To many Americans, China is an enigma – an immense country lurking in the East that we hear about on the news but never really understand. We see depictions of foggy mountain palaces carved from single blocks of stone, promising that ancient history will prove eternal; at the same time, apartment buildings rise from dense and bustling metropolises and the titanic promise of industry hovers on the horizon of the global economy.
There’s nothing better to dissuade misconceptions about something than to thrust yourself into it. When I anticipated my trip, I had some idea of what to expect: I’ve been to China once before, on a trip that was mostly shallow tourism. But I’ve never stayed overnight at a school, never really spent time seeing how students my age in China lived. During my stay so far at the Shouguang Century School, the enthusiasm of students for learning – and their enthusiasm for helping us learn – made me admire the studiousness that seems so deeply imbued in Chinese culture.
Being in China has made me appreciate the differences it has from home. The emphasis on hospitality – something which often seems tragically lacking from modern America – is easy to accept as one of the travel-weary. But what I find most admirable about Chinese culture is the vastness of its history. Coming from a country whose story dates back less than three centuries makes me marvel at the relevance of the past, like how students as young as the first grade learn calligraphy — something I had the opportunity to practice with little success.
Much about China still remains a mystery to me – it would be silly to think I could ever understand a country so entirely foreign. But here, I’ve noted similarities in popular culture when chattering with kids my age. Though I’m a person who’s pretty quick to get homesick, the friends I’ve made here – and the enthusiasm of so many to make me feel welcome – have been enough to make a place a thousand miles away feel just a little like home.