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Gap Year Abroad

8 posts categorized "Veronica Lewis"

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....

09/15/2014

Ni Hao! (How??)

Congratulations to all members of the CIEE Shanghai program, we've officially been here for over two weeks! 

Wow. What a way to start out the time here in Shanghai. I know, I've neglected the blog universe recently, but I'm back! 

Here's what you missed--

Last Tuesday was our first day of school... ahhhh! For a beginner 1 student such as myslef, you could literally smell the confusion. Like most days in Shanghai, it was an overcast day, perfectly mimicking the confusion and cloudiness in my brain trying to juggle characters, pin yin, english translations, correct tonal speech... and, oh yeah, I am a person, so I guess eating, showering and sleeping would be good too. 

Let's just say, 4 hour classes in Chinese everyday is not exaclty a walk in Zhong Shan Park. 

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One of my favorite parks, I often come here to study. Oh, did i mention studying yet? Ah, yes. The studying is less of a verb now, and more of a way of life. It's a religion, something that you commit every waking hour of the day to. 

No, no, I take that back. Definitely not just hours that you are awake. Thursday night I had a dream I put a third tone over an "I" instead of an "E" and the world started bursting into flames and there was lava everywhere and there was someone screaming somewhere. 

Granted, I have put just a little bit of pressure on myself... but just a little! Like I said, studying for class is a way of life. No worries! I'm not the only one...

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Pictured: Bradley, Alec, Lara, & Eddie. (Fellow temporary slaves to the art of studying the beloved Chinese Language).

Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love it. So many characters make much more logical sense than English it makes me wonder why in the WORLD English has to be so complicted. For example: to say the days of the week in chinese you simply put the Chinese character for "xīngxī" in front of a corresponding number of the week. So, since the number 1 is "yī", Monday would be "xīngxīyī". The number 2 is "èr" so Tuesday would be "xīngxīèr". And so on. Logical. Simple. 

I also truly believe that just in this one week of class alone, I have better been able to grasp Chinese culture in general. Through the language, I have been given what seems to be my own personal peep hole into what it truly means to be Chinese. 

Yes, it's true, Chinese is complicated. So complicated in fact, the word "complicated" does not do it justice, but oh man, it has perks. 

Brakes in studying turn into eating noodles at places where most of the gap year students cannot order yet because of the massive language barrier... or even stir the meal correctly (the waiters now know to mix it for us). Although we cannot articulate it, the owners know how much we adore this whole-in-the-wall miniscule Chinese restaurant. Practically fainting from the delicious, noodle-y explosions occuring in our mouths needs no translation. If I were to try and articulate to you what these godly bowls of wonder taste like, it would simply do the meal injsutice for I do not believe the vocabulary needed to do so exists to mortal humans. 

Other perks include incredible trips to beautiful cities such as the one I had the pleasure of visiting: Yangzhou. If you have not heard of Yangzhou, it is best known for the fact that fried rice originated there. 

Yes, I had fried rice. And yes, it was even more delicious than the noodles. (You didn't hear that from me!!) 

The groups left in the early morning on Saturday and had the experience of taking bullet trains to one of four Chinese cities. Seeing my first blue sky in two weeks was an emotional experience for me, and for my phone. I have about 30 pictures dedicated solely to the baby blue sky and one or two clouds I could see. What a treat. 

After eating about as much fried rice that could feed a small village, the small Yangzhou CIEE group of 20 made our way to two breath takingly beautiful gardens that looked a little something like this:DSCN1546

After these gardens we were able to find more fried rice as the moon started to rise in the sky.

The next morning we made our way to a little tea house with the most incredible tea I've ever tasted. I'm sure you've noticed I may exaggerate, just a little, but this tea needs no exaggeration. Here, look for yourself! IMG_1467

Even now when I look at it, a sense of euphoria pours over my body. That tea, is why I study so hard. So that I can buy every Chinese tea there is to buy, and no longer having to use Chinglish (Chinese- English).

We spent the last few hours in Yangzhou at a beautiful park full of places I just wanted to sit and think about how it is I got so lucky as to have the priviledge to visit places such as this one. 

A quick bullet train back to Shanghai, and a wonderful surprise was awaiting us. A radiant blue sky! I could have cried. More pictures of baby blue skies on my phone, and I actually felt at home. 

For the first time, I referred to Shanghai as home, and even felt a sense of comfort walking home from campus: making the familiar right turn onto the street outside of ECNU smelling something delicious I don't know the name of mixed with cigarette smoke and the sound of a Chinese man about to spit. Yep, I was home. 

After some studying I went for a walk and noticed the nighttime brought one of the most incredible things I've seen; The Shanghai Star. No, this is not an official title for it (yet) but it's going to happen. The first clear night in Shanghai and I was fortunate enough to capture the only little star gracing the China night sky.  IMG_1526

It's in the upper left hand corner... I swear. This picture of The Shanghai Star is a nice representation of my inner growth here in China. 

