I might be making the biggest understatement in the world right now, but I have to get this off my chest. I have never eaten so much rice in my life.
Even in my trip to Taiwan, I did not have rice like I have now. At least one if not every meal consists of rice. Rice with squash. Rice with vegetables. Rice with soup. Rice with foods I don’t even know the names of but make my saucy taste buds dance.
But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself now. I’m going to try to catch everyone up to where I am today.
See, after graduation, I got an acceptance letter from CIEE stating I had been selected into their program. No scholarships were a bit of a hard thing, but it was agreed that this would happen. About a week later I applied for an internship, which is to do what I’m doing now; blogging. I was already planning to blog about my travels, but why not give myself more motivation to actually make it happen? After I’d been accepted to both, I flew down to visit my family in Texas.
My cousin had recently had her first son, and getting to meet him, plus see all the other cousins (firsts and seconds) was an absolute joy. The weather was indeed sweltering, as Texas would be in the middle of summer. I spent ten days down there getting to see and love my family and to also learn many new things as I went sight seeing, volunteered, and experience life down in the sweltering south, compared to my northern home.
Not even three weeks later, I was heading to the airport again for my trip to Taiwan. Taiwan is one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen in my short life and limited experience. I had never been somewhere tropical before, but my two weeks there were beyond magical and special. I had my host sisters from Taiwan, my sister Marlene from Austria (who is currently doing her own gap year and is currently in Thailand – you go Marlene), and my sister Caitlyn from Ireland (who is finishing up her last of year of secondary school – you got this sweetie)!
Taiwan became the place where I made countless friendships that I will always hold close to my heart. You don’t think that two weeks, or even one, is long enough to make you become a family, but sometimes, being so close together and doing so much, like paintballing or working as a team to come up with an astounding performance can really bring you closer to people more than you ever thought.
Watching everyone leave at the airport was one of the most heartbreaking experiences I’ve ever gone through, but as Marlene said, “This isn’t goodbye. It’s just ‘see you later,’” and that was enough to keep the waterworks going. Coming back home was heartbreaking too, but those friendships and the love I have for them will never fade.
In between all these trips I worked my rigorous job at Walgreens, trying to earn some spending money here and there, or trying to get some new clothes for the new environments I was heading to (because, living in Wisconsin, I had come to own more winter clothes than summer clothes: go figure).
I spent another three works at home, going about working and helping to pack up my things for storage or to clean my messy bedroom.
After those three weeks, I was back again at the airport, after a hard goodbye to my dog, who is in fact, very much my baby, and after a great breakfast of a chocolate scone and a French vanilla latte. There was a bit of a hassle at the airport with my luggage, but I eventually got everything to fit (not without sending some things back home but it was all things I wasn’t sure if I should or shouldn’t pack). In the middle of saying goodbye, my stepsister called from Arizona to wish me good luck, and that was when I started crying. It didn’t last long, but I admit, a part of me was very scared to be going somewhere where I would basically be pushed entirely out of my comfort zone.
Of course, because they care, each of my parents spent their good time nagging me and giving me tips and reminders. I admit, while it’s annoying to be eighteen years old and an adult and have your parent’s nag you, when it’s gone, sometimes, you can really miss it. In fact, I’ve been gone two weeks and I do sometimes miss having them constantly asking things that would have made me sigh in frustration and caused me to give a sarcastic answer.
But leaving them to go through security was such a surreal experience, not knowing for sure if it’s really happening or not, if it’s just a dream or not. Waiting that morning in the airport, my oldest brother called me from his base to wish me well and keep me company (and even though I’m all grown up, he is still looking out for me and loving me in his own special way). Our other brother and I had talked the night before, and he’d given me some tips for applying to colleges (which will be my main goal these next few weeks on top of classes).
My plane was delayed twice. Once for maintenance, and then again after everybody was on the plane and they told us the luggage was causing the plane to be off balance and had to readjust everything which took about another two hours. By the time we took off I was so relieved, but of course, at the end of the ride, my bum was surely sore, and I was more than happy to stand crouched until I could grab my carry-on.
Some CIEE staff were at the airport to pick a group of us up. There had been a whole group of us who had taken the same flight out of Chicago, but I had mostly slept through the flight and had had a seat far enough back that I didn’t meet any of them until we were finally in Shanghai.
We were taken by bus to the CIEE center and that was where I met my wonderful host family. I live with a husband and wife, their five-year-old daughter, and the husband’s mother. I call the grandmother nai-nai (奶奶), the Mandarin term for father’s mother, and I call my little sister mei-mei (妹妹), the Mandarin term for little sister.
My first week in Shanghai consisted of orientation and getting lost on campus a good dozen times. I made a few friends that week and went out to lunch with a group of them and met all the GAP year students (there are a total of five of us, and three of us are here for a year). Orientation week was a mix of strange times and feeling totally out of my comfort zone. My friend Lilly and I have done the most exploring, seeing the mall right across from our neighborhood complex and visiting The Bund (which we went to for Starbucks and to study).
My host family took the liberty of making me feel like a team member, letting me do some things on my own, such as laundry. My host mother taught me how to make Shanghai dumplings and my host father showed me how to make the inside of the dumplings. They also took me to a Chinese market to get food and to get the items to make the dumplings. They showed me to a sports store that carries all sorts of clothes and equipment. My little sister is learning English, while I am learning Mandarin. The language barrier might be a struggle, but it’s so much fun to watch her learn my first language and see how smart she is and how well she already speaks.
This past week I have had my first round of classes. Accelerated Language Learning from 8:00 to 12:00. We were told that for every contact hour spent in class we would have two hours of homework, which would equate to about eight hours of homework a night. So far, I’d say it takes me anywhere from two to five hours. On Tuesday afternoons I have CORE class, which is all about exploring Chinese culture and understanding things about China so you become more than just a tourist. I meet with a tutor every night Sunday-Wednesday for one hour. I will be taking a training course to learn how to teach kids with disabilities English for my volunteer hours (in which I’m required to have a minimum of six per week). I also have to meet with another tutor, who I will be speaking with one-on-one for at least half an hour a day, with the same dates as my other tutor. To say busy is an understatement.
I can truly say though, China is incredibly different from anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s still a developing country in some aspects, and traffic is absolutely terrifying for someone who doesn’t come from a part of the world where over 20 million people populate one city. Pollution can be bad some days, to the point where I think I might need to where my mask, but so far, I have not needed to wear it unless I’ve been caught under a bridge during rush hour while crossing the street.
One of my favorite places to go is to the mall directly across the street from my house, which is called Global Harbor (I mentioned it before). It is a very large mall, at least half a mile long and has seven stories in total. It has a Tesco, which is very interesting, and has a bunch of clothing stores on top of comfort good stores. A friend and I have located a Starbucks in the mall, which has fewer options than any Starbucks in America, but it’s all good. Lily has one sushi place that is her weakness, and I have one gelato store that is my weakness as well.
I would tell you what I did this weekend, but currently I am putting together a video of all the pictures I took for you to watch. Expect an update within in the week (besides this one)! For now, I hope you all have a great rest of your day and I hope you all make the most of it!
By the way, this girl has lost about six pounds since she's been her, hence why staple foods are my new best friend!