Where to begin? I have neglected updating my blog for a while now. My apologies. I find myself thinking about updating it more than I currently do, but I come up with excuses not to. The biggest excuse being that there is nothing to post about. That isn’t true. I just haven’t wanted to sit down and organize the thoughts in my head. I have lots of things I could write about…
“Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes but when you look back everything is different…”
It has been over a year since I moved to China, which means I am halfway done with my Peace Corps service. Despite only living in China for just over a year, there have been so many experiences…and change. Change has happened mentally, physically, and emotionally. We all know change is inevitable in life. Especially when you move to another country and immerse yourself into a culture different from your own.
When I reflect back on the past year there have been many smaller changes that occurred that I didn’t really realize until now. Or, at least, they didn’t seem like changes that would have a great impact. However, sometimes we experience bigger changes, or a lot of change, happening at one time. I’ve found this causes feelings of unease, stress, and hopelessness.
Being that this summer marked the halfway point of my Peace Corps service, I am beginning to process everything that happened during my first year. I had many ups and downs, and positive and negative experiences. I would say there were more good days than bad, but there were days when I questioned what I was doing here. Thankfully, that feeling doesn’t last too long.
I returned from my summer travels on August 18th. I was excited to be back in my own apartment, in my own bed. My return to site was more emotional than I anticipated. I was anxious to get back to Lanzhou because my summer was busy and exhausting. As I headed to my apartment from the bus stop I walked along the side street to my university. As I passed the restaurants and small convenient stores I usually visit, I was instantly greeted by all of the owners. Even though I live in the capital city of Gansu Province, the area I live does not have many foreigners. I still stick out when I walk around my community, and people are always curious as to what I’m doing when I am out and about. This particular day was no different. The following day I went out into my community to do my “I’m back at home and need things” errands. I bought vegetables from my vegetable lady, ate lunch at my favorite Muslim street food vendor, and enjoyed a cold milk tea at a local coffee shop. At each place the people who I’ve come to know over this past year happily greeted me. I didn’t think they were ever actually interested in me, since we had never really had in-depth conversations or interactions. So when I was doing my errands and seeing these people who I see on a regular basis, I didn’t think they’d be interested I was back in town. I was wrong. They were. They all asked about my summer holiday, where I traveled, what I saw, and if I was glad to be back in Lanzhou.
Now that I have started my second year in China I am finding myself more comfortable in my community. My language skills have improved to where I can hold a stimulating conversation for thirty minutes or more without any problems. Because of this I feel more relaxed interacting with the people I see every week. I am not as nervous to put myself out into the community and strike up conversations. When I do this, people become more interested in who I am as a person, not just why I live in Lanzhou. This year, I want to take more risks in order to have incredible experiences in my China life.
“Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.” – Dalai Lama
Of course, sometimes taking risks leads to unavoidable struggles and challenges. As I mentioned, I’ve had my fair share of struggles and changes in the past year. These range from teaching struggles, integration and language challenges, health issues, lack of confidence, loss connections with people, and missing major events back home. Sometimes it is really tough being so far from my family and close friends. For those who know me well is well aware that my family is a close-knit group of people. It is hard not to be when you have four brothers, four sisters, and two (well, very soon I will have two) nephews. Thank goodness for technology! Being able to send messages and video chat has been one way that shortens the distance between us all. Though I am half way around the world from my family, I have been able to find a new family as a Peace Corps Volunteer. My fellow volunteers are all wonderful and inspiring people. Being that we are all away from our friends and family, we find that missing comfort in each other. They are truly a useful resource during times of struggle. They have helped me come to several realizations about my service and myself in general.
Living and teaching in China has made me realize that I find joy in living abroad. I enjoy being immersed in a culture that isn’t as familiar as my own. I like learning the language, and using it to help adopt a new way of life. Building relationships with people in the community gives me a sense of pleasure. And, living abroad forces independence, vulnerability, and the willingness to try new things. It isn’t always relaxing or comfortable. A lot of mistakes are made, but it does result in personal understanding and growth. I am eager to see what happens this next year.
This second year will go fast. I know that. At this point, I am starting to stress about what I will do once my service is complete. There are so many options, and I often feel at a loss. I knew I was going to apply for the Peace Corps my senior year of high school. I had a goal. I started at Gustavus knowing I would graduate in three years, which meant I could begin the Peace Corps application my second year. The Peace Corps was my inspiration and motivation throughout college. But now I don’t have that strong motivator. Like most, I figured the Peace Corps would lead me to my “life calling”. It hasn’t. If anything, it has made things more complicated. There are numerous possibilities, and thinking about those is beyond stressful. I wish I had answers right now, but I know it will take time. All I know is I don’t need to have it all figured out to move forward. I can be a little confused and a little lost. And that is okay. Eventually I will figure it out.
