The Last Week and Honorable Mentions

I am a very visual person and when I think of an event or life change I can normally picture it. I can honestly say I couldn’t picture my last week in China since I’ve arrived here. In fact, leaving China is beginning to feel the same way as when I left the U.S. I find myself very nervous, and unsure what to expect next. I have only been here for seven weeks which is fortunately enough time to not have completely adjusted to China’s culture, but I am comfortable with it which is what makes me the most nervous about leaving.

Although I am a little on edge about leaving I have been very busy here with helping prepare for the concert and prepare for next year. Mark and I also found out that we will be coming back to this school next year to work under a two year contract! This is why I am mainly nervous about leaving rather than sad. I know I will be back and I know that going home means there will be a lot of packing and work to do before we are able to make it back to China.

I thought I would dedicate this last post to interesting things about China that I have forgotten to post because there was simply too much going on at the time. It’s a little different, but I think you’ll like this one.

The Bed:

If you ever come travel make sure you know your bed situation. Lucky for me, Jenna and Lianne were able to contact me ahead of time and tell me how the beds here are hard. They kept asking if I wanted a mattress pad, and I all I could think of was that I can sleep on anything. I took their advice and they got one for me before I came. The first night I arrived after meeting them, I came into the room and cried. You knew that already. What you didn’t know was that I plopped on the bed and almost bruised myself because the bed was so hard. Don’t get me wrong, I actually sleep very well on this bed and my back feels amazing every day that I wake up. But if you can’t handle hard beds then you need to buy a pretty thick mattress pad!

Audience/Concert Etiquette:

Basically, if you’re at a big event whether it’s social or not, expect lots of talking and pictures. At our school we have both international staff and national staff. The national staff being from China, and the international staff being from, of course, any other country besides China. So I have been able to see this in different meetings, banquets, concerts and various other events throughout my time here. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. It’s just different.

Reading Music:

This is definitely my favorite one. When Chinese learn music they learn it either through westernized notation (which is how Americans read music), or they learn the Chinese way. This way does not involved staves, note figures, or clefs. It shows the key of the music and time signature, and then has numbers. The number 1 equals the tonic note of the key. For example in the key of D major, 1=D, 2=E, 3=F#, and so on. Some symbols are similar so if there is a line under a number that means it’s an eighth note, if there are two lines it’s a sixteenth note. They will also put a dot next to the note to hold that note its whole value plus half that value. I also learned from our co-teacher, who is Chinese, that they don’t use westernized words like forte or crescendo. They have their own words in their own language to describe those things. For me that was very different because all of those terms were brought from Europe to America, so I was used to learning different languages to understand the music I was reading.  I don’t know everything about their music theory, but I definitely plan on learning more when I move here!


You wouldn’t think that shopping in other countries would be much different from the states. Here there is no Walmart or Sam’s where you can buy whatever your heart desires. We do live right across the street from a store called Tesco that is very similar, but still doesn’t have certain things you would normally need like deodorant. Advertising is also different in shopping because they still have visual advertisements, but they will also use headsets that are hooked up to large speakers and they repeatedly yell things through them. It’s very interesting, and also helps me learn some Chinese!


I don’t know if this is entirely true, but I feel like smoking hasn’t been deemed unhealthy in China yet. It is still very common for them to smoke in their apartment, elevators, restaurants, and of course everywhere outside. It is definitely a prominent smell that I encounter every day. I feel like I’m used to it by now, but it was definitely an adjustment since most places in the U.S. don’t allow smoking anymore. Luckily there are places here that won’t allow it like the subways or speed trains.

Squatty Potties:

Yes, they exist. I’ve really only encountered them in public places like subways, stores (if they even have a bathroom), or restaurants. I’ve seen well maintained ones, and I’ve seen ones that could a use a little Clorox from time to time. I’ve also accidently seen other people using them because locking the door is apparently not really a thing here. I learned to bring tissues with me everywhere I go, just in case.

Saying things in English that don’t really make sense, but mean something in Chinese:

Okay, so I actually encountered this twice in two of our music classes at school. The first time was when Rachel and I were working with the 3rd grade class on their recorder song. The song displayed a jazzy feel to it, and of course Rachel had to explain it to them. She ended up singing “Doo Dit Daah,” and all of a sudden the whole class started laughing. We both were so confused as to why it was so funny. Then Rachel asked why they were laughing so hard, and one of the girls said, “that means ‘to hit your stomach’ in Chinese!” Crazy right? The next time this happened was in high school choir when I was leading their warm-up. I chose one that went down the scale and used the words “Meh-Oh.” I demonstrated for the choir and they all started laughing, and I thought I did something wrong! I asked them why they were laughing and they said, “that means ‘I don’t have’ in Chinese!” I gave up after that. Just kidding! I thought it was really funny and I said, “Well I guess we’ll just have to sing about not having anything!”

Meeting New People:

Meeting people here is so much fun because they really appreciate it when you are a foreigner and you attempt to speak Chinese. There was actually a father and his 4th grade daughter I would see every day in the elevator on the way to school and I would speak some Chinese and they would speak some English to me. Even aside from that I would use my Chinese with multiple people like taxi drivers, when I would order street food, or I try to buy something specific in a store and I have to explain myself. It is so great to see the smile on their face when a foreigner speaks Chinese to them (even if they’re laughing at me because my Chinese is bad)!

The Safeness:

This may shock most of you, but I actually feel much safer here than I do in the U.S. I have no problem going somewhere by myself or even getting into a taxi alone in China. Whereas if I was in the U.S. I would think twice about any of that. I’m not saying I feel extremely unsafe at home or anything like that because I actually live in a very safe town. Although if I lived in the city with 6,000,000 people in it in the U.S. like I do here it would be completely different.


Okay, so I really wanted to save this part for last because it has been my FAVORITE part! The food here is so great. There are things from street food, to street side restaurants that keep the door open, to nice restaurants. I love the variety, and actually feeling and seeing that I’m in a different country. I definitely have to say street food has been my favorite. My favorite kind is called bing. It consists of a wrap, which is kind of like a crepe, with an egg, cilantro, green onions, some kind of fruit thing, brown sauce, spicy sauce, and crunchy chip things. I know that’s not extremely specific, but it’s definitely my favorite. I also love to order milk tea, bou zi which is steamed bread that is stuffed with something like meat or vegetables. They look just like “dumplings” from Kung Fu Panda. My third favorite kind of food is called Ma La Tang. Ma is this numbing spice which is so awful when you bite into it because it literally numbs your mouth. The La just means “spicy,” and Tang means soup. It’s one of my top favorites because you get to choose what goes in it! I usually get ramen noodles with cilantro, pigeon eggs, and various meats and vegetables. Of course there is so much more that I love because I love food, but if I listed all of it this post would be at least 13 pages long!

