I have been adapting and becoming a six month citizen rather than just an exchange student. I believe this is a key aspect of cultural immersion, and I wish I could have been able to fully realize the benefits of such a transition earlier. It is very easy to live in your dorm, eat at close by establishment, and hide from the culture as long as you have your laptop and some DVDs. But why would anyone want to do this during such a great opportunity?
Frugality has never been my forte and when it comes to money I still spend like a teenager, but this trip has made me much more aware of the value of money when living on my own. For example, I have stopped just settling on going to restaurants and started grocery shopping and making my own food. I know it does not seem like much of a step to some of those who are more mature, but for me someone making my food has always been a part of my life. I am finding the cheapest prices at stores and looking for the freshest food. It is a growing up experience that I am not able to have at the Academy. I also have a bike that I ride around to get to places that are close. I no longer take taxis or subways and because I know the area so well now I am able to take the bike lanes to where I need to go. It is truly a funny sight to see when I am biking alongside a bunch of Chinese people heading to work and I head to the other campus for class.
I have also continued to contribute to the community and I teach English to kindergarteners at a local school. This particular school employs (I don’t get paid) people like myself with no teaching background, because it is a school for children of migrant workers. Due to the fact that these children and their parents are not Beijing residents they cannot attend Beijing schools. The school set up for them consists of makeshift classes and have little to no funding. I teach the kindergarten level because the other teachers speak no Chinese and those that do are not a fluent as I am. My Chinese is probably the best out of all the teachers at the school, so I was assigned the youngest class of children.
In addition to being a student, citizen, cook, teacher, and midshipman, I now consider myself a Beijing-er. I assigned this title to myself because I truly feel my culture shock has disappeared forever. I admit the first few months were filled with frustration, but now I am truly assimilating into the Beijing culture. I can have long conversations with taxi drivers, order dishes without looking at a menu, drink Chinese rice liquor like a champ, and I am now able to used the swear words in my sentences quite fluently when I am in company that allows for it. I know it seems vulgar, but I feel that a part of assimilating and making foreign friends is talking as they do. There have been nights when I go out with only Chinese speakers and spend five hours at a bar without speaking a word of English. Actually, I have a rough time recalling if conversations were held in English or Chinese anymore. I feel like I am able to get out or at least say whatever I want to say in Chinese and it is not a huge deal to speak it anymore. Listening is still difficult, but I feel like I am getting there.
So what did I just tell you in this entry? Basically, I admitted I curse like a Chinese construction worker and live like I am a Chinese citizen, but that is not all. This entry was to show that no one should have to be confined to being just a foreign exchange student. No one should be confined to the words used in text books or the friends in the dorm. When abroad go out and make real friends from the city, use words the young kids our age say, go on adventures, buy a bike, and live like a citizen! Culture shock is inevitable but it is not indefinite. Right now I fear the culture shock of returning to the Academy more than anything because I have become so accustomed to this lifestyle.
Jordan J. Foley
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