Grateful.

It is truly a beautiful thing to be able to be in your twenties and to travel.

You’re only obligated to yourself, you’re living out your passions and creating new ones… the world is at your feet and you’re going to learn new things about yourself in the most unsuspecting ways.

It is absolutely beautiful what I am being exposed to here… so much culture, so many people from different walks of life and mindsets. So many endless possibilities if I open myself up to them!

I’m very grateful that I can live this out while being productive in terms of my future career goals at the same time.

Life is Good!

Life is Good!

 

 


Posted in Black in China, CET Harbin, Challenges, China, Grateful, Harbin, life lessons, Travel, Twenties and Traveling, Young | Leave a comment

Un portable…enfin!

I’ve spent many an hour searching online for the best cell phone plan  and I found Free Mobile. Unfortunately though, Free Mobile’s website is a piece of $h&@. I was able to purchase a SIM card and the first month of service. Then the second go around when I tired to purchase a phone, the company redirected me and annuled my transaction yet still posted charges to my bank account. I was worried that I was stuck. After much frustration, I discovered that I could buy an unlocked  dumbphone  at FNAC- France’s version of Best Buy. So I have a phone! I inserted the SIM card from Free Mobile and my new phone is up and running. I’d just like to warn anyone who might require a new phone in Europe, it’s complicated!

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Learning the ropes

I’ve had a great couple of weeks in France. My French class started on Monday but my  international studies courses haven’t begun, thus I’ve had plenty of time. Primarily, I’ve been getting to know the other six people in my program. I’m glad to report that they are equally as curious about other cultures. Better still, they are equally as passionate about travelling as I am. As a group, we’ve been to many of the famous spots in the city.  We’re eager to venture off the beaten path as well.

Navigating Paris is like navigating most big cities; there are metro lines criss-crossing everywhere and endless winding streets and grand boulevards. In essence, one could easily become overwhelmed or lost without a little planning. Our orientation leader armed us with a thousand maps, but I’ve come to rely on my sense of direction and it has served me well. I now can swipe my Navigo pass (unlimited metropolitan transit for a month) and be on my way. I have found some of the best places to shop and eat.

I have eaten lots of delicious foods, including some that I’m unfamiliar with. The first night of orientation for example, I had avocado spinach soup, red wine, and roast duck at a marvelous Art Nouveau restaurant. Then a few days later, we went to a Basque restaurant. I didn’t recognize anything on the menu so I picked tripe. It turns out that was intestines. Most of the time, I stick to a more simple palette consisting of produce, bread and cheese from the supermarket.  Prices are quite high coming from America, so a simple menu keeps me within budget. I will admit that I have made some splurges, such as the delicious crossiants aux amandes that I had one morning.

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In Harbin!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014 10:35 PM

二零一四年。九月。二号。 星期二
In Harbin!
在哈如宾!

I finally landed in Harbin at 7 PM earlier on tonight.

Before my flight, I was really feeling the feelings… My little brother dropped me off at the airport, helped me bring my things in, restrained me when I started asking the flight attendant how checking out two bags for free on an international flight magically changed as a rule overnight, restrained me again as I bitterly paid the extra $100.00, and wished me well when we finally parted ways.

As I walked away, I admit, I was starting to tear up and was blinking them back feverishly, saying to myself, “This is not the time. This is not the time. This is not the time.” It was even tougher when I had to speak to my Mom over the phone.

-_- 啊呀。。。

Of course, I’d unintentionally run into ways to amuse myself. I enjoyed Face booking from my phone, using every bit of time that I had left before I was going to encounter the Great Firewall of China…aka…China blocks Facebook and you must use…other…means for it to be accessible. VPN power! I made my way to the gate to wait to board my flight from IAD and couldn’t help but notice… that it felt like I was back in China! There were many Chinese people, a sprinkle of white people, and only one black person (myself).

中国式 !哈哈! Felt like home. Haha.