Wuxi is referenced in Kung Fu Panda:

Wuxi is the city I have been student teaching in and it is actually referenced in Kung Fu Panda as the “Wuxi Finger Hold.” Just a fun fact! There is also a lot of Kung Fu Panda for advertisements which makes it a common thing to see every day.

I am definitely going to miss this place when I leave, but it is very relieving knowing that I will be back. I can’t wait to start this new adventure with Mark and see what is in store for us!



Yi Xing-The Pottery Town

One of best parts about being a part of an international school and connected community are the adventures and opportunities you have to travel with those people! I was very excited when Lianne told me that our staff was planning a trip to a rural town about an hour and half outside of Wuxi. The city we are in is huge, but it still has about 5,000,000 people in it which can make it a little crazy at times. I immediately told them I was interested and was so excited for the journey that awaited.

Before we left I was able to learn a little bit about the town and what exactly we were going to do while we were there. Yi Xing is known for making pottery (similar to the different minorities I mentioned in the last post) although from what I gathered, the people in that town are still considered in the Han majority group. There was also a plan to go biking on a trail that they said would be very beautiful and a place that most people visit when they are there. I was on board anyway because I knew I wanted to see a different part of China.

The morning we left I attempted to get coffee at little coffee shop Costa that is in a shopping center near the apartment. What I didn’t know was that coffee shops here open at 10:00 A.M. Sad day…Anyway, I walked to the school to find that there were other people there that weren’t a part of our staff. Of course, I was really happy they could join us because I like to meet new people. I met a college student who goes to school here in Wuxi and is learning Chinese which was exciting for me because that meant I wasn’t the youngest adult there! I also noticed that there were quite a few families on the bus, and some of the younger kids were even my students (which was a lot of fun for them to see me outside of school). The bus ride was much closer to an hour which was good for me because I was so excited! I sat by Bethany on the bus who actually used to be Rachel’s roommate.

When we finally arrived it was about lunch time. We ate at a restaurant where all the dishes are put in the middle of the table on a round-a-bout and you grab what you want. There was SO much good food. I think the funniest thing I saw was the “squirreled fish.” It was literally a fish, like head and all, with these fried things sticking out of it that made it look like it was going attack something. There was orange sauce on it that was very similar to sweet and sour sauce. I tried it, even though I was a little scared, and it was really good! We also had chicken soup, white rice, eggplant, fresh wild vegetables, pork, tofu, things that are similar to meat pockets (steamed bread that has a slit in it so you can stuff it with meat), and this amazing pineapple black rice that was surprisingly sweet. The bottom line is, the food was amazing, and I would go back there in a heartbeat.

After lunch we were taken to this house where they actually sold pottery. It looked like the owners lived in the upstairs area, and had their store on the bottom floor. Right as we walked in a lady stopped us and was pointing at this beautiful pink flower. I wish I could remember the name of it, but apparently it is very rare because it only blooms once in its entire lifetime. It was actually really amazing because later we looked it up and she was telling us the truth. It was great to see something like that by chance! We looked around in the shop and it was very beautiful pottery. Some of it was its natural clay color and some was painted and glossed over. My favorite style is the natural clay color with either engravings or little bits of color on it. There was a specific area where a man was making pottery, and I looked around and asked how much this beautiful little teapot was that had gorgeous flower and leaf engravings on it. I was told it was 2,000 quai. I immediately put it down because I was not about to spend that much on a little teapot that would be for decoration. We asked why it was so expensive and the man explained to us that everything in that room was hand crafted by him. I didn’t blame him for pricing it that much. Another room had really cute plates, mugs, and tea sets that had colors which were very vibrant and summery, along with adorable designs that were different on each one. I thought most of it looked familiar and then Bethany told me there was a place in that town that target purchases some of its dishes from, and she was pretty sure it was this place. That explains why they looked so familiar!

Although I liked a lot of pottery in that store a lot of it was out of my price range, and I just wasn’t willing to spend that much on one thing. Luckily I wasn’t the only one that felt that way so we went to a different part of town that had multiple pottery stores. Some of the prices were similar to the last store, but if you looked enough you could find good deals on some of the smaller stuff. I was able to buy all the souvenirs I needed to take home as gifts! I’m still amazed at how much pottery there was in that town. I don’t think I have ever seen that much in my entire life.

After looking at pottery we headed to the biking trail. I was expecting a little trail around a lake or something like that with pretty trees and flowers everywhere. Little did I know we were going to an area with biking trails that showed off gorgeous mountains, the bamboo forest, and acres of tea fields. It looked like the kind of “China area” I visualize when I think of China. I was so excited because it was so beautiful I just wanted to see more! When we walked up to the main area to rent our bikes Bethany and I saw little battery powered cars that you can drive instead. I think we both had the same idea when we saw them. Yes, we ended up renting a car and we had to pay a 200 quai down-payment for an hour along with a 15 quai fee for every fifteen minutes we went over that hour. We thought that was fair so we went for it! Let me tell you, it was much better than biking everywhere considering we were already exhausted from the day.

We were able to do so much sight-seeing and take a lot of pictures. I was relieved to be somewhere like this after living in the city for the past five weeks because I am actually from a rural area in the United States. I am used to a lot of “openness” which this area definitely had. I can’t even begin to explain how many tea fields we saw, and all the amazing mountains everywhere we went. Bethany and I also agreed that we didn’t care how long we were gone because this place was so pretty we just wanted to see as much as we could. In a lot of fields they had fake metal outlines of farmers, but then every once in a while you would see actual farmers wearing the straw hats to protect themselves from the sun. Along with that there were these strange cut outs with holes in the heads where you could go into the field and put your face in them. One of those things where you think, that would be a cute idea if they weren’t so creepy. My favorite part of the whole trail was seeing the bamboo forest. For some reason I am drawn to bamboo…I’m not entirely sure why. The forest was so amazing! The bamboo was so thick and so tall. If you weren’t looking close enough you would think it was just a bunch of tall skinny trees. It’s hard to believe that we eat that stuff here!

After about 30 to 45 minutes of driving around we decided to head back, however, we were pretty much lost. There was a specific trail we were supposed to stay on and we thought we were following it, but all the signs were in Chinese characters as well as the map so we could hardly recognize anything! We ended up turning into a residential area and circling all the way back to an area we had already been. Bethany tried asking for help, but the lady told us to turn where we had just been (the place that took us in a huge circle) and we refused to do that again because it would waste more time. Luckily we ran into two people from our group who were also from our school, and they were able to help us backtrack. The hardest part was that most intersections looked the same unless there was a specific landmark right next to them. I think for us most things looked familiar and we found our way back. I’m glad I had Bethany because if I was by myself I would probably still be in that town and would have eventually become a citizen since I’m so directionally challenged.

