A Travellerspoint blog

Welcome home

A note about returning

sunny 74 °F

I felt like this blog would be incomplete without a note on the final step. I've been home for a few days now. In fact, I'm currently sitting on my bedroom floor with my laptop in my lap. I'd like to send a welcome home message to all of my friends from this summer- I'm sure you're all as excited as I am to be back.

Coming home is quite an experience. I've never quite done anything like it. When I got to the airport, there was a huge rush of emotions. I saw my parents and heard their voices for the first time in 6 weeks (I never called). All of the signs were in English. Proper English (not "No Loud Noising"). And I understood them. There was no effort in communication anymore. I knew what was going on. I was no longer the center of attention wherever I went. No one stares when I walk into the room anymore, and it's been four full days since anyone has asked for my picture. I know all of the proper etiquettes, and you'd be surprised how many little things can go unnoticed. Simple things like waiting your turn are different here. I haven't been terrified for my life on the street here, nor have I been nearly hit by a car while on the sidewalk. I've even driven. My showers have been in the morning (or early afternoon, depending on when I get up). And, of course, I'm back to my own bed.

Being an exchange student, as I've mentioned before, is an experience unlike any other. It's fascinating. You kind of adjust to being a big deal. It's almost a let-down when you get home and realize that people aren't intrigued by everything that you do. I wasn't quite prepared for that. I only felt off for the first day, though. Fortunately, I was better equipped to handle it because my parents warned me about reverse culture-shock. It's as much of an adjustment to come home as it is to go abroad. Almost. It's almost as much of an adjustment. Coming home certainly is easier, because it's like switching back to your default settings. You may have gotten used to the other routines and everything, but it took longer. Switching back is pretty quick, because it's basically automatic. I would imagine that the ease of readjustment is connected to how long you are away. I was only away for six weeks (although I don't consider that a particularly short amount of time anymore). I expect that had I been gone a year, it would have taken a few more days to get back to my normal routine. But it happens. I actually got to chat about the adjustment period with Moheb, the exchange student from Afghanistan who is staying with my family. He arrived the day before I did. I promised him that he would adjust in time. The first week or so may feel like forever, but it will pass. Life in a foreign country ceases to be foreign, and just becomes life. I think that's the most important lesson that I can take away from this. And so that's how I'll end this blog. I wonder where my next one will be.

Zai jian da jia!

Posted by MAx1992 18:19 Archived in USA Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu... 再见 常州 和 中国!

My last blog entry from China

overcast 95 °F

I can't believe how close I am to the end. This is my last day with computer time! Tomorrow we have a closing ceremony in the morning and leave for Beijing in the evening. I'll be in a hotel in Beijing until I leave for 美国 on Saturday! I'm so happy to be going home, but I'm also sad to leave my life here. Over the past few days, a lot of sentences have started with "This is our last...."

Yesterday was a really fun day. Joseph's 18th birthday is on Saturday (he gets a 36 hour birthday because of the time change!) and so we decided that we wanted to throw him a birthday party before we left Changzhou. It was really fun. He had no idea, so of course his face was priceless. We asked Shu to get cake from a bakery and bring it in (we paid him back for them) and we lit candles and sang. A true American birthday. We also learned "happy birthday" in Chinese (生日快乐). It was a successful party. Ironically, today was a Korean student's birthday, so they bought him a cake and we all ended up singing for him as well (in English). After classes, since we got done early again, I went to the supermarket near Mikaela's house with Mikaela, her host sister, Chloe, and Luke. We all take the same bus home, so it was on our way. We had a lot of fun. I didn't buy anything (except for a snack since I was starving) but it was a great experience. I guess I would compare the place to Walmart. They didn't just sell food. They sold everything, from clothes to tea sets.

This morning, we had our final "Mandarin proficiency test." I got an 84. Normally, that isn't a grade that I would be happy with (and I must admit, I was pretty bummed when I first saw it), but I worked hard for that 84. Obvously I wish that I had done better, but I'm okay with it now, because in school, I rarely feel like I worked for a grade. It happens occasionally, but I've put a lot of effort into learning. We learned so little in class that I stayed up late studying on my own when I finally got free time. When I realized that, I was fine with my 84, because I earned that. I'll just have to study more.

