Alright, confession time. I have been putting this off. Only because there is so much to talk about.
Lets start with things I know.
I know that if you are going to a different country with a different language, you’re going to have to accept that you’re not included in every conversation. Even with a group of people that include you.
Unless you are fluent in the language, it’s going to feel ostracizing. And no, they are not doing this to be rude, and yes you might get mad at those people because if they can speak the language you speak why not include you. And maybe you have a point.
But think about that high school Spanish class when your teacher came in speaking exactly zero English, and told you to do the same. Remember how hard it was for you to remember the word for ‘cake’ or ‘bus’ or ‘swimming pool’? Remember how much you just wanted to speak English, you’re native tongue? Sometimes, that’s how it is for your friends.
With that being said, I think it’s ok to feel frustrated. But the reality is, there’s never really a perfect medium for me. Noone here, except some faculty/staff are completely comfortable speaking both languages. I’m lucky, and have a privilege to speak English fluently. Much of academia is taught and passed in English. This school is no exception. All classes are taught in English, and all professors speak it well. They expect the same from students. So what room do I really have to complain?
Well, there’s a ton of things to complain about. Lets start with Banks. I know that should have been figured out before I left.
I left America with close to 100USD in my pocket in cash, and much more on my US Debit Card. I was told that there are many ATMs on campus, and as long as the Card is VISA, I should be able to withdraw RMB.
If you can’t tell, this was not the case.
What little money I had in my pocket, was exchanged at the airport(which charged a way-too-high exchange rate), then went partially to my taxi to the school, and the rest went on my school ID card a.k.a meals.
This left me with oh, 20RMB (aka ~4USD). The exchange rate is 1USD= 6.3~RMB. Which is nice, except you pay about 80RMB for a shirt, or 20RMB for a slice of cheesecake at the supermarket. Not to say that the cost of living here is much cheaper than America, but the money goes fast if you don’t watch it.
So I had to figure out how the hell to get money into my hands, because I had two suitcases full of clothes and toiletries but no blankets or pillows or hangers or bodywash or –
You get me?
The solution came in the form of, you’re not gonna believe, another bank. I just had to use another friggin atm. This took me 3 days to figure out. And 3 days without money or bedding in another country feels like 3 weeks, lemme tell ya. And its still not a perfect system because I have to go 20 min off campus to use this ATM and its a hassle. I have to make sure I don’t look sloppy (because oh hey a black person? lemme obviously take pictures and video of them) and I have to go with people because I don’t know the bus system by heart. But at least something works.
I know that I am a brash American.
Even though my family is very international, I have a big mouth and loud laugh. I am shushed daily. And many people, women especially, I can see are put off by it. People find it funny when I tell them I have a hard time going up to people here and just talking. They laugh at me.
I find myself being quieter to make people more comfortable around me, to fit in. Which I hate, if you know me. I don’t like editing my personality for someone else.
And yet, I sit quiet until someone talks to me directly at every event. This does have its perks, though. I listen more, and think deeply. I try to let other know that I don’t care how ‘bad’ their English is, they have an idea and I wanna hear it.
Its not like I’m the only one like this. Other American students here have said the same thing. We’ve noticed that the Chinese students here can sit in silence easily, while we squirm in it. Its a very telling trait. So we talk over each other, say nonsense, almost get too loud;We do anything to fill it up.
Which led me to know that culture shock can go die in hell.
I knew I would get it, we all knew I would get it. But I really and truly was not prepared for it. My god.
You know that feeling when you could cry at the drop of a hat? Imagine that about 24/7. My friends with clinical anxiety/depression get me. Its the combination of not knowing the language feeling like you’re 3 years old again, knowing that you’re personality is getting smaller and oh, not having friends. And if its not any of those, you feel stupid. Because you’re all ‘Why am I crying? People are nice here! I have bedding¹ now!’ You’re in a different country and everything is unfamiliar and strange, that’s why you’re crying.
But it’s ok. You’re not going to phase into a shell of a human, I know it feels like that. There are bright moments that get brighter and you feel yourself. Focus on those, at least I try to.
The thing that kills me the most is probably the fact that body-positivism is scarce. I’ve found a club that is all about it, but casual conversations throw me sometimes. For example, this whole week has been orientation events where you introduce yourself and get to know one another. At least 5 people have said they are so glad they aren’t fat anymore. Which is fine! What happens next though is strange. People almost cheer when they say it. They use ‘fat’ like it’s a bad word.
The ones I already have, that is. I packed my favorite combos of outfits, although I was scared I wouldn’t pack enough. but I still have plenty of outfits left, not having to repeat or take pants out of the hamper* once. And I feel good in them. Cute, even. Luckily I’m at a place where I can look in the mirror and feel cute without much effort. I can see in ads and TV how much more its about white skin and thin bodies here. At least in America, plus size bodies are moving into mainstream media. Here its like you have to do a deep web search to find anything.
Finally, I know that this anxiety will pass. I keep reminding myself that the feeling wont be forever. Classes start tomorrow, and routine will be good for me. I also am working hard to keep my sense of humor alive³. Plus, I did bring my paints with me. “Why did you bring your paints and not body wash?” Because priorities ok?
Even though I may not have a ton of friends, and some people here may hate me, I am not ever going to be everyone’s favorite. I just have to be my favorite. In a sense. Is that weird? Narcissistic? Whatever.
This semester will be amazing. There I said it. Now it has to come true.