By the time we made it back we went 45 minutes over our scheduled time which wasn’t so bad. Bethany was nice and paid for the extra even though I offered to help pay for it. When things like that happen I think of how lucky I am to have these people in my life! We waited for the rest of our group and once they were there we headed back home to Wuxi.

Going on this trip was one of my favorite memories about student teaching abroad in China. Learning about the different culture and being in a different area than what I’m used to really put me on my toes and took me out of my comfort zone. And that’s okay because I think that’s what you’re supposed to do when you travel the world. Take time to learn, and take every opportunity you have to be somewhere different, and that makes you do things you’ve never had to do before. Of course, it always helps to be with someone more experienced than you so that, in case you get stuck, they can help you.

The most important thing I learned is to not be afraid and to have faith. Billions of people live here every day, so why can’t I?



Shanghai Trip

Since my arrival in Wuxi, Rachel had planned a trip to Shanghai that consisted of six women from our community. As far as I know, all of them had been to Shanghai except for me (no the airport doesn’t count). The original plan was to stay in a hostel. I really had no idea what that was at first so I was fine with whatever. The hostel we wanted to stay in didn’t have enough space for all of us. Instead, Rachel booked us in a Holiday Inn Express, a familiar business I hadn’t heard about in a while.

Of course, there were many things that everyone in the group tried to tell me so I could properly prepare for this trip. You’re probably thinking “what could you possibly have to prepare for?” That exact thought was going through my head. I had already been in a China for a month now, what could I possibly need to know that I haven’t already experienced? I think that was close to the biggest understatement I could have made in my entire life.

Let me just start from the beginning.

To get to Shanghai we had to take a speed train. I know, cool right? They are everywhere in China, and I think these trains are the most common way to travel here. I still am confused as to why we don’t have them in the U.S. We took a taxi to the train station which is very similar to an airport in my mind. You have to check in, and go through security minus the “checked bag” part. Of course during this whole process I experienced the lack of lines again. You think I would be used to it by now, but I guess not. Little did I know at that time that it would only get worse.

While we were waiting for our train, the waiting area seemed to fill much faster than I ever thought it could. We walked to an upstairs area that was outdoors, and as we walked up a train flew right by us. It was a little scary, but more amazing than terrifying. On the ground next to the track were different numbers which was the train car you would enter. The train car your seats are in are on your ticket which is nice so you don’t have to walk through the entire train just to find it. Once you are in the cabin it looks similar to an airplane, but has more leg room and more storage space for your luggage. Once again, why don’t we have these in America? It only took about 28 minutes in 108 kilometers from Wuxi to Shanghai, which still amazes me. Once we arrived we were all so tired considering that day at school was field day.

Before I go on…let’s talk subways.

It was probably one the most stressful experiences ever (mainly because I had no idea what I was doing). There was a lot of transferring between lines, and Rachel once said to me before this trip, “it is very crowded. Just when you think more people can’t fit on the in a subway train, they just keep going in until the door closes.” I didn’t REALLY know what she was talking about until this one Chinese girl and I were using each other as a back rest for one another because we would be squished together anyway. So why not make the best of it, right? Eventually, I got the hang of it but I still think I would struggle navigating where I needed to go and how to get there. I am very thankful I had people with me who knew exactly what they were doing!

We immediately went to a restaurant called Wagas which was everything I hoped and dreamed of. Wagas had more of a fresh food selection and reminded me of a little café. I got a wrap that had refried chickpeas and other amazing things on it as well as coffee. I must say it is definitely worth a visit if you ever take a trip to Shanghai.

Once we left and started walking towards our hotel I noticed a lot of tents set up as shops that were selling many different things. This was really my first encounter of seeing these shops, although I found out not long after that there would be many more of these in Shanghai. The one that was most interesting to me was the candy art on a stick. They were making anything from 3D angel fish to faces of the people buying the candy. Another shop was selling hand bags and wallets that had really amazing art on them. Although I do have to admit it seemed a little overpriced, but still amazing to see!

We finally made it to the hotel. The only thing that was different here than in the U.S. is showing my passport to check in, and not drinking the tap water. That’s just for future reference in case any of you ever decide to travel to China. Other than that the rooms were very similar, and the service was nice. I have been told many times that Shanghai is one of the most westernized cities in China. It can be the place to go if you miss American food!

The next morning we started the day off right with Starbucks! After that we headed back to the subway. I feel like that day in the subway was much better because I started to get the hang of it. I think the worst part was transferring from different lines because you had to put your purse or bag through the scanner every time. I also had some issues with my card, where it wouldn’t scan to let me into another line. Luckily they have card person at every exit/entrance so they were able to fix it quickly. It was really just annoying.

After another subway adventure we arrived at People’s Square which is where an M&M store is! You might not think that’s big deal, but if you’ve never been to an M&M store you have no idea what’s in store for you. There is literally an entire wall of M&Ms in every color you can imagine. They even have different colors mixed for you if you decide you don’t want to mix them yourself, and not only do they have peanut M&Ms but they ALMOND ones too! I didn’t even know those existed until I set foot in that store. They also have all these cute souvenirs like t-shirts, underwear, clothes for kids and babies, mugs, pillows, and A LOT of M&M dispensers. M&M world was pretty great, but it was only a small part compared to everything else that would happen in the next 24 hours.

We walked from M&M world to this very popular shopping area that had very traditional Chinese buildings. I was so amazed at the architecture that I was barely paying any attention to what was actually in the stores. We came across this little souvenir shop that had a woman standing out ide the door selling embroidered placemat looking things. I honestly didn’t think they were that interesting until the lady pointed out to me what they all meant. A lot of them were based on places which is what really amazed me. Some of them were even based on the very area we were shopping in. I ended up buying two.

