Critical Changes in China

This summer I spent three months in Beijing, China: one month with my step family and another two months studying at the Beijing Language and Culture University. These months completely changed my perspective on my goals and my life in no small way.

With exposure to Chinese culture came my great existential crisis. My passion has always been to help others; I decided early to focus on poverty alleviation and equality. I believe that everyone deserves to explore their talents and dreams to their fullest capacity and not be limited by external factors like food, shelter, or politics. My undergraduate studies were originally a gateway to explore relief and development programs in the third world. My success as an Honors student, however, began to draw my attention away from my passion. People discovered I was smart and groomed me to compete against other, prize-hungry, driven young individuals. I began to focus on the praise and the short-term goals that professors and advisors urged me to complete. I lost my path for a year.

Visiting China was the breath of fresh air I needed to regain my footing. I visited the Great Wall, reflected at a sacred Daoist Temple, marveled at the stone fixtures of the Forbidden City, felt the ancient ties move me. I realized that the approval I receive on campus from peers and faculty will not follow me as I challenge the most corrupt systems in the world (the same mindsets that capture us in the U.S.); however, the resources and knowledge I collect as an OSU student will help me immensely as I tackle these issues. My time in China taught me to be an eclectic thinker— to take what will be useful from the undergraduate experience and to not bother with the rest. Now, I focus on the information I gain from my classes rather than the grade I receive. I read books I’ve been wanting to read for years instead of applying for national– and ultimately empty– prizes. I’m much happier now and full of purpose. My overall GPA will probably drop, my support circle will shrink, but that is a small price to pay for taking my life back from other’s expectations and making it mine.

I have many people to thank for my transformation. I thank my step aunt and uncle for taking me in as one of their own, even though we had never met before. They showed me compassion as a stranger in a new town and comforted me as I grieved over the death of my grandfather. I thank my three year old cousin for teaching me Chinese and outshining my depression with her unbridled joy. I thank my friend Yang Yang for being my friend even though my language skills were poor. I thank the nice family who showed me I’m not the only one deeply concerned by the suffering in the world. I thank my program for being lenient with me as I struggled with both inner and outer demons. I am most grateful for my new partner, Walter. We met each other in the depths of life changes, and found company in each other’s thoughts and dreams. I am indebted to him for helping me become a stronger version of myself.

I look forward to the changes my new life outlook will bring.

One thought on “Critical Changes in China

  1. Hi Mary,

    Wow! Your experience in China truly was transformative in creating an opportunity for you to re-align your priorities and behaviors with your values. This speaks to your ability to reflect in meaningful, deep ways!

    A congruent, authentic life is not always easy, but it does lead to happiness and fulfillment as long as your basic needs are met!

    Thank you for your authentic, vulnerable post. This took true strength.

    Best,
    Kara Zarnoch, Residence Life

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