Obviously, I was underprepared. I arrived to Beijing with barely 2000RMB and an extremely limited vocabulary consisting of 你好, 谢谢, and 对不起. Unlike the other CAMPUS Asia students, I had to live in an off-campus accommodation provided by Peking University. I was already stressed out within two hours of my arrival. Due to lack of information, I had to pay more than expected on my arrival. I quickly contacted Peking University for assistance and the university was able to extend my payment for a week. I was in total despair.
Things remained stressful. I had a long, depressing morning but I somehow made it through registration. Once on campus, I further nagged PKU for dorm assistance and was then introduced to another Chinese CAMPUS Asia student. With his unconditional assistance, I was able to solve my dorm situation. I was also introduced to many things in China, ranging from the cultural explanation to a regular PKU student’s lifestyle. Since then, my pessimistic attitude started to fade; my attitude and view of China rapidly changed throughout the short period of time.
Most CAMPUS Asia students were enrolled in the same course, which allowed us to help one another. The number of exchange students from other universities was limited and hence there were opportunities to associate with them as well. Other than the School of International Studies, we had the privilege to associate with other Japanese exchange students enrolled in the Language Department. When time allowed, a group of us traveled around. We would also meet up once a week just to catch up. The simple conversations I had with my roommates were enjoyable. I was able to meet students from out of University as well. As a practicing Evangelical, I attended one of the larger international churches in Beijing and connected to the local Japanese community via the Japanese congregation. The opportunity to practice the same religion with students and individuals from all around the world was a valuable experience.
As a self-identified introvert, I wasn’t expecting much community prior to my study abroad; I was assuming university life would be mundane. Fortunately, I was proven wrong. The time I spent with my peers was refreshing. The simple fact of chilling together was encouraging as well; I was able to find a small group of friends whom I felt comfortable with. There are many things that I’ll treasure: spontaneous excursions; walks to an off-campus bakery for a cup of milk tea; night bike rides from campus to dorm; awkward moments with unfamiliar dishes; weekly movie nights with a group of friends; and the list goes on. In addition to cultural exposure, my time at Beijing reminded me that friendship changes everything.
Yes, it was tough living in a foreign country, especially with zero language ability. If I could redo my study abroad experience, I would’ve studied Chinese prior to my visit. On the other hand, I am glad that I had zero language skills prior to my semester in Beijing. My helpless situation was humbling and it was a great reminder that I live only by grace. So many people have supported me and I cannot, and should not, take it for granted. My experience in China was valuable because of my peers who showed unconditional assistance. Without them, I would’ve left China with a negative image. The main purpose of studying abroad may be to learn about another country’s culture and policy decision. However, more than academic and cultural knowledge, the community that one can connect to is valuable and, in many cases, life changing.