Well. My Gulliver’s Travels began with a 13-hour flight from IAD to Beijing, then a 2-hour flight from Beijing to Harbin. The first 13-hour flight wasn’t bad. I thought I had been permanently spoiled from the last business class treatment but apparently not. This flight was very comfortable. I kept myself very busy and FOR ONCE, I was wearing the right comfort clothes. That last bit made ALL the difference!

The ONLY thing that made me raise my eyebrow over the Beijing to Harbin flight was security… And, yes, you guessed it! It involved my clippers!!! I didn’t have enough space so I put my new clipper set in my book bag. They didn’t have a problem with it in the U.S…but in China? They opened up my brand new clipper box and pulled them out and my eyebrow went UP…

….like…I gave him the People’s Eyebrow. That’s how much attitude was in that eyebrow raise. You ALL should know by now… I was NOT going to let there be a Part 2 of Suzhou without my clippers! The first pair were $80 and the second pair were in the same range. No sir! I was ready to engage in arm-to-arm combat if I had to!

Seriously. The tone that I took … Anyway. I got my clippers…but he took my scissors that came with the clippers. That was truly a 真的吗!? “REALLY!?” moment. He just calmly responded to my questions and attempts to keep my scissors. Finally, I just shut up… he didn’t care about my struggle. Not even a little bit.

啊呀!

All that madness aside…the flights were not bad at all. For the first flight, the entire time, I

Almost done with the first one. Glad I came prepared with a second one!

Almost done with the first one. Glad I came prepared with a second one!

was journaling. So much happened in the last three weeks while I was at home… very important things that I didn’t want to lose track of. Both the good and bad had become very fond memories for me because of the realizations that I had about myself from both angles.

On the flight, several Chinese people came up to me and said that I had 漂亮 handwriting. Ha! I was flattered…but I couldn’t help but wonder if they could read what I was writing. O_O I proceeded to cover my writing for the rest of the flight…I noticed my seatmate glancing over at my writing more than once. Heck, I wrote more than twenty pages. I think the whole plane had noticed that all I had done for 13 hours was write, write, and write some more. (It was funny seeing the aisles crowded with elderly Chinese people, stretching their legs out and either ignoring or not understanding the flight attendant ladies howling that they needed to stop blocking the aisle and get back to their seats.)

When my hand was tired, I went back to read some of my old entries… and realized how much I had matured in some aspects. Just seeing those changes in myself encourages me to keep writing. Many have advised me to maintain a journal and I definitely intend to continue writing.

Ever since Taiwan, I’ve been writing a lot in my journal. When I first got it, I went a whole two years barely writing in it… going abroad has certainly given me a lot to think about and reflect on….even when I’ve come back to the U.S. for a bit. With every new challenge, with every galling and good experience, with every unexpected surprise that I never even could consider I’d ever experience personally, I’ve matured and changed in some way.

If you know me well enough, I pride myself on being mindful and being meaningful. I don’t want to just go through life…even if I’m bitching and complaining, Even that, I want to be something that I can be mindful of in the moment or reflect on later. It all matters because there hasn’t been even one time where I haven’t reflected on an action I’d taken – good or bad – that didn’t serve to inform me in some way.   I always appreciate that – even if, at times, it takes some time for me to be able to appreciate it.

So. Goodness! Right now…here I am… ready to start living a different life. This feels like Part 2… and in many ways it is exactly that. I wasn’t prepared for a lot of what went on in Suzhou. Not at all…the only preparation that I had was the ability to be perceptive, the ability to seek out perspective, and the ability to stand up for myself. Though…at the time, it felt mostly like the ability to be angry and emotionally and physically exhausted all of the time. (And, rightfully so, in my opinion).

I would be in big trouble if I was never able to recognize when I needed perspective. I appreciated the time and space that familiar surroundings provided in order for me to attain that perspective. Now I’ve got all the perspective that I can handle…and I am determined…no matter the highs and lows, to make this year a year where I come out attaining my goals to significantly improve my Chinese and to enjoy learning about Chinese culture.

