My name is Sydney Hall. I am 16 years old and I was a member of the Americans Promoting Study Abroad (APSA) China Scholars Program in the summer of 2010.
I learned what it felt like to be thrown in a society the complete opposite of my own. I lived under the same conditions, laws, daily practices, and acknowledged the ideals of members of that society. Unlike many traveling experiences that involve tourists and tour guides, I didn’t have a brochure or any background knowledge. I didn’t have a set of directions or maps or a bus to take me places, I didn’t stay in a fancy hotel. I learned through experiencing it first hand. This trip really opened my eyes to how huge the world really was. The connections I made, the friendships that became of it, and the idealistic, emotional, social, and intellectual conditioning, all shaped who I am now and my ideas about cultural and international studies.
The hardest challenge that I faced in China was actually being able to discipline myself and take care of myself without any guidance. To me, I was always open to new ideas, no matter how bizarre they seemed. As for food, I am a vegan, so one would suspect that I would have had a hard time finding dishes to eat. Ironically I was one of the only students to have actually gone to each meal at Beijing Number 2 High School. I loved the unique and spicy cuisine! I went wild with trying all the vegetarian dishes and tofu that I could get my hands on! And THEY WERE WONDERFUL! My biggest hindrance was adjusting to having roommates and transitioning into the daily routine of managing my time and being independent. However this was one of my biggest growths on the trip. I developed a greater sense of myself and became more open and extroverted! I also realized how big the world is when you are living in a society quite the opposite of western culture!
My most memorable experiences were at Miao Liang, an environmentally friendly camping site that resided in the countryside of Beijing, and at Cuandixia Village.
In Miao Liang I went hiking, explored the mountains of China, and on my last day I took what was called a “solo”. We were asked not to bring our cell phones, iPods, journals, “nothing”. We were left in the wilderness for approximately 2 hours. I think that this was the turning point of my trip where I grew the most because I actually got to take time for myself for the first time in my life. I sat quietly and thought about everything that had led up to that moment and for the first time I actually acknowledged that I had changed immensely in just a matter of weeks. In addition I began asking myself more important questions like, “from that point on how will I return home and continue with my love of travel?” Or “where will everything I have learned take me in the near future?”
As one of our last excursions, we visited the famous traditional village of Cuandixia. Upon arriving, I was one of only a handful of APSA students to hike 7 hours up to a demolished part of the Great Wall. The experience was so uplifting and powerful. Words cannot begin to describe how significant it was to stand on a crumbling thousand-year-old wall overlooking the mountains of Beijing. There were many other memorable experiences at Cuandixia village that I will never forget.
The entire trip itself was one of the most moving experiences of my life. Thinking back now, months later, I am still reminded of how difficult, challenging, problematic, and exhausting it was to have to adjust to a country so different from my own. But then I am also reminded of how different, spontaneous, and endless the world can seem when you experience it and all it has to offer first hand (and the predicaments and challenges in the end were all worth it). Moreover, that one trip to Cuandixia is what keeps me motivated to go abroad again. I now firmly believe that there is no place like Beijing!