I went into a shop where I saw these cute little wood bracelets. Everywhere I turned there was a salesperson yelling something at me similar to, “hey pretty lady would you like to buy handmade…” Luckily I was with a group that knew what they were doing, and told me to basically ignore them unless I was actually interested in something. These bracelets were very intriguing to me for some reason so I decided to test my skills. The lady offered 70 yuan for one bracelet. I looked at Bethany for assurance, and she shook her head as if it were too expensive. So I responded to the saleslady by saying it was too expensive. She would then type in her calculator the price she told me, then said “but for you, a young student I will give you this price.” She took about 10 yuan off, and I still looked at her like she was crazy. THEN she said she would give me two bracelets for 120 yuan, and I was thinking lady, you are not making your case any better than it was in the first place. I told her I wanted 25 yuan for both bracelets (I actually would pay 35, but Bethany gave me a good tactic to start lower so you weren’t selling yourself out either way) and she said no. So Bethany said, “that’s fine we’ll look somewhere else because I know a place that sells them cheaper.” I looked at the saleslady and shrugged my shoulders and slowly, but surely walked away. As I was walking I heard her yelling prices at me, “Okay 75 for two, 50, 30, okay 25!” And just like that I got two bracelets for a lower price than I originally wanted. In that store I also found interesting statue figures that looked like ancient warriors. Some of you are probably thinking I’m a huge amateur for not knowing what they were, but they were actually based on the Terracotta Warriors. If you aren’t sure what those are, they are statues that were buried with an emperor from the Qin Shi Huang (pronounced Chin Sh Hwang) dynasty. Qin Shi Huang was the first emperor of China and he wanted the army of the Terracotta warriors buried with him because he believed they would protect him in his afterlife. There are about 8,000 original Terracotta Warriors found in his tomb that are life sized. I thought the story of them was very interesting, and thought it was worth it to go through another bargaining scene to get a set. I think eventually paid 100 yuan for a whole set with the horse included which is about $15 USD.

Little did I know that was just the beginning of my bargain shopping.

We then went to a building that was all bargain shopping with a lot of knock off stuff, but still so much fun! You get things that are basically the same as the name brand it just might have something weird with the label or the label is actually spelled wrong! Hilarious I know. Anyway, I had so much fun there. I was able to get most of my souvenirs from there for a very reasonable price. I also bought a backpack because I bought so much and didn’t want to carry it around everywhere. I think I ended up paying 100 yuan.

That day we walked A LOT. Actually a lot is an extreme understatement. We finally made it to our dinner place which was this little hole in the wall place called Cheese Co. They made some pretty great grilled cheese sandwiches that ranged from a Mac n’ Cheese grilled cheese to a Nacho grilled cheese (I got the nacho one and it was like heaven). We also found this cute little cinnamon roll shop which was next door and bought the last of their cinnamon rolls. Those were also the best thing that had ever happened to me, actually they came in a close second to the donuts at school. After that we finally made it back to our hotel and rested to start again the next day.

In the morning we started our day off again with Starbucks because what else would you do? We took the subway to an area near the bund. I think this part was the most exciting for me. I love shopping and buying souvenirs, but I have to say that sightseeing is definitely my forte. When we saw the bund, which if you don’t know is the famous skyline of Shanghai (the featured photo for this post), it was pretty amazing. The architecture is so modern and unlike anything I had ever seen before. Most of buildings were so shiny you could see reflections on them, and they were so big! I mean we were pretty far away and they still seemed big to me. I was told that seeing it at night is even more amazing than during the day, so maybe someday I should go back and do that.

We actually realized we had more time to spare so we decided to go to the Shanghai World Financial Center which has an observatory, or known as one of the buildings with a glass floor. SWFC is a part of the skyscrapers the make up the bund, and is a mixed used skyscraper which means it consists of hotels, offices, conference rooms, and the observation deck. It was named the 8th tallest building in the world in 2007 at 492 meters (1,614.2 feet).  A couple more interesting facts about this building is that it has 91 elevators and is the second tallest “hotel” in the world. When we finally arrived at the building we paid and realized that there are actually three different levels of the observatory to choose from. The three floors for the observatory are the 94th, 97th, and 100th. We decided to do all of them, and it was definitely worth it. I even had my student ID with me and got a discount so that was a plus. We walked in and watched this not so great promotional video for Shanghai. Then went into this dark, shiny, tiled room that displayed meters on the ceiling on a digital clock. It seemed super fancy. Finally it was our turn to go in the elevator which had a pulsating light and different colors changing on screens in different shapes. We all agreed we felt like we were in the Willy-Wonka elevator machine thing that flies at the end of the movie. Weird, I know. So anyway, each floor had an amazing view of Shanghai. Of course, the higher we went the better it got. The top floor was my favorite because it wasn’t a scary glass floor like you would think. There were only certain areas of the floor that you could see through even though it was all technically glass so that made it a little better. To give you a frame of reference, the floor that we were standing on is on the top part of the pentagon so you can actually see beneath you. It was pretty amazing, and they even had little shops on each floor for souvenirs if you wanted something. Of course we made it back down safe and sound in the Willy-Wonka elevator and headed back to Wuxi that same day. I was sad that the trip went by so fast, but I know that I will go back someday even if it is just to visit!

This trip was life changing for me, not just because I learned to bargain shop, or got to see Shanghai beneath my feet, but also because along the way I built genuine relationships with pretty amazing people. If there is anything that makes studying abroad worthwhile it’s the relationships you build along the way. Any friendship that you make 3,000 miles away from your home country and within four weeks is a friendship worthwhile.

Oh, almost forgot…”Happy Donut Day” in Chinese is:

tian2 tian2 quan1 ri kwai4le4

The numbers after each word symbolize which tone is to be used with that word! If there is no number than that tone is neutral, meaning it has no specific tone.

Until next time!


Chinese Lessons

When I arrived in Wuxi it was very strange to not understand anything. I really mean ANYTHING. I can’t read most things, understand anyone in public, and also can’t communicate to anyone when I’m out shopping or ordering food. If you know me well enough, the last one is crucial in my life. To try and attempt to fix this I asked Rachel if I could be set up with Chinese lessons. At the school the teachers are required a certain number of hours every week to work on their Chinese, so I knew the resource was available to me. She was able to work something out with the art teacher who was nice enough to give up one of his lesson times for me. I am still very thankful for his offer since learning Chinese has become very useful to me.

Our first lesson was over pinyin and the four Chinese tones.

Pinyin is a way for non-native speakers to learn Chinese without involving the characters right away. Chinese characters are what you normally think of when you think of the Chinese language, or on Mulan when she writes on her arm in the beginning of the movie. Yes, those are characters. So pinyin actually spells out the characters in letters similar to English letters so we can pronounce them and communicate to people verbally, which is really nice.

Along with pinyin comes the four Chinese Tones.

If you are not familiar with them they look similar to this:

—    /    v     \

Each one will be above a specific vowel sound in a word, and that determines what that word is.  The first tone is what I think of a monotone sound. The second tone means your voice will go up on a vowel, like when you ask a question. The third tone is my favorite, you go down then up with your pitch on a vowel. You also speak that tone slower than the other three. The fourth tone is the opposite of the second tone, so just down in pitch. There is also a neutral tone which means you don’t use any of the tones. I actually struggle with the fourth one the most. Very different, right? In my Chinese lessons my teacher’s voice is a much higher pitch than mine, and when she asks me to repeat her on the first tone I end up making my voice higher to sound just like her. It’s actually kind of funny because I don’t have to do that all. So if you ever learn Chinese remember that so you don’t strain yourself like I have.

