Chapter 2: Shanghai

First off, I owe the readers of this blog a huge apology because I have not written a blog post in forever. My life got pretty crazy for a minute there as I scrambled through the second semester of my language program. I think this week’s blog post will mostly be a reflective, grateful post as I am about to move on to the next stage of my Fulbright journey! I will finish up with a little information about what the next step of my journey entails, as well as a section fleshing out my many fears about this new move (of which there are many..)

I’m not sure if I have stated this explicitly here yet, but writing these (scarce) blog posts have ben a real joy and a useful exercise to being self reflective even while in the midst of my experience. Being reflective is something that I think all humans struggle with, and I am no exception, but after graduating college I have been making a real effort to slow down and attempt to both enjoy things as I am experiencing them (instead of looking back in regret about all the things I should have done) and to be more mindful of my surroundings. Therefore, I am excited to have the chance to sit down and think about this past semester in Beijing. As a refresher, I have been in the CLEA (Critical Language Enhancement Award) segment of my Fulbright, which granted me funds to take three months of intensive language training before beginning the actual research portion of the grant.

Beginning the program, I had unrealistic expectations for the gains I would make in the three months I had (a familiar trend in my life, setting unreal expectations for myself.. as well as a familiar feeling for any of my 汉语 studying readers!). In retrospect, I set myself up for self-disappointment by deciding that I had three months to absolutely master Mandarin in order to be successful in the second leg of my Fulbright. Obviously this was a ridiculous expectation, and so yes I still have a lot of work to do, but my Chinese has improved a lot over the past three months. Something that IUP does is make the students who are leaving retake the placement exam that determined which levels we would be studying in, in order to see how much improvement we had. My score jumped up from 80 points when I first took the test to 128 the second time. My teachers were really proud as this was a larger jump than students usually see! In addition, I feel really proud of the conversations I have had with teachers, who were impressed by my progress.

Another point that I am really proud of is the fact that I wrote some really cool essays on issues that I really care about! A thing that is really frustrating about the language learning process, is that there is a long period of time where you feel exceedingly stupid, and are unable to express a lot of nuance in the new language. For a long time, I have mostly been writing essays and talking about things without nuance or topics that I have no real interest in (i.e. my workout routine..). This semester I wrote some essays on: the emerging care markets in China, the prevalence of sexual assault in the domestic worker industry, the importance of self care, divergences in views on homosexuality based on generation, to name a few.

So, a final note on my time in Beijing, it was definitely what I like to call “a soft opening” on my post-graduate life and the Fulbright. It felt really good to be a student for a little bit, a role that I have been excelling at since I was about 6 years old. In addition, classes provided structure to my life and a ready made group of friends that will definitely not exist in Shanghai. I was able to acclimate to living in China with friends and support from IUP. Also, I think I could write a whole novel on my experience both as a white person and with white people in China, but thinking I might save that rant for another day! (PM me if you want to hear the rant in full).

And now, onto thinking about Shanghai. It hasn’t quite settled in that I am about to have 10 months to do practically whatever the fuck I want (very untrue, Fulbright’s requirements are quite rigorous). Practically, what I am aiming to do is going to be a similar process as writing my senior honors thesis, but this time I am just completely on my own. I am really grateful for the relationships I cultivated in college, because even if I have graduated and am now halfway across the world, I know that there are people at Colby who still care for me and will support me throughout my research. **For those of you who need a refresher on what I am researching, check out my “About Fulbright” page.

I think one thing I have really learned about myself throughout the process so far is that I surprisingly am super resistant to change. I think the reason I hadn’t realized it about myself earlier is because it is not a trait that I particularly like in myself or in others, and yet here we are! So, even though it is objectively exciting and exhilarating and amazing that I get to move to Shanghai, I mostly just feel anxiety and dread at the thought. But, this whole ordeal is a point for growth! Change is an inevitable and lovely part about life, and the sooner I come to accept that, the better! I think I will stop on the Shanghai stuff there, because there is not much to say as of now.

The final thing I want to talk about is how my holidays abroad were! Missing Christmas with my family was one of the things I was most saddened by, and fully expected it to be a rather dour day. However, I had a really wonderful day surrounded by new friends! Shout out to my amazing roommate, Jacob Coleman, for helping me make a really fun day possible!

We had a Holiday party:

I had people over on Christmas morning and I made stockings for everyone!

I visited my amazing host parents, and together we made dumplings!

I spent New Years Eve with my roommate Jacob and my bestie Joyce! We danced till 3am! Definitely one of the best NYE so far. See below for a before and after..

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