Heck, I’ve added some other goals to the pot….before I ever came to China, my goals were those of someone who’d never been to China before : “I want to learn Chinese and attain an advanced level of proficiency and want to experience the diversity of China.” While those are great goals, those goals become much more meaningful when you’ve got some experience under your belt…the goals become more specific and you recognize what areas you want to specifically develop more than others…rather than just having a general idea.

Now, I want to learn about China because I want it to become like home. Before I came to China, I didn’t understand what that meant, thinking that I did. Now I do. It is this ability to be specific about my goals in terms of career advancement and my goals in terms of personal advancement that will help me to make China home and encourage me to maintain perspective no matter the challenge that I face. I am interested in seeing how I grow in terms of handling conflict under good and bad pressure that I wasn’t born and bred to understand.

Harbin is certainly different…but I have not yet seen Harbin in the daytime so I look forward to that. The night is nice with a nice cool breeze. America can keep the heatstroke. Barely got to IAD alive! So far, I’ve met my Resident Assistant (RA). He picked me up from the Harbin airport once I had landed. Franklin, is first generation Nigerian American.

On the cab ride over to On the way over, Franklin told me that there are students of different ages here…the oldest are PhD students who are here for a month crash course in language training for to conduct research in China with the Fulbright grant. He asked me if I had studied Mandarin before and that started a discussion about my success in attaining the CLS, Fulbright, and Boren Awards.

As most people are, he was shocked that I turned down a Fulbright and asked why I wanted to study in Harbin? I told him that in the long run, using my time to attain language proficiency will help me to be able to conduct my own research once I reapply for a research grant with the Fulbright. Like Mr. Craig Allen said at the CLS orientation…you cannot rely on a translator. Translators can have their own agenda and intentionally miscommunicate your message during important negotiations. Because you don’t understand how to navigate the cultural streams of China, you are not mindful of the cultural nuances in order to truly function in the environment that you’re trying to research. To what extent are you truly conducting research under those circumstances? Not by much. On top of that, you don’t have the respect of the people that you’re trying to get answers from. In some cultures, more than others…proving that you can communicate is paramount!

Now is the time, while I have no wrinkles around my eyes, to live in dorms, backpack for hours until I can’t feel my legs, hang out in bars, and just travel without out any obligation to anyone but myself…and to do it all while speaking Mandarin. There is no better time than now to learn another language…everything else will have to wait for now. J (Including my Mom’s claims that I should be married by now..like everyone else.) Haha!

Franklin asked me, “Why Harbin?” Well. Everyone goes to Shanghai, Nanjing, Beijing. Everyone! There is something to be said to be a Ghanaian American woman learning to function in an area that most people do not think of when they think of China. Combined with my attentiveness to cultural sensitivity, I have the opportunity to develop solid cross cultural communication skills. Learning Mandarin is never JUST about speaking the language…you speak the language in order to inform yourself so that you can get below the surface in ways that you would never had been able to if you had a translator next to you.

As we neared the dorm building, he then told me, 现在你开始说中文。大家说中文。Me: 好的。每天我说继续斗。。。可是 真的。。。学中文太难了!

I’ve met my roommate… her English… MAN. LOL If I can speak Chinese as well as she speaks English after the first semester, I’ll be happy. Haha! I really like her though… she is dead serious about keeping to the language pledge and I appreciate that. Tonight, I’ve had nothing but conversations with her in Mandarin. She’s been patient with me and said that I was weird for knowing how to read and write significantly better than my listening and speaking. She said it is usually the other way around…not the first time I‘ve heard that one. I appreciate that she is excited to help me adjust here.

Ok. Here’s an “all in my feelings moment.”

Not that I don’t always take notice of this, but I have been realizing just how deeply people believe in me. I always say that I appreciate that but I can’t begin to say just how much. I know that I don’t talk to a lot of people too often, but I appreciate that they know – like I know – that there is a mutual appreciation between us. It is truly a beautiful thing when people believe in you and are interested in your growth. Sometimes you don’t always believe in yourself and it is good to have people remind you of what you already know of yourself: that you are resilient, that you are strong, and that you’ve got this no matter what challenge gets in your face. For someone like me, believing in myself is damn important because I had to learn the hard way that attitude is everything long before I stepped foot in China.