We're so close to the end now. Six weeks has never seemed like such a long time until now. This is definitely a big part of my life. I'm curious to see how it affects me when I get home.

再见!

Posted by MAx1992 21:17 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

The end of an era

sunny 90 °F

I realized the other day that I've used all of the major forms of transportation for extended periods of time on this trip. I've had a 14 hour plane trip (which will be a round trip), a 14 hour bus ride (also a round trip), and a 10 hour train ride (again, round trip). I feel pretty confident in saying that I'm an expert at these modes of transportation by now. Although admittedly, there isn't much to learn.

Yesterday, during some extended free time, I went shopping near the school with Chloe, Mikaela, Julie Ann, and Shu. I bought a t-shirt that has a panda saying "hello!" on the front and some poorly translated English on the back. I feel like it's truly Chinese. We also stopped by a bookstore, and Mikaela and I both bought English copies of Pride and Prejudice to read on the plane. I feel pretty good about it, since I know I can't just do We The People homework that whole time and now I have something with literary value to pass the time with. I'm excited.

Last night, my family gave me end-of-stay gifts. It made me really sad. The gifts were beautiful, and I'm really upset to be leaving now. As I said yesterday, I've been jumping back and forth with my emotions on that subject. I guess it's a good thing for me to be going home now. It's time. I'll miss everyone here, but I'm ready to be home.

We all have a lot to go home to. Several people are starting college next year. A bunch of us are going home to college applications (yippee). The majority of us are going back to high school. I think we'll all look at it differently. I hope that I get the opportunity to do a presentation about this experience or something. That would be fun.

Zai jian!

Posted by MAx1992 21:19 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (2)

One of these things is not like the others

Of greetings and goodbyes

sunny 91 °F

Last night, after my blog entry (I messed with my schedule a bit with that), my family and I took pictures together, since my host dad is leaving town for business tonight and won't be home until after I leave. It's hard to believe that I'm going home so soon. Anyways, that's the reasoning behind the title.

I suddenly remembered the conversation that Cynthia and I had at lunch yesterday. We went out for dumplings, and she wanted to know what I ate in America. So I told her that I ate Mexican food, Thai food, Indian food, Ethiopian food, Italian food, Japanese food, and Chinese food. She was really confused. I was, too, when I thought about it. Then I said that we ate American food, too, like chili and cornbread. That's about as American as you get, right? The thing about China is that most of the food there is Chinese. They have McDonald's and KFC and Pizza Hut and a few Japanese restaurants, but the vast majority is Chinese. In America, at least in most places, that's not the case. We're unique.

I'm having a hard time with this last week. It's interesting. This isn't so much China, but I guess being an exchange student in general, or maybe even just travelling. But I get the feeling that this week is going to be really long. Because we have classes today and tomorrow, and then a final test on Wednesday. Thursday morning we'll have a closing ceremony and then the afternoon is free with our families, theoretically to pack, but it won't take me that long, so I'll have a lot of down time. Our train to Beijing leaves at 10:30 that night and then it's a ten hour train ride, but we don't have beds this time, so we've been told. So we'll have to try to sleep sitting up, which means that there won't be much sleep. Then we get to Beijing and have an orientation on Friday (and hopefully other activities so that there isn't a lot of down time to ponder how much I want to be done travelling). Then on Saturday we'll go to the airport and then we have a 14 hour flight. Much as I love it here and love the people and am enjoying my time here, now that we're down to the wire I just want to skip all of that and be home. Mikaela suggested teleportation. I told her that if she could do that, she had to take me.