No, you may not be able to see it from where you are. You may not even be able to see it in the picture. But I can see it, and believe me, it's there. Today was nothing but blue skies again, so I have a feeling the star can only get brighter from here. 

To quote John Green, "I'm on a rollercoaster that only goes up..."

Until next time, lovely reader...

09/04/2014

First Week in Shanghai (Shang-HI!!!)

Hi everyone and welcome once again to my blog! 

Today is the 5th of September, marking the 5th day in Shanghai! I am beyond excited to be here and experience all this wonderful city has to offer. In 5 days alone I can confidently say that I have met so many people, experienced so many things, and seen some incredible sights, and I am having an amazing experience. 

You should know, however, that I was not always this confident about my trip here. On the 30th of August I said many goodbyes that were harder than I expected them to be. Between family, friends, and random strangers with whom the topic of "I'm going to China for a year" came up, all of them had one thing in common to say to me: "You are going to have the time of your life, I wish I had that opportunity." Honestly I knew that this was going to be an incredible experience but it made me nervous to hear people say it like that. Like if it didn't turn out that way, 'the time of my life,' that I would have wasted a year that so many others are envious that I have. It was quite a bit of pressure. 

Anxious and anticipating the worst, I boarded my 14 hour flight from the comforts of home to Shanghai, China. After a few troubling moments here and there, I was starting to feel very confident in myself. The freedom I felt from things at home was more liberating than anything I've ever felt. And for the first time in a long time I felt confident in myself and my decisions. 

After the CIEE staff picked me up practically flawlesslly, we exited the airport and the first thing I notice: the humidity. WOW it is humid here. That is definitely going to take some time to get used to. If I were to attempt to describe the humidity I would have to say it feels like you're swimming. Without the comforts of having cold water as your reward. 

In what felt like slow motion, the group moved towards the bus to make our way through the beautiful city of Shanghai. My prior expectations for the bus traveling to my new home for the next year were tears tears and more tears. Perhaps a hint of excitement. However these expectations were quickly shattered as I looked out the window and saw parks I could see myself reading in and stores i wanted to explore and buildings i wanted to know more about. I saw things I'd never seen before like that there is potted plants on the highway. THE HIGHWAY!!! So exciting for me. The world could use more foliage like that. I assumed it was the adrenaline, espceially since driving through Shanghai is a life threatening experience by itself, and that the feeling of excitement would eventually just wear off. 

Well, needless to say, I was wrong. Because here I am, 5 days into my gap year, and absolutely loving it. The other gap year students are all incredible individual people and i feel priviledged to share my year with them. Although we are a small group of 8, and it has only been 5 days, we truly have grown close, and I can't wait to see the beautiful, adventurous future that China holds for us. 

Here's a picture of us at The Bund! 

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(Not pictured: Me, Veronica, and Alexa, not a picture enthusiast (I tried))

I am so excited to be showing you, lovely reader, everything I see! 

Until next time...

08/01/2014

Shanghai's Calling!

After months of anticipation, excitement, and quite frankly restless anxiety, August has finally made it's way into our lives. I am happy to say that I could not be more PUMPED for what lies ahead for us future (temporary) Chinese Residents.

Hello, reader! And welcome to my humble blog recording my time through my program in Shanghai, China. My name is Veronica and I am honored to welcome you to your portal to the other side of the world. I am sure that as you read my posts, you may find that I may be a bit odd, and my interpretation of my experiences may be a tad unconventional, but bear with me and you will be able to follow those of us in my program through what I'm sure will be an incredible experience.

From what I've read, Shanghai is an up and coming city that is always changing to accommodate travelers from all over the world. Having never been to China, I did some research in an attempt to really understand what it is I'm getting myself into.

What I've found is quite interesting. I've seen quotes that describe it as a "drugged up New York City", and for those of you who have been to New York City, that can sound a bit concerning because New York itself can be a little intimidating.

However, in the movie Shanghai Calling, the narrator states that there is a Chinese saying that says "Shanghai is like a beautiful woman: seductive & mysterious." This movie follows a Chinese- American man to Shanghai who has never been to China before, like many of the students in my program. At first, the antagonist, Sam, was very upset and did not want to go, thinking that he was going to be surrounded by cows and uncivilized people.

As the movie unfolds you watch as Sam's initial perception of Shanghai is completely diminished as he realizes that this part of China is one of the most modern and beautiful cities in the world. I do highly recommend this movie to get a taste of the city. Needless to say, I've seen some pretty random interpretations of this eastern Chinese city. Drugged up, or mysterious and seductive, I am psyched to shortly be able to give my own interpretation of Shanghai. Honestly, I'm hoping that Shanghai lives up to all of it's expectations, because if so we will never have a dull moment.

From my research, I have concluded that from an outside perspective, I think Shanghai is a little like me: odd, and a little unconventional. If this turns out to be true, I think that Shanghai and I will be fast friends.

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