(Off topic: My lessons are on Thursdays which is the day we have donuts at school. I asked my teacher how to say Happy Donut Day in Chinese so I can say it to her when I see her that day. I can’t wait to learn how to say it. J)

You also have to be careful with the tones because sometimes different tones on the same letters in pinyin will mean different things. Remember when I talked about the words “four” and “death?” They have similar pinyin, but the tones are different so you don’t want to accidentally say, “I want to go to floor death.” That would not be good. Although I noticed that most Chinese people will appreciate the fact that you attempt Chinese. They also seem understanding when I say something without tones, and usually know what I’m attempting to say depending on the context of the situation.

In my first lesson I mainly practiced the MANY different words and not words with the four different tones to help adjust my voice and mind on how to use them. It was much harder than I ever anticipated because in English we don’t talk that way at all. In fact our language is based on tone in a completely different way. Our tone is very dependent on how we feel and express ourselves rather than how it affects each individual word. It is something I still struggle with. When I use my Chinese in public I try to use the tones as much as I can, but since most words have them it’s hard to remember which tone goes with each word.

While practicing we would come across actual words, and she would tell me what they translated to in English, and we put sentences together so I could use them if I needed to. I also realized that they call their consonants “initials,” for the initial sound. Most of them are the same as English except z=dz, q=ch, c=ts, x= ch, and zh=j. I know, very confusing. I have to admit I practiced quite a bit and have become a little better at pronouncing them, but when I read it’s not my first instinct to pronounce those sounds. It usually takes me a few seconds to realize what I am trying to read.

In later lessons we started to learn numbers which for some reason was my favorite part (probably because I was actually good at them) because there is a pattern which was also very helpful. I learned how to ask people how old they are…which if I practiced that would probably not always be the best thing. I really enjoy learning the new language. It is so different that it gives me a new perspective to the world, which is what I wanted when I came here.

Now, I can’t forget the crazy translations I see everywhere and I bring up in my lessons. The very first one I saw said “Caution, wet fool.” Yes, it is currently a wet floor sign in our building and also some surrounding buildings in our area. I think that one may be more a spelling error, but it’s still hilarious because there is person falling for the picture. Another interesting one I saw was the back of girls jacket said “Super Moshino,” and had a picture of Mario…close, but not quite there. Not only are the translations funny, but the English wording and sentence structure on clothing usually doesn’t make sense. Jenna and I saw a shirt in an athletic store that said “What an Agile Tub” with a picture of water splashing all around it. I don’t get it. I really could go on with all the funny stories, but I thought I would share a few while I had the chance!

The best part about my lessons are when we trail off into talking about the culture here in China.

Chinese culture is so different and it truly amazes me. I have expressed some of the differences to you, like the whole standing in line thing (or lack of). I feel like most of you won’t believe me, but it really does happen more often than not. I actually pushed a person the other day because they were trying to get in front of me in line. A line that I had already been waiting a very long time in! I can’t remember exactly what I was doing, but he looked about my age and shoulder checked me to get in front me. So I stared at him and of course that did nothing. I stepped in front of him, and he did it AGAIN. At this point it was personal so I put my hands on his arm and pushed him out the way, and he walked away. I still don’t really understand.

Group gatherings or parties are another cultural difference that stood out to me. In American culture we like to stay with the people we know and only communicate in small groups. At a Chinese gathering it would be exactly the opposite. They prefer everyone to be involved and a part of the party as a whole. The slide show she showed me had two different sides on every slide. One side was blue (standing for Western Cultures), and had a bunch of black dots in small groups. The other side was red (for Eastern Cultures), and had a circle of black dots. The Power Point was helpful and very eye opening to me. I think before I knew that a few things would be different, but I didn’t expect THAT much to be different.

I also asked my teacher why Chinese people like to stare at foreigners and take their picture. I mean I honestly am stared at all day when I’m not at school. I have been asked a couple times to have my picture taken and I’ve only been here for four weeks. My teacher told me that most Chinese people feel lucky when they see a foreign face. I learned that in this country people tend to not travel because being close to family is very important. There is a lot of pressure for women to be married when they are in their twenties and early thirties, and normally the grandparents raise the children because the parents have to work. Family is a very important aspect in this culture unlike in the U.S. where most everyone is independent with their own lifestyle. Anyway, since they don’t travel overseas much it is different to see people who don’t look like them. My favorite part about it is when a little kid sees me they usually say “Hello,” and practice their English with me. Every morning I run into a father and his daughter and they always tell me that it’s nice to see me again, and we talk about small things like his daughter’s school or his work. Then we walk separate ways out of the gate to start our day.

I also learned something even more interesting than mannerisms and it was actually brought up by Rachel first, and then brought up in my Chinese lesson. In China there are different minority groups. Most people think that Chinese people are all one race, and that’s not entirely true. There is one majority group called the Han. This group makes up about 90% of China, and as of 2010 90% would have been 1,220,844,520. Now, that’s a lot of people. Then there are about 56 minority groups that are officially recognized by the government and make up the rest of China. I found this link that shows the different minority groups and describes what makes each minority different from one another.

This culture amazes me every single day. Yes, sometimes it can be frustrating, but living in the U.S. can be frustrating at times too. I think the amazing things that make me smile on a day to day basis definitely outshine the negatives. I learn little by little every day to become more independent which is such a great thing. China is growing on me, and I always wish there was more time in a day to get as much of the experience as I can!

First Day of School

My second full day in China would be my first day of school. As most of you know when I say school I mean that I will be teaching. I am currently a student teacher pursuing my degree in Music Education. The classes I have throughout my time student teaching are first grade through seniors in high school. We have one choir and two bands, as well as five general music classes. Little did I know I was in for one of the most rewarding experiences in my life.

Rachel was able to pick me up from my apartment building and take me to school on her scooter, thankfully. I don’t think there is any way I could have made it there by myself that first time. Luckily the school is within walking distance. It usually takes me about 15 minutes to get to school every day if I walk. However, the traffic can be a little crazy. Here it seems that the traffic lights and lines are more like suggestions rather than the law. Although most people follow the signals regularly, there are times when they don’t. Pedestrians also don’t have the right of way, so I was told by Rachel to look both ways, then look both ways again, then again. It sounds scary, but once you understand what to look out for it isn’t so bad. You can also drive into oncoming traffic (mainly with the scooters), which was really scary for me at first. Rachel always warns me when we do, and it was actually something we normally do on our way to school.

