Most people wait until the end of their lives before they live. They never get to feel the thrill of life in their youth. They always try to play it safe and make wise decisions; always leveraging their opportunities on a scale of preference. Forgoing greatness for mediocrity. But this was never going to be me. You can say that chasing opportunities will get you into a lot of trouble; disappointments, heart breaks, financial loss, or even physical loss, but when you finally acquire what you were chasing, the feeling is worth every disaster.
You see, my childhood was not a very special one. Though there were some beautiful memories, the horrifying ones always found a way to haunt me and in my quest to escape, I created some crazy mental adventures and fantasies that kept me going. However, my going to China could be described as my craziest adventure yet.
It all started after a really terrible accident that shattered both my physical and mental health. I was left with a feeling of emptiness, longing desperately for a change in my environment. I wanted so badly to experience a new life. I began searching for opportunities to study abroad. I must have applied for about 20 or more scholarships and other opportunities to study abroad that my brother started calling me “the professional applicant”. What was worse, I didn’t get accepted to any of these universities or scholarship programs. Then in December, 2014, I got a call from a friend at the Ministry of Education. He said “there’s a scholarship opportunity to study for a Master’s degree in China and I think you should apply”. After we spoke, I reluctantly checked the Ministry’s website for the requirements in order to apply. I found that I had only 5 days to prepare my documents and medical examination. Organizing the documents was easy, but if you live in Liberia, you will know that getting medical results in less than 5 days at the specified hospital (John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital, JFK) was an impossibility.
To me this was the beginning of a real life adventure. For some reason, everything about my going to China felt right. I finished all the procedures in time and even became the 2015 batch representative. I was given the privilege by the Chinese embassy in my country to speak on behalf of the students at the send off reception. The embassy’s ambience was very warm and welcoming and all the food offered had excellent taste. But little did we know that what we were going to experience in China would be so much different.
The first shocking experience was the flight from Liberia to China. It took almost three days of chaotic connections, long flights, and transits. It almost seemed like we were travelling to the other side of the world, literally. This was only the beginning of the adventure. Upon arrival at (PEK) Beijing Capital International Airport, we experienced an important, and terrifying cultural shock, the “language barrier”. Nothing had prepared me for this experience. The inability to communicate felt like I had suddenly woken up blind. More to the feeling of being blind was looking completely different from everyone else around me. It was both thrilling and petrifying. I had never been more aware of myself then I was at that particular moment and the constant and intense stares from Chinese nationals did not help the situation.
Being so far away from home and everything I was accustomed to gave me the opportunity to reexamine my truths. I was finally outside of my box and free to explore the world in color. Nevertheless, I had a choice to actually step outside of my comfort zone and experience everything that lay bare before me. In theory, leaving your comfort zone is romantic, in reality however, it’s excruciatingly terrifying. Stepping outside your comfort zone has a certain level of vulnerability attached to it; it means humbling yourself and accepting that your version of reality may not be real. It means being willing to relearn everything you were once taught and deciding whether your truths were actual truths; and boy was I willing to step out.
For too long I had been shy and loaded with the concept of only being seen and not heard. But China offered me the chance to reconfigure my identity. As I began to step out, I recognized talents I never knew existed in me. I started to challenge myself to do things I could never do. I started talking more in class, taking more responsibilities in study groups, making presentations, and trying to speak Chinese. I volunteered with the International Students Office to help with the registration of new international students during the spring and fall semesters. I volunteered to give a lecture at the SICA Chinese corner. I also volunteered with the TSIS program to teach English to Chinese middle school students and I learned so much working side by side with both the Chinese students and other international students. I applied for the SICA student tutor program (TPIS) and met a girl, Grace who challenged my views about Chinese people. She did not only help me improve my Chinese but also became a very special friend. We explored places in Wuhan (Central China where we lived) and several Chinese cities learning about the culture and values of the Chinese people.
At the end of it all, I am grateful for the opportunity to study in China because it has added so much value to my life. In my journey to acquiring a Master’s degree, I established friendships that I believe will last for a lifetime; I found a type of love that most girls dream about; and I learned a language that has existed for more than 2ooo years. As I look back at my time in China, I am filled with nostalgia for my Chinese experience. It is evident that my going to China was one of the best things that has ever happened to me and these memories will I cherish my entire lifetime.