Until then, I will continue enjoying my life here in China. Hanging out with my students. Learning Chinese. Being the best teacher I can be. Practicing yoga. And exploring.
[Qinghai Lake, Qinghai Province ~ August 2014]
Last pictures from Summer Project 2014! We’ve completed the two weeks of teacher training here in MinLe, Gansu. I was sick for the majority of it and ended up not teaching this week Monday to Wednesday. Here in China I seem to easily catch viral infections. Thankfully I’m feeling much better now, which is good because I have a long travel journey ahead of me today.
This afternoon I’ll hop on a 30 hour train ride to Chengdu, Sichuan. I’ll pick up my friend Monday afternoon and we’ll spend a few days in Chengdu before headed down to Yunnan province for some fun travels! We’ll be visiting Kunming, Dali, Lijiang and climbing Tiger Leaping Gorge! It should be a fun-filled, yet exhausting, 2 1/2 weeks! After she returns to the U.S. I’ll head back up to site and prepare to start teaching my third semester!
I’ll also be saying 再见 for the time being to Mike. He’s done with his Peace Corps service on Tuesday and will begin his adventures home shortly after. It will be very different not having him around for my second year! I’m excited to meet and get to know the China 20s. We’re hoping they are sending a fair number up to Gansu.
I am still amazed at how fast time is going by. I’m down to less than a year before I’ll move onto the next chapter of life. I have no idea what I’ll do, but I have a few different ideas I’m thinking about. We’ll see what happens.
But now! I’m off to head to the big city and enjoy some Western food and coffee!
I’ve been here in China for a little over a year now! To celebrate my one year mark in China, as well as Mike and I’s birthdays, we headed over to Shaangxi province to climb the famous Mount Hua （华山). It is considered one of China’s more dangerous mountains to climb. Read about it here if you’re interested! We started climbing around 10:30 in the morning and reached the top in the middle of the afternoon. We stayed overnight on the mountain so we could watch the sunrise the next morning. Unfortunately, it started to rain on Saturday and continued until Sunday morning. We still got out of bed at 4:30 to sit on “sunrise peak” in hopes we could see a little bit of the sunrise, but the clouds and fog were too thick.
After we went down the mountain we headed back into Xi’an, one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China (also home of the famous Terracotta Army), to explore the city for a day. We rented a tandem bicycle to ride on top of the city walls, visited a Walmart where I could buy peanut butter and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, explored the park area of the Wild Goose Pagoda and Muslim district, ate delicious Indian food and enjoyed a Dairy Queen blizzard.
All in all, it was a wonderful trip and a fantastic way to celebrate my halfway point in my Peace Corps service. I take off for Summer Project and summer traveling in about a week or so. A good friend from Gustavus is trekking across the ocean to come visit me before she moves to Canada for grad school!
More pictures to come soon, I promise!
Recent pictures from my first spring in Lanzhou. Pictures include, my Peace Corps bestie (Kelly)…we bought matching fleeces. It is common to see couples or best friends wearing the same clothing, so we thought we’d do the same!
I made eggplant parmesan the other week because I had been craving it for months! It turned out delicious.
My hair is getting really long since I haven’t cut it in a year. I’m thinking once the semester is done I’ll chop a little off…we’ll see how they can handle the curly mess that is my hair.
I made cute vases out of my yogurt bottles. They’re super cute, but I need to get some plants or flowers to put in them.
Mike and I went to the Mexican restaurant that opened here in Anning. It is run by a Mexican couple that teach at his university. The food was so delicious that we went back the next day!
…and a cute elephant that is near the Lanzhou Wetland Park!
I’ve got about three more weeks of my semester, then it is summer vacation for me!
This past Saturday Peace Corps Volunteers and local business women from Lanzhou hosted a Women’s Conference at Lanzhou University of Finance and Economics.
A fellow volunteer and myself led a session about body image and how to increase our self-confidence as women. The entire day was filled with different sessions, hosted by both Peace Corps Volunteers and local Chinese business women. It was the first year we held the conference and it went great! We will host another one next spring!
These four beautiful women are some of my students who attended the day-long conference!