As the days approached (and eventually passed) March 26, marking the first month of my life in this country, the rate of change – and therefore the impetus to blog – has slowed. After experiencing a spectacular low about two weeks ago and then bouncing back four times stronger than I thought I could, I’ve finally felt like I’ve started to settle. Remarkably – and to my great, great relief – I’ve started to feel that this alien country is becoming home, and find myself looking forward to the rest of the year. Which is a big deal, because until fairly recently, I was still feeling quite out of place, still missing home a fair amount.
Little things have come together without me consciously realising, creating small links and anchors to the little corner of this city I now feel more confident calling my own. I’ve acquired enough wifi passwords of cafes near campus to write a small local guide; finally memorised the way to and from the gym without making any wrong turns or consulting Baidu Maps; gathered around me a solid and gut-bustingly hilarious group of friends, which has helped the most, if I’m honest. They almost merit a blog post in themselves – Joe, who I befriended one evening while I was trying to park my bike and swearing not-so-quietly to myself, recognised my accent as Australian – shares my sense of humour (most of the time). Having him around is a little bit like cheating – no wonder I’m growing so at home here if I’m spending so much time from someone who essentially IS from home. Then there’s Joy, a 26 year old Korean girl who doesn’t look a day past 23 and whose name encapsulates her spirit, and Frédéric (he taught me how to write his name properly after he read this blog post; I’d misspelt his name and gotten his age wrong, I am an awful friend), a “ridiculous tall” (his English not mine) badminton-obsessed Swiss guy who you’d never guess is only 19 but is already good at literally everything. (He is also both incredibly intelligent and yet such a kid at the same time.) Luni is like me, Asian but born and bred outside of Asia, and hails from a small town in Germany so she and Fred sometimes break into German, much to the bemusement to the rest of us (who are speaking a constant and fluid mix of Chinese, English and broken Korean). Amber, a 22-year old Korean girl who speaks English very well, functions as the Korean-English translator in the group (for Joy), while Joe and I, native English speakers, are most confident in Chinese (relatively speaking). I enjoy our dynamic – he knows more Chinese vocabulary than I do, but my kouyu, or spoken language, is more accurate having grown up in a Chinese family. Together we make good tutors for ever-inquisitive Fred, who is always asking questions about Chinese grammar. Being able to wake up knowing that the next day (and the one after that, and after that one too) will consist of sharing meals and jokes with friends has been such a tangible blanket of security and helped so much in finally feeling at home here. I am so appreciative of the fact that I have the luxury to enjoy here what I enjoy back home in Australia – good food in good company.
Classes themselves have improved greatly, too (I jumped up half a level in Chinese – 2.5 students also work from the same textbook as those from level 2, but race through at a faster pace), although the workload blindsided me a little at first. My routine makes me happy, gives me a sense of purpose – wake, drag myself to class, send a million snapchats during class, look forward to lunch (me in the group chat, without fail: “WHERE ARE WE EATING TODAY????”), study or run errands or hit the gym or do absolutely nothing with my friends. Every day is not so different from the last, but I’m already know that I’m going to really miss this when I go back home to Australia. It doesn’t take much to make me happy, to be honest – good banter with Joe (near-hourly occurrence), discovering delicious and cheap food (multiple times a week), a good gym sesh (should be more frequent), playing my favourite genre of dirty R&B music in the morning to wake me up for my 8am class (a daily must), going out without thermals and my thickest jacket thanks to the warmer weather and low air pollution levels (had a good few days lately, holding my breath I don’t jinx it). Life in China is shaping up to be quite sweet after all, and new ways of measuring time have emerged, such as the amount of times I’ve struggled to express something in English because I’ve found the perfect Chinese concept for it, or how many Australian X Chinese fusion slang words Joe and I can come up with (e.g. “*Uniquely Chinese adjective* af”).
Among all of this, I’ve tried to keep up with friends back home as best as I can – one of the most important messages that I would encourage anyone going on exchange to remember is that your friends back home need you, too. It’s altogether too easy to get wrapped up in myself and the novelty of new experiences in a new country with new friends – but it’s humbling to know that your friends back home miss having you around and need your time just as much as you need them, on demand, to keep you grounded. In some ways, I’ve become an accidental confidant – far away enough from any drama that I can hear it with fresh ears, but close enough that I can follow all the characters and the plotline. I’ve surprised myself – I miss home less than I thought I would, which is difficult to explain. I’m hearing about my friends move on in their lives, and though I’m not there in terms of geographic proximity, I don’t feel far from my friends. They are a
Skype WeChat call away, and once we get dat good connection (difficult), we pick up right where we left off, and any distance is instantly forgotten.
I can’t believe it’s been a month and a few days. It feels like it’s simultaneously been ages and no time at all. Finding the words and picking from my jumbled brain the thoughts to pull together this blog post has been a challenge and has spanned about a week – I was originally going to do a blog post just about my weekend in Shanghai with Yana & Winnie (it was a few weekends ago!) and then another one about how I’ve been since then, but I found I simply didn’t know what to say. The emotional rollercoaster I’ve ridden must have addled my sense of time – so much has changed in my head and in my heart, but like to believe I’ve weathered the worst of the storm now and reaching a much-needed equilibrium. I’m not scared of any spikes or troughs in the future – I know I can handle it now. I think, anyway. Willpower counts for a lot. If contentment and peace – that is, contenting myself to just be quite alright, and being at peace if I have moments or days that I’m not – is the goal for now, then I think I’m already there, and it’s a sweet, empowering thought.
Eleven more months here? Okay – that’s starting to sound real good to me.
tl;dr: had some rough patches but i’m pretty gucci now (or i know i will be). got some good mates ’round me, we get pretty rowdy, we eat a lot of fuckin’ food, we study together, life is sweet