Since this has been such a long absence, I have been trying to figure out a way to separate the important things that must be shown to the world and the things that can simply be left secrets between China and those who experience all she has to offer. 

I believe I've found the perfect solution: in small adorable animals. For some reason over the past month, there has been an abundance of fluffy miniature happiness following us around this beautiful country. 

In september, us gap students were blessed with the priviledge of having our first community service out reach with a center for people with disabilities. Exchanging songs from both American and Chinese culture, it was truly unique and unforgettable. Every Friday we make our way just around the corner to visit our new chinese friends and sing songs and teach dances and play sports with them. Here's a picture of our first meeting!  DSCN1819

 

A few days after our first lovely greeting, the gap students had the absolute honor of meeting 3 representatives from the Beijing Opera. En route to CORE class, where we met the representatives, I always am able to see one of my favorite furry friends (he has yet to be named i'll keep you posted)... 

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After a period of deeply rooted sadness not being able to bring my little cat to class with me, I have an excellent opportunity to distract myself as I watch a very, very small representation of what the Beijing opera actually sounds like, complete with Arhu and all. The Arhu is a beautiful Chinese instrument that two of the Gap students are actually learning to play! After once a week lessons on these beautiful instruments these two gap students and other students from CIEE will show us all their hard work at the programs gradution ceremony! (((Shout out to Alec and Samantha, I would not be able to manufacture any kind of pleasent noise from this instrument.)))

 

And, a decision I'm sure they later regretted, we also got to try to sing as those in the Beijing opera do. I did record it, and I did try to upload it, but it seems as though the universe believes that special noise should be a secret only the lucky ones present had the honor of witnessing. 

Surely, a memory I will not soon forget.  DSCN1835

Later that week I had to opportunity to  participate in one of a series of events CIEE has created for us called "Old  Shanghai". This particular event took place at Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center. It showed what Shanghai used to look like compared with what it is today...and what it may be in the future... amoung other things. Like this!

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This is a model of Shanghai. Pretty cool right? Except, no, wait, this isn't all of Shanghai, in fact it is 1/60 of how large Shanghai actually is. The university I study at isn't even included on this map. Did you freak out? I sure did. This world is literally MASSIVE. It takes things like these to allow me to realize that sometimes. 

It was very educational and i truly did learn alot about the city that I am supposed to call home. Yes, supposed to. I know... 'Veronica it's already been a month, shouldn't you be comfortable with calling Shanghai... home?' Well, I suppose. But home is a very specific term for me, and I don't think I was quite there yet. How can something be home when there are so many unfamiliar things about this place? 

Honestly, around this time, I was having a hard time. With all the school work, and 0 authentic American comfort food, I was feeling a little out of sorts. 

Don't get me wrong, there were amazing moments such as eating this to-die-for food at this to-die-for park... 

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Or drinking some authentic to-die-for Chinese tea with some classmates...

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Or participating in the next activity in Old Shanghai, a night cruise down Huangpu River. Truly amazing. 

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Pictured: The lovely gap students (Jon, Bradley, me (Veronica), Alec, Samantha, Lara & Eddie).. minus Alexa of course. She exists I swear, there are 8 of us!

Even with all these wonderful occurences, I was still feeling out of sorts. And, like clockwork, the universe gave me exactly what I needed when I needed it: a PUPPY!!!

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.... Aaaaaand a break. The most fantastic thing came our way, a whole one week break. (Sadly without the puppy). Some of the gap students and I made the best decision of choosing to go to a lovely nearby town called Huangshan. 

Huangshan translated means "yellow mountain," and a very fitting name that is. 

That Saturday 6 tired teenages boarded the bus at 6 A.M going somewhere we didn't know with people we deemed friends by the best of circumstances and chance. And so began one of the adventures I've experienced.

About 4 hours in I woke up trying to remember where i was and how I got there when I looked out the window and honestly forgot my questions about my whereabouts and didn't care. Because for the first time in a while we had the pleasure of looking at what I personally believe to be the most incredible sight in the world: mountains. Simply beautiful, not polluted, unotouched, naturally dirty; mountains. I was wide awake and didn't sleep for the next 3 hours upon arrival. 

While at Huangshan we experienced and witnessed a series of misfortunes such as the incredibly eye opening living conditions of the locals, or the fact that we booked a hostel very far away from where we wanted to be. 

Seeing the extreme poverty and desparation of the people who lived there was enough for me to call this trip successful for it reminded me of how truly blessed I am with the things that I have. 

Feeling down and a little guilty being there, we all decided to walk. So far we'd seen purely green mountains (not a bad sight, obviously), and run down buildings filled with what seemed like run down people. Until finally, we saw why this hiking location is one of the most famous in China, why the chinese hold this place as a very sacred place of China, why tourists from all over the world come to this small town instead of choosing to stay in one of the biggest cities in the world just 6 hours away. 

We saw this.  DSCN2332

The next day after eating some incredible American food made by a man who spoke english fluently and with an English accent even we began our 3 and a half hour hike up that beautiful mountain. We started from half way up, a decision we all agreed was brilliant because otherwise we would not have made it. 

It was hard. To say the least. I wish I had words to explain the pain that climbing nothing but stairs produces. Just... pain. This is me in pain climbing stairs. 

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Honestly, I've never been happier. 

Once reaching the summit a sense of accomplishment slowly filled my body as i gazed at the view I waited to long to see. The interesting thing is, when I think back to the view I saw, I don't remember the view very well. I don't really remember the people that were around me, I think there was a crying baby somewhere and someone playing ancient Chinese music. Someone was yelling at someone and someone was laughing maybe but none of that has really stayed with me.

The one thing that has stayed with me-- the one thing that I will never forget, is how looking at the nature around me made me feel absolutely alive. I felt like i weighed 3 pounds and everything around me seemed brighter and enhanced as it had before. 

This may sound dramatic, which we all know i never am, but being on top of Huangshan I feel honestly woke me up from an 18 year sleep. Like everything in my life before then was just a vivid dream. 

I wish, dear reader, that I could accurately explain to you all the adventures we experienced, the way we felt going from extreme hunger to extreme exhaustion to extreme ecstacy and adrenaline. I wish that the pictures I show you could accurately show what it is like to stand at the edge of a mountain with the most kind, and wonderful stangers around you. I wish I could have captured the amount of stars we saw and how we watched them in perfect silence because the stars were loud enough. 

But I can't. It's a secret just Huangshan and I shall share. And I'm okay with that, because it honestly changed my life forever. Its ironic that it took having my head in the clouds for me to become so deeply rooted to the earth. 

Many rain storms, mis- haps, and let down's that turned into victories later, we made our way to the bus to go.... home. 

After getting home, everything was the same yet to me everything seemed different. I felt tethered to those who shared this experience with me in more than a metaphysical way because I grew so much as a person on this adventure and they were there for that.

The Chinese believe that Huangshan is the link between earth and heaven. That when you climb those stairs to the summit, you're infact climbing the stairs toward heaven itself. 

So, take a look, is it heaven? 

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I can't say that that was heaven. But it honestly was mine. 

Until next time, my dear reader....

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