The question I have heard time and time again this summer is, “Why did you chose to go to China?” It’s a perfectly reasonable question, and over the past five weeks I’ve got my answer down to a tee: I wanted to experience a culture completely different from my own and get out of my comfort zone. Being a member of AIESEC pushed that drive even more and when I saw the opportunity to come to China, I didn’t want to pass it up.
Still, it’s very easy to feel small in Shanghai, especially when you’re smushed into a metro train during 8 am rush hour. The first thought that popped into my head was an annoyed, “Well this would never be allowed in the United States.” However, the second that thought crossed my mind, I remembered something someone once told me about China:
You can’t go to China with a mentality of everything is so weird and odd here. Nothing is weird, it’s just different.
They reminded me to always think about why things are the way they are. The most populated city in China and the largest city proper in the entire world is going to do things a little differently from how my hometown of Atlanta, Georgia (population 5.8 million) does things. It’s when I began talking to the other interns around me about this same topic that they started opening up to me more about their worlds and where they lived.
These days, I find myself thinking about the people I’ve been able to meet during my time here. In past trips abroad I’ve always enjoyed knowing that the people I went with were people who I would see around campus or get to see whenever I wanted. This time it’s very different. The people who will be closest to me back in the United States will live in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, still miles and miles away from Georgia. When I’m back I won’t be able to learn how to make traditional Chinese dishes with some of the Chinese girls staying in our hostel. I won’t be able to wake up and see my Italian roommate working on her presentation about Italy for her class. I will have to play UNO virtually with the Russian intern who insists that we all play every night. My new Indian friends won’t always be around to go explore the city and constantly take selfies with their new selfie sticks. Talking politics with my Chinese friends won’t be in person, but will be over WeChat or Facebook.
All of this may sound sad and disappointing, but it’s really not. I know that I only have a certain amount of time to do all of these incredible things with people whose perspectives on the world. The US has around 320 million people. China has 1.3 billion people, Indonesia has around 258 million, India has 1.2 billion and is rapidly growing. Those are just four of the top 10 countries with the highest populations, and it’s already over ⅓ of the world’s entire population. Imagine if all the people in just those four countries went and experienced another culture in a country or city. It wouldn’t be very hard then to explain to people why I chose someplace so far and different from my home. I was lucky enough to get to go to a conference that AIESEC in Mainland of China put on, and there were over 20 countries represented! That means that at least one person from at least 20 countries decided to get out of their comfort zone and go to China!
It’s easy to feel frustrated at things that aren’t familiar to you, but it’s the people who you are packed in with you on the metro or caught in one of the many rainstorms that occur daily here with that make the experience what it is though. Though we will never be together in this same place at the same time, all together like this again, it’s these past 5 weeks together making these experiences, that will be what I remember most from my experience in China.
This is part three of Maital's journey through China. For parts one, two and four, click here:
Part One: Finding Myself in Shanghai -- http://aiesecus.org/blog/finding-myself-in-shanghai
Part Two: How A Bowl of Soup Made Me Brave -- http://aiesecus.org/blog/how-a-bowl-of-soup-made-me-brave
Part Four: Guess Who's Back, Back Again -- http://aiesecus.org/blog/guess-whos-back-back-again