We finally made it to the school gate and were greeted by the nicest guards ever. I guess it isn’t a normal thing, at least from my experiences the guards I meet everywhere usually aren’t in a happy mood. However, the guards for our school are always talked about as the happiest guards in our area. It may not seem important, but it’s amazing how much of a difference it makes to start my day with them smiling at me. I also have been able to learn different greetings from them as well because they know I am a “new teacher,” and know minimal Chinese.

We parked the scooter and walked up to the building. We entered and Rachel signed in. Every day the staff meets before school at 7:30 A.M. for a morning meeting. I was introduced and had a chance to learn everyone’s name. Of course, I was really nervous because I never like to be the “new person,” but we all have to start somewhere, right? The meeting was great, and very student focused which is something I really like about this school. It is all about the students. I know a lot of schools are this way, but I’ve also been in a lot of situations where schools SHOULD be this way. I really enjoy being able to work for a school that believes in the same things I do for education and how we can do everything that is best for the students.

After the meeting Rachel and I went to our room which is on the fifth floor or in this case the top floor. The stairs really aren’t bad at all, but luckily there is an elevator just in case we feel lazy, which I know for me is pretty much every day. We started the day off with a planning period where she basically gave me the down low for everything happening that day. She sent me multiple resources, and schedules that I need for dinners planned that week as well as our class schedule. Before I could get my thoughts together it was time for our first class which was third grade.

I knew that this week would mainly be observing for me and helping around the classroom. So I waited in the room while the students were standing in line outside. Rachel had the door open, and I could hear some of the students talking, “Is the new teacher here?” I thought this was the sweetest thing ever! It was so nice that Rachel informed them about me coming, and it was also helpful that they were excited to meet me because it made building relationships with the students much easier. I noticed that most of the students are Korean. We have some Japanese, American, Indian, Brazilian, and other nationalities within the classes, but mainly Korean. When I looked at the seating chart I was nervous to see that most of the names were actual Korean names that I had no clue how to pronounce. Some students do choose English names which made it somewhat easier for me to remember, but I always feel badly when I forget their name or pronounce it wrong. I also find that with the younger students it is hard to understand their accents. I am getting better though. I’m starting figure out what sounds they use to replace certain sounds in English, or maybe certain letters they have difficulties with when they speak. It really isn’t that bad most of the time, there are just a few times I have a hard time understanding. I also have to remind myself that this was the first day, and I’m not going to be perfect at it anytime soon.

Although the accents are what makes me most nervous, it also my favorite part when they talk. I know there is a student in first grade who is from Brazil and always asks questions with the cutest Brazilian accent like, “Teacher this is how we do this, yes?” Cutest thing ever. It is also really interesting to see what they think is funny, or references I make that they don’t understand. I think the best part is that everyone from the U.S. expects these students to be different than students that they know, but they aren’t. They’re just kids! They really are just like the students I observed throughout college, or the students I taught at my last student teaching placement. They want structure, and they want to learn and have fun with it. Granted, I am at an international school, and of course there are some cultural differences. Overall though they are interested in similar things and respond to activities and lessons in a similar way.

We have a concert coming up and Rachel  gave me a choir piece (Already Home from the Wizard of Oz), two band pieces (A Childhood Hymn by David R. Holsinger and Bottom Bass Boogie from Essential Elements) for secondary classes, and lets me teach movement activities, and lead some of our concert repertoire for elementary. I really am learning a lot and gaining a lot of experience through this, not only with teaching, but also the independence and confidence gained from being on my own.

I know you all are really wondering, what is the school lunch like? Well, they are really good actually. The lunch is made by our school cooks who are all Chinese staff. They actually make the bread and cook all the food so nothing that I know of is frozen and heated up. Every day they have a table set out with A LOT of veggies, and Kim Chi, which is a Korean dish of cabbage and spicy sauce. It’s pretty good! We usually have a soup that contains seaweed, veggies, or bamboo (my favorite) with a little meat, or egg drop soup. The main portion varies which I like. We have had chicken sandwiches, hotdogs, different Chinese and Korean dishes, and we always have a serving of rice. There is normally some kind of dessert. I’ve come to learn that they serve donuts made from scratch on Thursdays. Since most of you know me, you can only imagine what my favorite day of the weeks is. The donuts are definitely different from a regular glazed donut or cake donuts. If you have ever had the fried bread at a Chinese restaurant in the states, I would say the bread part is similar to that, then they pour actual chocolate on the top rather than frosting. To give you an idea of how great these are, the students have now asked me for the past few weeks how many donuts I ate the previous Thursday. I always three…but I think at one point I had four, and I really think we’re only allowed one! The donuts are the best thing ever, and I could talk about them for days…so moving on.

Of course we have more classes, and they were very similar that first day. Everyone seemed just as excited to meet me as I was to meet them which was very relieving! Rachel and I talked a lot about the plan for the rest of the year before the concert, and also what I would be doing throughout the next seven weeks. I really just co-teach with Rachel which has been so great! I learn so much every day, and I feel more a part of the school community as time goes by.

The First 24 Hours

I was so relieved to look out the window of the plane and see the landing strip in Shanghai. Once we landed I was so eager to stand, and smell fresh air after sharing oxygen with about 200 people. When I walked from the plane into the Shanghai Pudong International Airport, it was nothing that I had expected. In America the airports are very crowded with long halls (depending on which airlines you fly out of). This airport was so open and quiet during the time I arrived that it was almost discomforting. I walked into this huge open area down the stairs that contained multiple belts to retrieve luggage. I was a little confused at first because there was not a single person to help me and I had no idea what I was doing. I went into focus mode and noticed the numbers on top of each belt, and luckily found my flight number. Of course, there were many people already in that area because most of them knew what they were doing and knew exactly where to go when we landed. I walked over and tried to get in “line.” Line. Now that is a funny word to use in this new place. The first thing I learned is there is no line, you hold your stance or you will most likely be crowded in front of or sometimes even shoved if you’re in an extremely crowded area. I waited for a while, and was very frustrated with this small Chinese women who kept yelling and shoving in front of me to wait for her luggage. I let her do it mainly because I could see over her head and she obviously had somewhere to be, so why not? I’m sure my luggage was at the bottom because I waited for at least twenty minutes until it came out, and another ten minutes to actually get through the crowd of people and grab it. So, my first experience in China did not go so smoothly. Also realizing that I am a complete traveling noob, so I really didn’t expect it to go any differently.

