As I write this there are about 2 weeks left until I depart for Shanghai, China for an entire academic year. Scared? Yes. Anxious? Yes. Overwhelmed? A little bit (JK a lot). Excited beyond belief? You better believe it. If you asked me three days ago how I was feeling, the answer might not have been so positive. But since then, I’ve had my online orientation, which has answered a lot of my questions and took away any nerves I had about the unknown, which is my greatest fear. See, I’m a visualizer. I need to picture things in able to overcome fears I have about them. My computer search history this past summer has seen a lot of image searches including “Shanghai”, “ECNU” (the university I’ll be attending), and anything I think would get me closer to picturing exactly where I’ll be living, studying, and let’s be honest the most important part, eating. But after this amazing orientation I can now tell you that my walk from my dorm to my Chinese class will include passing the 3-story cafeteria on my right, walking straight by the Chairman Mao statue in the middle of campus, and will take about 10 minutes.
However, I am still very much overwhelmed with the amount of things I have to do before my departure date arrives. Mostly getting my phone ready, notifying my bank that I’ll be leaving the country, getting my paperwork in order, and packing. Not to mention eating at all my favorite restaurants one more time and having my mom/dad make my favorite meals before I leave the country for a year (what did I say was the most important part?? Eating, in case you forgot). The other very overwhelming fact looming over my head is that when I get to Shanghai, my Chinese roommate has signed an agreement to only speak Chinese to me. Although I took a year of Mandarin last year, my lame attempt to keep it up over the summer was to listen to a few Chinese songs a couple times a week. Somehow I don’t think I can get by just horribly singing the Chinese cover of “Call Me Maybe” (worth a quick YouTube play). But hopefully my one-year of Mandarin can get me through the first few weeks or so before I will be able to make decent conversations with my roommate.
The other overwhelming part about getting ready isn’t a thing that I can do and cross off a list, but is the attitude of the people around me when I tell them I’m about to go to China for a year. The amount of mixed reactions I’ve gotten is really amazing. The most common response is “how exciting” quickly followed by “have you started packing?”, even a full month before my departure date. The answer to the second response is no, always no. You’ll know when I start packing because it’ll be two days before I leave and I won’t leave the house because I’ll have no acceptable clothes to wear. I feel like these are typical responses to anyone studying abroad. But I’ve had people respond with “Why would you choose there?”, or “That’s going to be hard”. I’ve also heard many false stereotypes about China. For the second response, obviously it’s going to be difficult, as any study abroad program would be and I would be ignorant to expect anything less. But as for the first response, China is opening up to the world and it needs to be; it is the 2nd largest economy in the world. Shanghai is an extremely international city with many expatriates living there. I think it’s time we, as Americans, open up to China and clear up a few stereotypes. I hope to be a reference to anyone who would like to learn new things about China and the Chinese people along with me. I can’t wait to start this journey and the countdown is on. I still have a few things to do (and eat), but I am so ready to get set and go.