Have you ever gone to bed overjoyed, and awakened the next day, able to recapture that same feeling?
That’s how I felt when I woke up to find myself in Beijing.
The events that lead me here are varied, and when isolated seem to make no impression. In my first year of University I was determined to travel even though it wasn’t encouraged or really an option for undergraduates. I wanted to go to countries where there was a lot of need, and see what was being done, and what could be done about it. Through my searching I heard of a geography study abroad to Southeast Asia. Not being a geography major (or even liking it that much) I still applied and was happy to be accepted since it was open to all students, key word being you must apply for it.
Though we were tracking the Mekong River, we spent two weeks in China since it assumed the source of the great river comes from the run-off of the Tibetan Plateau. It was my first visit to Asia and China was the opening ceremony. Before then, I had no hankering to see Asia. I knew it existed, I knew its history, but other than that not much else. The study abroad opened my eyes to the complexity of issues existing their and the resilience of the people. In Cambodia they are still dealing with the after math of the Khmer Rouge. The killing fields are still fresh in the minds of the older generation and the young are affected by it still. 50% of the population is under the age of 18, which is unbelievable, and in a few years the country may find itself in a similar situation as the Arab Spring.
Laos which never was part of the Cold War has the marks to prove that it was. It can be seen in the many amputees’ and maimed adults and children. More bombs were dropped on the “neutral” country then on all of Europe during WWII. Unexploded landmines are rampant, and the danger they pose is illustrated in children’s books much the same way we would read The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
Vietnam was a very short stay. Though pressed for time, we were able to go to the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. I don’t think I ever understood until then how truly terrible war can be. The Vietnam War, like most proxy wars, pitted countrymen against each other. The havoc it wreaked was immense and resulted in the scattering of the population in the form of the Vietnamese boat people. Because of the use of chemical warfare like Agent Orange, even succeeding generations are constantly reminded of the cost of war by seeing it in the deformity of the young.
All the small countries had huge historical stories to tell but none like China. By the end of the trip I was only beginning to grasp what makes up the Chinese identity as we know it today. I knew that I would like to go back someday, but more often than not it is a phrase highly used but seldom acted upon. The only difference for me was I had put it down in writing and did feel somewhat bound. I gave myself breathing room though by saying sometime in the 4 years. I then returned to Calgary, and was promptly caught up in a summer job that had no end in sight, and all the business that life brings.
By the end of the summer I started thinking about University again and what classes I should take. Being my second year I had to start a language class so I could graduate on time in 2 years (deadlines are important you know). I had made up my mind to take French as my second language. Not only do you need it for working in the Government, on any Federal level, but I’m Canadian and technically should be bilingual. My Dad and oldest brother also speak French, and I would love to communicate with them while keeping my other siblings out of the conversation, this is the secret wish of every youngest child.
The problem was I kept getting rejected. First year I applied and was recommended for the intermediate class because I had learned a little in High School, but I knew that I didn’t know near enough to be considered intermediate. Sad to say I didn’t learn that much in French class because my teacher was basically a cheerleader with a ruler, and I was drawn into the conversations surrounding me. We had lots of opportunities to speak in class, but we would mainly speak English. The main reason we did this was mostly likely because the vocabulary we studied didn’t include the most important words in a teenage girl’s heart like “romance” and “Bad hair days".
The University though was unfeeling towards my sad story (although I didn’t exactly put it in those words), and even after taking a proficiency test which lowered my self-esteem by a large margin, I was unable to get into French 205. Remembering the sting of rejection I tried once again to get into French class and when that turned out to be more of a problem then I bargained for, I turned my eyes elsewhere.
Musing over my options I landed on Chinese because I knew no words or characters other than “hello”, “how much”, and “thank you”. I like the idea of having a fresh start. It was also interesting to me that China is increasingly investing in Africa, and when I was in last in Ethiopia much of the major infrastructure being done was by the Chinese. This new development happened to coincide nicely with the thematic of my major which is Sub-Saharan Africa. I know that China chose to look towards Africa for economic growth, solely so I could complete my major, and I thank them for it. Learning Mandarin seemed to be the perfect choice and all the while in the back of my mind, nudging softly, was the remembrance of a promise given.
The last push towards where I am now happened last year during examination time. It was almost Christmas so of course the Professors loaded us with papers and assignment due dates. I was a bit overwhelmed and took out my stress in a very strange way; I started looking at study abroad options that would enable me to do courses while traveling. I find that my grades are higher when I’m in the actual environment that I’m studying about. On one of these searches I found the Chinese Government Scholarship, it almost seemed too good to be true. I would be able to go to China for a minimum of 2 years and learn Mandarin. It fit with my major (international relations is very flexible, just do something outside of the country you call your own and voila! It’s international) and I could return to China!
I covertly applied and secretly wished it as a present for myself. It is then fitting that before I even got a response, my parents Christmas present to me for that year was luggage, I’m pretty sure they were trying to get tell me something, little did they know that I had already got the message.
While waiting for the response, which took about four months, I considered the chances of being accepted and since it was very small, I didn’t pin my hopes on it too much. One day in March during class our Chinese teacher told us about the opportunity to go to Taiwan and learn Mandarin for two months. I thought it was good idea and best of all I would know within the week. I was then told I could go for three months and said yes impulsively. Remember that this was said in a classroom setting so my competitive streak went into high gear. When I was notified that I would be going September-November I was happy and rationalized that worst case scenario I would not go to Taiwan.
Then I received the news about Beijing.
I wouldn’t say good news since I was meant to start my studies there in September. Having just found out about going to Taiwan a week beforehand I was quite shocked. I felt certain that there was no way I could have my cake and eat it too. After three torturous days my fate was decided. Thanks to the help of an amazing teacher I was able to convince the Taiwan Consulate to let me go to Taiwan during the summer months of July-August. This enabled me to go to China directly afterwards and be more prepared for my studies.
With this astounding turn of events I prepared for the summer and two years of a lifetime. These are the reasons why I went to sleep so elated my first night in Beijing. All the pieces of my past decisions fit together to bring me here, and I’ve definitely felt directed in my life and I’m grateful for that. Now is my chance to show what I’m really made of and how dedicated I can be. Knowing that the time is now, not in two months or two weeks anymore, is exciting and a bit intimidating. Even still, I am enjoying myself and very happy that I was able to keep my word and return to China.