Until age twelve, I visited China every year with my family. The China of my childhood was a distinctly older and less developed country than the United States. Preparing for my departure in Spring of 2015, my base expectation was to understand new, modern China, as I knew that I was diving into a transitional time where old Chinese culture collides with explosive new growth.
No amount of hypothesizing could have prepared me for my actual experience during my year abroad there. I became fluent in Chinese, opening an entire new realm of opportunities after I complete my education. Upon arrival, I was immersed in a new China far flung from my childhood memories. The dusty old buildings of a bygone era had fallen to skyscrapers of glass and steel, tributes to an unrelenting pursuit of modernity. I found an internship at a non-profit organization, TEDxBeijing, where I was exposed to an extremely diverse and international group of colleagues. My experience at TEDxBeijing, nestled perfectly within the highly cosmopolitan Beijing ecosystem, led me to understand new China as a truly international culture.
I was very surprised at the potential for a career in China after graduation. Thanks to my year abroad and my learned proficiency in Chinese, new China’s vibrant wealth of opportunities are now only a plane flight away. The clash of new China and the 5,000-year-old culture it is enveloping was a fascinating thing to witness.
Despite this amazing experience, my year abroad was not without challenges. The people of urbanized China regularly experience prolonged periods of heavy air pollution. Experiencing this in person, rather than from the comfort of an international studies course in the US, fostered in me a great deal of understanding for the everyday struggles of the Chinese people. Through my time in new China, I came to a fundamentally new understanding of myself as both American and Chinese. My time in a completely foreign nation with its own unique culture reinforced my American self-concept. At the same time my immersion through language and experience allowed me to better understand that part of me is distinctly Chinese. Just as China as a nation is coming to realize it’s dual culture of growth and antiquity, my time there helped me see myself as both Chinese and American.