Now I'm thinking about all of the things that await me when I get home. The good (my family, friends, my pets, my bed, non-Chinese food...) and the bad (college apps, high school, homework...). It's a really annoying in-between time. I've never really had this problem before. I wonder if it's a common issue after a long trip, or if it's just for exchange students, since we are in a unique position given that we're living with families. I do know that I'm not the only one feeling it. Several of us have discussed it this morning. We either want to be staying longer or we want to be home. But I'll be home soon enough. I've been gone for five weeks. What's one more?

Zai jian everybody! Until tomorrow.

Posted by MAx1992 21:27 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (2)

World Expo- Shanghai- 2010

And the tallest Buddha in China. Quite the weekend, no?

semi-overcast

First thing's first: the World Expo (a.k.a. World's Fair) is spectacular. If you ever get the chance, GO! I'm already trying to figure out how to get a job working at the next one. How cool would that be? Anyways, I'll just give a quick run-down of my experience. I spend the morning with a large group, but after lunch Mikaela and I got ahead of everyone else and ended up spending the rest of the day alone. It was great. We visited mostly smaller countries, which was a great strategy. For one thing, it meant fewer lines so we got to see a ton of countries (we figure we hit up over 40), and for another thing, it meant we got to chat with people. I won't go through the list of all of the countries that we visited right now, since that would get really long really fast and I don't remember all of them (we bought passports to get stamped, and while most did, some didn't have stamps). I'm just going to run through some of my favorites.

We went to Nepal in the morning (I insisted). Nepal had a really need pavilion. Theirs was a brick building and behind it was a huge glass sphere that had stairs winding their way to the top. It was draped with prayer flags and at the top, not only did you get a spectacular view, but there was a Buddha in a small room. Well, Mikaela was really upset that she wasn't going to get to see the Shanghai skyline while we were there and so she didn't feel like she was actually in Shanghai. Remember that awesome view I mentioned? Guess what you could see. She was thrilled. It was actually pretty funny. Inside the sphere was a kind of marketplace selling Nepali goods. It was a really cool thing. I think I saw a picture of the Child Goddess on one of the walls as we were leaving, but it was lunchtime and no one would let me go back and check.

My other favorite pavilions were the ones that were for general areas rather than specific countries. There were pavillions for Africa, South America, and the Pacific and the small countries in that area had mini pavilions set up inside. They were so cool. Those were the ones where we got a chance to chat with people. When we were in the Pacific, we met a woman from Tonga. She stamped our passports. She was so nice that I have no idea where Tonga is, but I really want to go there now. She asked where we were from, and we told her, and then she asked if we were in China for the Expo, so we explained that we were exchange students. She was really impressed. That happened all day. People were really nice and assumed that we were tourists, but when they realized that we were actually exchange students they were surprised, impressed, and much more interested. Anyways, we chatted with her for a while before moving on. We met another nice guy outside of Fiji, if I remember correctly, and the guy who stamped our passports for Jamaica was really friendly. He flirted with us, especially with Mikaela when she mentioned that she had been to Jamaica once. It was all I could do to not laugh. I think she had the same problem.

In South America we got to practice our Spanish. Mikaela had also been to Ecuador, and so while we were there she chatted with a woman and told her about her trip. It was fun. We also went to Bolivia and I struck up a conversation with the guy who was working at the gift counter. I asked him how much something was in Spanish and even though I decided that it was more than I wanted to pay, I got a good chat in. It was so much fun to have a chance to talk to someone in a foreign language that I actually speak. The guy was really nice. One thing I learned was that people from Ecuador and Bolivia, at least the ones I met, is that they speak really clearly. It was great.

In Africa we talked to a guy from Ghana. He had an incredible voice. I know I'm a sucker for accents, but I seriously could have listened to him talk all day. (Although I'm sure Mikaela got tired of me saying that about almost everyone we talked to that day.) When we left, he shook our hands and said that we had a friend if we ever came to Ghana. We also found a picture of President Obama in Kenya (they had a poster about his heritage) and took a picture with it. How many chances do you get to take a picture with Obama in Kenya in China? Not many.