So, I will continue to do everything that I need to do to ensure that Shirley remains confident, resilient, and ready to get shit done. And with a newfound view of ‘failure’ in mind, I can do it! J

All I know is that I tend to learn best when I am dropped in the middle of something… the whole “sink or swim”/ “Are you choosing to survive or die on the side of the street” mindset tends to work on me.

Always trying to inflict pain on myself. Haha!

Wait.

I have to talk about one last hilarious thing. I think I’ve already got a bit of exposure to Harbin already. Hahaha!! On my flight from Beijing to Harbin, I sat next to an elderly Russian couple. The husband had, literally, no filter. He told the attendant that he didn’t want the dinner she was handing out because. He said, “you know your food is bad.” And he repeated himself to ensure that she heard him…then called her back to collect his wife’s tray. She says, “I don’t need this”, and he’s like, “What kind of food is this?” THEN when we get off of the flight, he starts scolding this Chinese man who cut in front of me… “She was there first, you need to back up.” The Chinese man ignores him… the Russian man keeps talking, even after I get my stuff. Then another Chinese man …says something messed up judging from how red his face was. The Chinese man was, literally, in the Russian man’s face, pointing his finger in his face, telling him to… who knows. Likely telling him to ‘shove it’.

I beat it like Michael Jackson. O_o It was time for me to go.


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Goodbye Everyone! Off to Harbin I go!

Sunday, August 31, 2014 9:30 PM
** Will date every blog with the time and date because I am 12 hours ahead of everyone in the East Coast!**

Alright. This time around, I am headed to Harbin to continue working to attain an advanced level professional proficiency in Mandarin while simultaneously learning how to navigate the cultural streams of China. This time, it’s gonna be my blood, sweat, and tears, I’m sure. This program, in particular, is very rigorous! That’s why I’m going! I am always up for putting myself through varying degrees of Hell to see if can sink or swim, survive or starve, etc etc. At least, that has been the pattern so might as well admit to having a thing for it, right? Haha.

I need to be beaten into the ground until I start to drag myself back up to my feet, spitting out blood and teeth, while simultaneously cursing in Mandarin – not in English. (With my Dirty Chinese book in hand, I’ll be a pro in no time!) It is only then that I will know that I have finally learned Chinese. Instantly cursing in a different language under the pressure of excruciating amounts of pain will definitely prove to you whether or not you’re getting the hang of a language or not. Haha!

Spitting out blood and teeth aside…

As I mentioned, I will be studying in Harbin until May 2015. Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT) is one of the C9 schools in China. Also known as one of the most prestigious universities on Mainland China! I’m honored to be able to attend the CET Harbin program. If you know me well enough, you know that I did a lot of research on this program, the people – everything. Even on the cracks in the Harbin sidewalks.

One of the things that excites me the most is the diversity…Harbin is extremely diverse! Located in the northeastern part of China, heavily influenced by Russian culture. This is evident in the architecture and in the people. There are Russians here, Koreans, Jewish people, and Chinese. Who thinks of China when they hear something like this? Not many. So, that is exciting…to learn to function in an environment that is different.

I’m going to miss everyone! I’m glad to have an opportunity to see just how much I mature from being out here on my own.

This should be an interesting ride for so many reasons.

Below is my goodbye video! This was a nice change of pace! :-)

 


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Paris dans la pluie

I arrived in Paris on Monday,  at 11 AM local time (5 AM) after zero sleep.  My luggage is ridiculous unfortunately,  so it was a challenge getting to the hostel. It was raining then,  and still is now. And,  of course, there was my usual leg pain to top it all. On the bright side,  a French man saw me struggling on the metro.  So he insisted on lugging both of my bags through the station, on to the next train,  up the stairs and several blocks to my hostel.  Quelle chance (what luck)!  And he told me “ici,  les gens aident quelqu’un juste pour être gentilles.” That day I explored the neighborhood and the Place de la Concorde area.  Today I walked all around the Rue de Rivoli and the Galleries Lafayette. To eat: un peu de Camembert,  du taboule et du pain. I am confident that despite any trials,  this will be a good semester.