I then waited in an actual line to go through Customs. The workers in the airport spoke fairly decent English, but I did find their accent very difficult to understand. Then I thought to myself, yes, this may be a foreshadowing problem. I made it through which I wasn’t entirely too nervous about, but it can be a little nerve wracking to look into the eyes of the person who decides if you get to enter the country or not. I then walked through these tall glass doors where there were these men yelling at me in poor English. I kept shaking my head no because I literally had no idea what they were saying. I then looked forward to realize this long isle with dividers on both sides. There were crowds of people standing on both sides as if I were in Hollywood walking down the Red Carpet. I focused in to find Rachel, my new cooperating teacher, and realized the men yelling at me were actually trying to help me find the people picking me up. I let one of them follow me, really just to have him stop yelling because he didn’t help much more than I would have helped myself. I finally saw Rachel with our driver. At that moment I almost burst into tears. I was so tired, and so happy to see her! It was like I thought I would never make it out alive, or in less dramatic terms, this was planned for so long the actual moment of me meeting her felt unreal until now.

We walked, and talked and I blindly followed her and the driver to the car. The drive from Shanghai to Wuxi (woo-shee) was about two and half hours with minimal traffic. It was nice because I already had so many questions I forgot to ask through e-mail and Skype that I was able to ask right then and receive immediate answers. She brought me these amazing pizza flavored crackers that I will definitely bring back with me because they not only symbolize my amazing unhealthy life style but also my first food in China!

While we were driving it was dark and I couldn’t see much. I did however see a lot of lights. Buildings with lights that change color, or have different designs on them. There were tall buildings, and groups of them in different areas. My favorite building started with lights at the bottom and did a wave to the top repeatedly in different colors. Just something you don’t see every day in the Midwest. Finally we arrived at the apartment I would stay in while I student taught. All I knew is that these buildings were huge, and by that I mean at least 20 stories. We walked in and went up the elevator to the 20th floor. Later I learned that in the elevator the number “4” was avoided. So there were floors with the number four in them. The word for the number four in Mandarin is “si”, which is close to the word that means death. So in a superstitious world it only makes sense to take out anything with four because it means bad luck. Even phone numbers with fours in them are cheaper because no one wants them.

Once we arrived on my floor I noticed that the hallway was very short, and had a smell of cigarettes and something else that I can’t really describe. Nothing like the hallways in an apartment complex you would see in the Midwest anyway. I guess it would be similar to describing an apartment hallway in New York City. However, when I walked inside the apartment it was the prettiest apartment I have ever seen! There was tile so clean it was reflective and it was on the floors and the walls. There were interesting chandeliers in every room that really seemed to catch my eye (the one in my room was in the shape of a moon). It was nothing that I would expect from being in the hallways of that building. Every apartment has a different landlord so they all look very different. Rather than how in the States there is normally a building owner and all the apartments look the same.

And of course I met the two people housing me, Jenna and Lianne. By the time Rachel and I made through the front door they were there ready to introduce themselves. We met and talked a little bit and finally they all three pointed out a stash of food and snacks along with a bottle of shampoo and conditioner for me so I didn’t have to go out and buy my own right away. Once again, I almost cried but I was able to hold it together for a while longer. I talked with them for a little bit, but also realized I needed to call Mark on FaceTime as well as get settled and fall asleep.

The moment I walked into my room I burst into tears. Why? I still have no idea. I think it was a combination of being extremely tired, missing home, being in a foreign country, starting school on Monday, or going to fellowship with these people I didn’t know the next morning. Really, I was just scared. Even though there were people living in the same apartment, and Mark was a phone call away, I felt so alone. I prayed and cried and prayed some more until I finally fell asleep.

The next morning I woke up with a pounding headache and puffy eyes from crying so much. I looked out my window and thought I was dreaming, and was in shock all over again. My pain immediately became less of a priority to me. The view was so amazing and different from what I’m used to at home. I can see three tall apartment buildings right out my window, and I could hear horns honking and cars driving by. I can also see a shopping market where I actually go to get most of my groceries. When I was trying to look further I heard this loud BOOM! Before I could process what was happening I heard it agian, BOOM BOOM. What that a gun? An explosion? Wait…are those FIREWORKS?! Yes. Most definitely fireworks. I realized that fireworks go off at least once or twice a day, and I really mean at least. Once I got over my shock of the fireworks I went back and laid on my bed. What am I doing? Am I even going to like it here? These thoughts ran through my head more than I wanted them to. Finally I talked some sense into myself. Of course I’m going to like it here! I’m in China!

I eventually pulled myself together and left my room to get ready for the day. I realized that I was assigned to the two most amazing roommates because they took me to Starbucks! We took the bus which was a little scary at first. These buses really don’t just stop at the bus stops. It’s more like who can get on the fastest before I pull away kind of thing. I also realized it costs 2 Yuan. I didn’t have anything but 600 yuan which was impossible to break at the bus stop, luckily Jenna and Lianne were nice enough to help out. The next step to the bus was sitting down fast enough before the driver started to go. We all were able to, and it really isn’t so bad when you get the hang of it. I guess just being new to it made everything unexpected. I’m glad Jenna and Lianne told me EVERYTHING I needed to know, or I would be injured right now from falling. This was the first encounter I had with people staring at me for long periods of time. I mean a LONG time. At first I thought something was on my face, or I was wearing something weird. No. It was really because we are foreigners and since they don’t see foreigners much they stare at us. In the U.S. I think we’re so used to seeing a variety of people that this really isn’t as common. It was weird at first, but I would say at this point I’ve adjusted to the fact that when I leave the apartment I will be stared at.

Finally we arrived at Starbucks. Now normally in the states I would order a White Chocolate Mocha, but believe it or not those do not exit at our stores in Wuxi. Even though it is a Western franchise, the menus are slightly limited and also contain a lot of green tea. So I ordered a flat white and either way that coffee made my day. We went to meet people from the school, and found myself in a very peaceful place. Everyone was very friendly and knew who I was because Rachel informed them for me, so it was nice to not explain myself multiple times. I knew that I was being watched over and all my worries of being homesick were being taken care of because I felt right at home with this new community.

For lunch Jenna and Lianne took me to this amazing Japanese Restaurant. When we walked in we had to take our shoes off, which was strange, but also intriguing. Every table was set in a little room with paper walls like what you see on all movies that take place in Asia and there is some sort of karate fight and they punch through the wall. Yes, those kind of rooms. The floor had a huge square hole in it that was about three feet deep which is where the table sat. The raised parts of the floor had cushions for us to sit. It was very authentic. We all ordered our food and here was where I heard Chinese the most since I had entered China. Jenna and Lianne knew some so they were able to help me order my food which was extremely helpful.

I later met Rachel to take a tour of the school which was everything I hoped it would be. I was able to see her office as well as our classroom. She talked a lot about how things came about with the music program, and what resources I could use during my time there. She really started the band program at the school, so to learn from her is an amazing experience within itself. We also went to the store to get groceries, and things I needed for my time here, but I will save that one for another time!

