Bye, BeijingBeijing, Spring 2012
I am now officially past the two-week mark for being out of China. I suppose I was one of the lucky ones – instead of going straight back to the United States after the program ended on May 4, I got to stick around Beijing and visit Shanghai and Suzhou with my parents before flying back to California.
Now that I am over my jetlag and am about to go back to school, I have had some time to process some of the things that I learned and experienced during my almost four months in Beijing.
For one thing, I know a lot more about China. I can definitely thank my classes for that – the Contemporary Issues seminars I took in literature, economics, and Tibetan studies were some of the best courses I’ve ever had, and my four-person Chinese language class taught me so much. While the workload sometimes felt a bit crushing, it was nice not to be slacking off from my standard amount at Northwestern – it really made it feel like I learned something when I turned in an academic paper after doing something in the city.
As for another, I guess I learned a bit more about life. Beijing is not always an easy city to like. It’s almost the polar opposite of San Francisco – I was spoiled for 18 years with a walkable, sprawl-less city with a (kind of) temperate climate and less trapped pollution. Beijing has a lot going against it in that regard. It is huge, it takes forever to get anywhere even without traffic, everything is dirty, the smog can be relentless, and the weather is almost always bad.
But that’s almost the good thing about studying abroad there (aside from lung damage). It isn’t easy to love. Nothing is perfect. There is no semester of constant partying, slacking off, skipping classes to go do something “experiential”. For some, it’s a work-hard, play-hard city – but there has to be the hard work in there. Playing in Beijing, especially in the winter, is optional…and that’s the best part.
Nobody expects you to go run off to Longqing Gorge on a cold winter Saturday right after orientation or actually enjoy a museum entirely devoted to bells. Beijing is full of things like that – the little things scattered in between the big things, covered in a little grime and probably crowded, but still good at the end of the day.
I think that’s the thing that I learned the most during my time in Beijing. If I can learn to like living in Beijing, I can learn to like living anywhere. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to Beijing, but I will certainly always thank it for the interesting four months it gave me.
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