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Finality

I’ve been putting this off for a while now. Exactly why, I can’t tell you. I left Germany only a few days after I left Berlin, so I guess you could say there are a lot of reasons. The most obvious one being, I didn’t have anything else to write about. I had a lovely last few days with Sabine, saw my friends a lot, and just was finally actually… Ecstatic about being in Germany, but that’s all something you’ve heard about before. I think it’s a combination of a lot of things. It’s the fact I wanted to be able to sum up all I thought about the experience. It’s because I was too lazy to write anything. It’s because I wanted to have fun for the few days I had of break before I went back to UMW. There’s a lot of reasons, and I don’t think any single one of them explains my reluctance to write this. But taken together, as well as an overabundance of other reasons I can’t even explain consciously, this made me so unwilling to really sit down, and write something. But, I’ll try.

Germany. The land of beer and pretzels, at least, that’s what everyone called it on my Facebook when they were talking to me during the semester abroad. It’s an interesting country, filled to the brim with idiosyncrasies that both fascinate you, and frustrate you to the utmost extent. To closing all stores on Sunday, to the undeniably well run public transportation systems, to a million other things that I find both absolutely abhorrent, and lovable when compared to how things are run in the US, Germany is unique. I will give it that.

I think that I had a rough start. And I’ve been down this road a million times on this blog, but it’s true. I was in a really bad place when I first came here, and it made it difficult to make friends and really find how to orient myself to Germany. I became disillusioned with my ability to master the German language, I felt alienated from even my American compatriots, and unable to leave my room when I knew I should.

But that’s not all of it, and it’s not even close to the most of it. I eventually got out of my rut, and made the best of my situation. Out of everything, and I hope this doesn’t offend any potential Germans that read this, I loved the food the most. The MEAT, is absolutely mindblowing. See, you can make a burger only a few ways. The Germans have somehow perfected the art of cooking sausages and pork a million different, unique, and delicious ways, that makes every culinary adventure a delight. I saw Berlin, one of the most incredibly experiences of my life, and spent it with a wonderful girl, and feel as though even though I don’t “believe” in travel for self-enlightenment, that I had an experience that affected me on a fundamental level. And I made friends that I probably won’t ever talk to much again, that were different than most of the people I’m used to talking to at UMW.

The point being, summing up my experiences abroad is more than difficult. There are conflicting timelines, and emotions. If the beginning of the semester was like the end, it would have been an experience I would have enjoyed more. That being said, the beginning was so heart wrenching, that it’s hard to reconcile it with how great it was in the end. I’m divided.

And I guess that in the end, I never loved being in Germany just because I was there. That much will always be true. I went because I wanted to learn German, and that’s what a young, sophisticated, culturally relevant human of the 21st century is supposed to do: re-examine their own life’s conditions by comparing and contrasting the unique facts of a different culture. So I did. I think that in the end, I hated what I found for so long, because I went for the wrong reasons.

I still believe travel is a fool’s paradise. I’ve said that a million times, and I’ll definitely say it again. But as Hemingway said in “A Moveable Feast”:

Never go on trips with anyone you do not love.

And that’s the heart of it, at least I think. I never felt a real connection to anyone, because that’s the nature of relationships you meet when abroad. They’re single-serving friends, for a few months, before you never see them again. Travel may be beneficial to those eager to see the world, but I never had the inclination. And I never felt close enough to anyone to really branch out and experience Germany until the end, and the experiences I had at the end were honestly quite delightful. I had Kloesse, for Christ’s sake, and ate raw meat, and went on incredibly unsafe carnival rides, and saw Berlin, and looked out upon Erfurt under the lights of the city and stars for hours with Sabine, because it was what I wanted to do. And that is because I was with someone I cared about, and felt comfortable experiencing things with.

