University of Wisconsin–Madison

No Man’s Land

It’s crazy to think that I leave for China in just seven days! I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few months getting everything in order for my time abroad. There’s honestly a lot to do: applying for a visa, contacting my banks to set up travel plans, making sure I’m up to date on vaccines (typhoid, anyone? —do this early!), and figuring out international communication, not to mention actually packing my bags.

On May 31, I’ll leave Atlanta at a sunny 6:35 AM and fly to Seattle. After my layover in Seattle, I’ll leave for Beijing on an 11.5-hour flight with Hainan Airlines. All in all, it’ll be around 17 hours of flying, and because of time zones and the international date line, I’ll arrive in Beijing at around 4 pm on June 1. At the airport, I’ll meet up with some of our program staff and other students before heading out to Tianjin.

I’d love to say that this trip is all I’ve been thinking about, or that I’ve never been more excited, but I don’t think those feelings will hit until I board my first flight that Thursday morning. It still doesn’t seem like a real thing that’s happening, despite all the work that’s already gone into it. I’m the kind of person that loves to plan things out, so I’m trying not to stress out about all the little details that are impossible to know until I arrive. I’ve been using this time at home to relax and spend time with loved ones before I leave. Even though I’m used to being far from friends and family when I’m in Madison, this seems different. I’m not sure how frequently I’ll get to use social media (Instagram, Snapchat, etc.), and the 12-hour time difference will certainly make casual conversation a bit more difficult.

That being said, there are so many things I’m looking forward to experiencing: the food, traveling to 名胜古迹 (famous historical sights), the Chinese people and their culture, shopping for people back home, and, of course, classes! I feel so blessed to have this opportunity and am lucky to be spending almost three months living it up with both my former classmates as well as other Chinese language students. I can’t think of a better way to become friends with people than studying abroad, especially in a place so different than the US.

However, the change I’m most interested in seeing is in myself. I just completed my first year of college, which was a time of huge personal growth. Living without your parents teaches you a ton about who you are. It’s a cliché at this point, but my freshman year really did change my personality, how I thought about myself and others, and my personal habits. I don’t eat breakfast anymore. I go to bed later. I think about money and spending differently. I think about people and friendship differently. I do my best to think more about my actions and words. I came out of my first year a better person, and I can only anticipate how my time abroad will continue to shape the person I am.

This time before departure feels like a strange, unfamiliar no man’s land. I don’t have much time left here, but I’m also not there yet—I feel caught in between two very different places. I guess it makes sense that I should be worried about travel; I’ve never been on a plane for so long, not to mention the fact that I’ve never actually been outside the US. Things are certainly about to change for me, I think in the best way possible.