For dinner, we went to the Mexican pavilion and I got tacos. I was in heaven. I still am, actually, and this was on Thursday. They were delicious. I mean, there's a Mexican restaurant in D.C. called Maria's and they were up to that scale. Needless to say, I was not expecting to find that in China. That managed to take care of my taco craving. I can wait another week. Man, those were delicious. It's not that I mind Chinese food, I've gotten delicious food here, my family feeds me so well, but I can't eat Chinese food for every meal for five weeks straight. Mmmm. Tacos. The pavilion was cool, too.

At the New Zealand pavilion, I got to touch a huge piece of Jade that connects you to the Mauri (life force). That was really neat. Now I have to find out more behind that, since I'm connected.

So that's my run-down of my World Expo experience.

Friday we went up to Wuxi, which is home to the tallest Buddha in China. We went into the park and stopped by a tall statue that had a huge flower on top and were told to meet back there at 2:30 for a ceremony. Then we went off. I started out with Chloe, Rachael, Mikaela, Julie Ann, and three Chinese kids, Joseph's host brother, Mike, Rachael's host cousin whose name I don't know, and another kid who I didn't know at all, but Julie Ann and Mikaela got ahead of us. Our first stop on the trail was at a temple that I can only compare to a European church. It was pretty spectacular. We had to wear slippers over our shoes while we were inside. It was pretty neat. I have pictures.

Then we headed off to see the Buddha up close. We had to go up a long path and through a doorway, where we found ourselves facing a small Buddha and a bunch of cushions. So I did what I assumed I was supposed to do and knelt down on the cushions. Then a guy off to the side shouted something and I jumped up because I thought that I was in trouble. He waved us over and gave us prayer bead bracelts. That was pretty cool. Then we went through the building, which was reallyl narrow, and found ourselves in another courtyard-type place. There were candles and prayer things tied to trees. It was really cool. After that was another building, this one housing a really big Buddha and some more cushions. Again, I knelt down. A monk who I hadn't seen came over to me and showed me how to worship the Buddha. It was really a neat experience. I felt like I had learned a lot of cultural stuff- in two days I had connected with the Mauri and the Buddha.

After that, we got to climb 294 stairs, or some painful number like that, and get to a landing just below the Buddha's feet. That thing is enormous. But we wanted to go up to touch the feet, since that's supposed to be good luck. We found out that in order to do that, we had to go down a landing and take an elevator up. Annoyed is one good word for my emotions then. We figured that out at about 2:20 and decided to try and make it, since we really wanted to touch the feet. So we went. I'm about as tall as that Buddha's toe, in case you want some perspective on the height of the statue. We all got to touch the feet. Then we heard music starting. It was chanting with some Chinese instruments and we looked out and saw the flower and a huge crowd gathered around it. We were officially late. Rachael's host cousin had explained to me that the flower would open to reveal the Buddha's baby, but the flower wasn't moving yet, so we decided to try to make it. We ran down and when we were about halfay down the 294 steps, the flower started to open. We could still see it, so we snapped some pictures and kept running. When we got through the buildings, we could see it again and the baby was turning so that it was facing us, since we were behind it. Again, we got some pictures. We ran around a big wall and into the courtyard where the statue was at exactly the same moment as the music hit a climax and the fountains went up. I will never doubt Buddhist luck. I have a really cool sequence of photos where the statue gets closer and closer.

Later on, my luck kept up. On the bus home from the school, where we got dropped off, I pass the Monkey King Italian Restaurant, which I have wanted a picture of for weeks but have always failed at taking. This time I snapped the perfect picture and a second after I saw that it had taken, my camara died. How's that for luck? It doesn't get any better.

This weekend, I had free time with my family. Saturday morning, since my sister had lessons, I spent my time updating my journal, studying characters, and organizing my suitcase. That afternoon, we went out to lunch and went shopping, which is what we did today (Sunday) as well. I can't believe that in a week's time, I'll be home. Part of me is excited, but part of me never wants to leave. We'll see which part wins out.

Until tomorrow!

Posted by MAx1992 04:05 Archived in China Tagged living_abroad Comments (2)

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