It’s been about a week since I departed from the United States. I moved into my dorm today, with the gracious help of my uncle and cousin. The two of them hauled my luggage from the bus, to the subway, to the train station, to another subway, and in the walking distance to my dorm. The great amount of care and hospitality is on-going from my relatives! Despite the language barrier, I’ve enjoyed every minute spent with family this past week. I have been living with my aunt and uncle, who speak no English, except a few words here and there. My Chinese is very poor, with only a year into learning it. You can imagine the difficulty of communicating sometimes. The language barrier is not only difficult but frustrating, especially when you want to fully express yourself and get to know this family, who shows so much hospitality, on a personal level. There have been a lot of hand motions, pointing, accentuated facial expressions, nodding, and nervous laughter. I am thankful for a translator app that has come in handy for both of us – me and my family. However, the need to communicate about everyday things has helped me learn more than I imagined. Sentences like “You can take a shower now”, “Do you have dirty clothes?”, “We will take a walk around”, “Give me your passport”, “Come eat”, “I understand”, and “I like” have become effortless to say. There is a saying: “Everyone smiles in the same language”. The smile glued on my grandfather’s face when he and my aunt met me at the airport was heartwarming. The effort and concern my aunt had when retrieving my missing luggage was stress-relieving. My extended family (great aunts and uncles) warmly greeted me while big smiles. Of course, mealtime at the family gatherings was overwhelming at times. Asians eat a lot and love to make sure their guests stay well fed and satisfied. It is difficult to take a pause because they will begin putting food on your plate for you! If you reject food, it is as if you are saving them trouble. In this culture, I have found that I should be stern when I am truly full and cannot eat another crumb. Truth is, the constant food offerings from my relatives were an act of care. Every day, my aunt Jing would ask if I had dirty clothes for her to wash. My uncle would teach me Chinese words and characters, despite the language barrier. He is an excellent teacher and smart man. My 25 year old cousin Lili and I would share laughs watching my uncle as he would hold a piece of paper arms length from his face in an effort to read. My Aunt Lin, while busy at work, would text me and assures me of the next day’s plan and that they are taking care of me. This past week, I have been surrounded by constant care of my relatives. I am immensely thankful I have all these people across the globe to care about.
Now I am sitting in my dorm room thinking about how immensely thankful I am to have these people I can call family across the globe. I am all settled in to begin my official study abroad experience. I’ve met several students in the same program as me from all over the United States, and even from Kenya! I must say, it was a strange feeling going from, what I like to call, “Chinglish” conversations with my aunt and uncle, to fluent English conversations with other Americans and the friendly Kenyan student named Joe. I know we are all ready to learn and explore. I aspire to continuously challenge myself with my Chinese speaking. Since I am now with other American students, it can be easy to get back into my comfort zone. I may not be as forced to communicate in Mandarin. However, this is the chance to go out and explore my outside surroundings and learn from one another as we all desire to gain cultural knowledge. Tomorrow morning is orientation, at which we will learn logistics, culture, dining options, university life, etc. It is interesting to be in an American group suddenly after being the only American in your Chinese family. Tomorrow marks the official start of my time at Shanghai University as an international student!