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.