This summer I traveled to China as a part of the Global May China program, we stayed the majority of the trip at Southwest Minzu University in Chengdu though we also spent time in Yunnan Province and Shanghai. The focus of the program was learning more about Chinese culture, especially that of China’s 51 minority groups including the Yi people. We were each paired with a Yi student mentor who helped us understand more about the material we learned in lecture, navigated the many field trips, and helped us to interact with even more Chinese people.
This was my first real opportunity to travel so during this trip I was able to experience many new things for the first time. I flew on a plane for the very first time, left the country for the first time, and was able to try such a wide variety of new experiences and food all while immersed in a new culture. So for me this was not only incredibly fun and informative, but it was also a hugely transformational trip for me personally. Some of the biggest personal changes that occurred throughout my time abroad were quite unexpected, for instance even though I spent a whole month in China I think it has changed my perspective on the United States more than it did my perspective on China itself. That is not to say that I didn’t encounter things that surprised me about China, and there were definitely moments when I felt some culture shock. I think that being able to experience such a new diverse array of field trips and activities is what led me to gaining more confidence and also allowed me to take away more Chinese language learning from this trip.
By far one of the most influential relationships of this trip was with my Chinese student mentor, Tina. After meeting her, she was so warm and welcoming any remaining fears I had about this trip slid away and I was able to really get to enjoy my time. Although she wasn’t a part of a minority group herself, Tina grew up in part of Yunnan Province surrounded by the Bai minority culture and had a wealth of knowledge to share. Despite knowing very little English when we first met, Tina enthusiastically tried to always include me in conversations and worked very hard to improve her English. Between her rapidly improving English and my very broken Chinese we were able to become very good friends. From this relationship I was able to overcome the nervousness about learning new languages and motivated me to continue studying Chinese and other languages even though it doesn’t directly relate to my major. Even after my return, Tina and I are continuing to keep in touch and have plans to visit each other in the
Throughout many of our excursions in Chengdu and our field trips to other areas of China, my appreciation for Chinese history and diverse cultures has only deepened. I’ve found a love for traditional Chinese instruments, their many beautifully manicured flourishing gardens, and even for the spicy Sichuan food. I’m grateful we were able to learn so much about different cultures in China because the more I learned the more it motivated me to see and learn more about it and other cultures in the world. Going into this trip I kind of expected to find more to love about China, however what I did not expect was that it would make me appreciate the United States more. I realized that in the moments in which I felt the most culture shock were also if not even more so reflective on American culture than Chinese culture since that’s what all my human experience has been based on so far. Witnessing certain things made me appreciate what I may normally take for granted especially handicap accessibility, less/no smoking in public spaces, restroom sanitation, and national parks left virtually untouched by the human desire to conquer the landscape. Don’t get me wrong I’ve also discovered things China does better than the US (for instance affordable healthcare costs), but nonetheless I came home with a new perspective and some renewed gratitude for my own country.
All around this trip and all of it activities have helped raise my confidence especially in travelling to new places. The days we spent at the middle school in Yunnan province especially showed I was able to do things I would have been too terrified to try before like singing an unprepared song in a group in front of over a thousand people, teaching in front of 60 high school aged students, and then performing in a talent show for the first time ever in my life. Somewhere between meeting and getting to know all the wonderful people on this trip I was able to gain some more social confidence and lose some of the nerves along with it. I also feel that there are many more aspects of myself and my beliefs that have been transformed by this trip that I’m still uncovering as I process all that happened in the whirlwind of new experiences and relate them to my life back in the US and to my family and friends.
These changes have ultimately helped me gain a new perspective, which although it happened sometimes in unexpected ways, was what I had hoped to gain from travelling abroad. I think that this experience has helped make me feel more like an adult. It has also improved my cross-cultural communication which will be extremely beneficial during my clinicals and working as a nurse in the future. It has caused me to re-evaluate and improve my understanding of what I value and of what I want to achieve in life. Having some more confidence will of course continue to help me achieve those goals and succeed in other aspects of my life. Looking back at all the pictures I’ve taken it’s hard to believe we were able to experience so many things in such a short amount of time. I’ve learned so much while on this trip and met such an amazing group of people, it was such a tremendously fun experience. I will be able to treasure these experiences and friendships for a lifetime, so I would like to thank the STEP program for enabling me to go on such a beautiful trip!