All of this made me very excited for my first day of school and also very nervous, but that is also another whole story by itself! I can honestly say my first full day in China was a great adventure and gave me an idea of how my whole adventure would be. All of my worries were taken care of by this wonderful international community created within the school, and I am so thankful to have them as a support system while I am away from home.

Why China?

It’s hard for me to decide exactly where I should start telling the story of my journey. I could start when I arrived in China, but for some reason that doesn’t seem right. I could start at the airport, but who wants to hear about my awful food experience and constantly stressing about if I would make it to my next flight?

How about I start where this really all began.

Last summer, the summer before my fifth year of college, I received an e-mail that I never expected to read in my lifetime. The e-mail was sent from my professor, Dr. Richardson, and presented the opportunity to student teach with a Northwest (the school I attend) Alumnus, Rachel, who is currently teaching music at an international school in Wuxi (pronounced Woo-Shee), China. I sat on the couch with my jaw dropped as all the possibilities ran through my mind. Being the person I am I also thought of everything that could go wrong. Do I have the money for this? How will this happen? What will my family think of this? Why would I want to go to China? Everything was going through my mind at one time. I was unsure what to think so I prayed, and I asked the one person in my life who shows me great reason, Mark my boyfriend of 3 ½ years. After discussing it for a while, and seeking out different opportunities I decided I wanted to do this. Dr. Richardson and I contacted our Study Abroad Office and Student Teaching Office to see exactly what needed to be done to make this happen. It was a lengthy process, but definitely worthwhile. Finally, everything was set. I applied to study abroad through my school, as well as applying to student teach through the school in China.

As I said, these were all very lengthy processes and there were multiple reasons I could have not made it through any of them, but I did. Once I completed all my work, the next step was to figure out how I was going to pay for all of this. My study abroad advisor had given me a budget which included my plane tickets, vaccinations, Visa, spending money, food money, travel money, etc. These expenses were all a little nerve wracking for a college student who paid for her own school and bills. My study abroad suggested multiple scholarships that I could apply for, and since this was my only hope I thought why not? I applied for a total of four scholarships, although that may not seem like much, when you think of my limited time as a music major in addition to applying for my student teaching placements in the U.S. and China plus working and practicing, it was a lot for me. I received two study abroad scholarships from the College of Arts and Sciences at Northwest Missouri State University. Those two added up to about $2,000 together. That was much better, but still was not enough considering that would only cover the plane ticket. The Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship was another that I applied for that I never thought I would receive. It was very prestigious and was about as lengthy as my student teaching applications. It took me about a month to complete the application, and I remember the day I received the acceptance e-mail. This award is given to about 800 students around the United States who are off to study abroad. There are multiple ranges of the award given and I received $4,000 to go on this journey. Four thousand dollars! I now had a total of $6,000 given to me, in addition to the money I would save up to the time I would leave. Money was no longer a problem for me and I am still so grateful for everyone who proofread, recommended, and helped me through that process.

Throughout this time I, of course, was very excited to start this new journey and see what the future had in store for me. There were many people in my life that I shared this exciting news with including my friends, family, coworkers, and many more. It seemed to me that some people were excited for me, but others were confused or shocked that I would decide to go to a foreign country. I guess they thought that it would be dangerous, being in a city with about 6 million people I did not know. What they didn’t understand was that I did not decide this on my own. Everything led to this, and I was supposed to be in China. Why? Because this is where I was called. It was suggested by my professor, and helped by the study abroad and student teaching offices, but there is a reason everything worked out the way it did and that we will all see with time. Honestly, I feel safer in this “small” Chinese city more than I do in a small American city. I can get into a taxi without thinking twice of being hurt, walking alone is only common here, and I am surrounded by a wonderful international community the school has set in place.

My last week in the United States was very weird for me. I knew I was sad, but I did not cry until the night before I left. I was scared, and felt so alone even though I knew I had so many people to support me. I feel that most people when they study abroad they go with a group or they meet people at their school who are also foreigners and they create a small community that way. Not me, just alone which is was the scariest part of the whole thing. I am normally a very independent person, but it when it comes to moving to the other side of the world, ALONE–that would be a new concept for me to grasp.

When I was dropped off at the airport by Mark and his wonderful mom at 5:00 A.M. (meaning we left at about 4:15 A.M.) I thought I would be upset, but I wasn’t. I remember my first encounter on this journey was with a nice lady who was working the front desk area for checked luggage and boarding passes. I walked up dazed mainly because I was exhausted. I just stared at her, and then she asked, “Where are you going?”

“Uh, China?” I said with uncertainty. Wait, what? I am going to China?! Luckily, Mark stepped in and explained to her I was flying to Shanghai and asked if my luggage would be carried to the final destination. Such a good person. Anyway, that is when it hit me. Here I was about to say goodbye to someone who I have never spent two months away from without at least one visit. The one person who I would bring with me if I could. A person that I am fortunate, and thankful that I can miss this much.

I was very numb for the remainder of my time with him because I knew I had to be focused which is another thing I do when I need to get by, and I needed to get by to not miss these flights. My first flight left Kansas City at about 7:00 A.M. and my next flight left from San Francisco at about 1:00 P.M. One thing I learned was to buy flights with decent layovers, however, I did not need to go through security again once I was in the San Francisco airport so I ended up having time to watch an episode of Gilmore Girls, and FaceTime with Mark before I left the States. I finally let Mark go, which was very difficult for me. I kept texting him, but not talking to the one person I wanted there with me was too much for me to handle. In that time a little Chinese lady sat next me, which for the gate I was waiting at was very common because we were flying into Shanghai, but this lady was different. She kept looking at me, and then at my ticket, and then at me. Finally I looked back at her and said, “Hi, my name is Brittany!” She looked shocked at first, then smiled and said, “Hello, I’m Sunny.” Sunny. That was definitely a name I needed to hear to brighten up my day. She spoke English very well, but I also found it hard to understand her accent at times. We talked about why she was in California, and where I was going and what I would be doing. She actually knew where Wuxi was, and lived very close by. Apparently in the Chinese culture I have learned it’s not weird to give your contact information to seek out people that you’ve just met. Of course she only gave me her e-mail, so no worries there.

Meeting her was exactly what I needed. She was kind, and positive, which if you’ve ever been in an airport that can be a breath of fresh air. Before I knew it, my flight was boarding onto a plane where I would sit for 13 hours that smelled of some kind of Chinese food, but not really in a good way. I was scared but excited, and I was unsure what was going to happen. I found my seat, 48C, and waited for take off before I took medicine that would help me sleep (I get anxious being up in the air for so long) which would also help with jet lag later.

Then I realized I was thinking about something I never thought would be possible for me.

I will be teaching in China.