But I don’t think those experiences are necessary for growth. Any action, advancements, or even setbacks, all lead to changing who we are, for better or for worse. So when you think about the United States, a country that has an overabundance of different cultures within a singular State, I don’t think “travel” in the laymen’s sense is what’s needed for growth. I agree travel changes you, as it definitely will. It forces you to adapt to a set of circumstances outside of your comfort zone, and makes you the better, or worse for it. But you don’t need to leave your own continent to do so.

I digress. This is becoming more of a polemic about the metaphysical necessity of travel than anything else. I think the point I was trying to make by defining that fact is that I don’t regret going to Germany. But I’m not so sure I would go again if I knew how it was going to be before I left. And that’s the heart of it. There’s a distinct tension between the disappointment of the beginning, and the wonderment of the end, and I don’t know if there’s a real right answer about it.

I can’t tell you what I’ve learned. I’m too close to the situation. It’s weird, you always look back at your life when you’re older, and you can always identify what you learned from certain important experiences, even though you don’t truly realize how they shape you when you’re going through it. I can’t tell you right now how this changed me, but it definitely did, and I’m pretty confident it was for the better, even if it wasn’t a walk in the park. So, the end of my Thueringen Travels is rather ambiguous. And I think that’s acceptable, if anything.

So I’ll end with this: travel, if you want to. But do not get caught up in the romanticized notion of travel as a necessity. At the risk of sounding cliche, trite, and all too Emersonian, all life is a voyage, if you treat it like the adventure it truly is.

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Five days until takeoff…

Today is Tuesday, August 19. I’ve been sitting with my laptop most of the day, looking at degree requirements and career sites for a while, then later metro maps and my flight itinerary. This morning my brother caught a flight to Florida to begin his first year of college.  I’ll begin my own odyssey soon as well. In five days, I leave for Paris. I am studying abroad for the first semester of my senior year of college. While I wouldn’t quite describe myself as nervous, I do have a few qualms:

1) Are my French skills adequate, and will I be able to converse with locals?

2) Will I miss the people I love at UMW?

3) Can I balance my academic responsibilities with exploring and having a nightlife?

4) Will my leg problems curtail my adventures?

How will I address these challenges? Only time will tell. For now, I’m off to pack.

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‘Tis the Truth!: 16 Reasons You Have More Game When You’re Bilingual

Especially when you’re not expected to be able to speak a LICK of Chinese! People are always shocked to know that I can understand and even speak some Chinese. Flawed-and-Imperfect-4

There are advantages to this that just help me overlook a lot of the growing pains of learning to adjust to China.

怎么办!

Haha!

http://www.buzzfeed.com/h2/fbsp/rosettastone/reasons-you-have-more-game-when-youre-bilingual

Also… a nice skill set that’ll come in handy too!http://www.buzzfeed.com/h2/fbca/rosettastone/11-reasons-bilingual-people-are-owning-all-of-us


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继续奋斗。。。”The Struggle Continues…”: Things Chinese People Say to Black People

啊呀!!!I recently started to follow a page on Facebook titled “Black in China.” I’ve enjoyed following the posts and experiences of black people in China. I think that this video in particular…REALLY captures the black experience in China. Extremely well. Did I say, “Extremely well?!”

Haha! I’ll admit, in China… a lot of the time I was not amused – at all – when people shouted certain things at me. Can you imagine people calling you “black person!” as you walk by?
It helped to remind myself that I was likely the first black person some Chinese people had seen. In addition, when you factor in the perceptions of beauty, you get some of the other comments that this young man mentions in the video as well. Comments such as “Chinese women don’t like black skin, they like white skin!” is said in the classroom. During the times that I took a step back to really observe the perceptions of black people…it’s been really shocking.

… a struggle is  a struggle and the black experience in China is certainly a struggle that takes some time to adjust to. This video, though, is HILARIOUS for the fact that I have seen, witnessed, and encountered a lot of this myself. Of course, perceptions of black men are different from perceptions of black women.

Maybe I should make my own video? Hmm….

Enjoy! #黑人!! #继续奋斗!!


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