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Gap Year Abroad

4 posts categorized "Sage McCormick"


Did You Miss Me?


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! 



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.


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. 


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. 



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!


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!

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