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University of Colorado Denver

Study Abroad/Global Education

Kelsey Evans - Study Abroad student

Semester in Beijing 2012

“Clothes, check.  Toiletries, check.  I’ll pack my iPod, phone, laptop and their chargers in the carry on when I get up…”, I checked my cell: 1:40 a.m, “…in an hour and a half.”

This has become a ritual for me. On the evening before an international flight, I can’t eat or sleep. It doesn’t matter that I have traveled many times or that I have carefully planned this trip for months; the night before I travel I am always a bundle of stress and excitement.  This time, in the fall of 2011, my concerns were much larger. I was going to study abroad in Beijing for an entire semester.  Until then, my longest study abroad program had been for two weeks.

The stress—and 40 hours without sleep by the time my plane landed—led to serious jet-lag. As a reaction to this nervous excitement, I mentally focus on packing and repacking during the night prior to departure.  This does not really relax me, but it focuses my mind on something within my control.  If I did not do it, I would start worrying more about all the things that are outside of my control.  It would occur to me that I was going to China, but my Mandarin-Chinese is very weak.  Or that I was leaving home for the first time, and going to a country where I didn’t have a single friend.  This would lead to worries about making new friends.  I am a farily shy person, and I’m not interested in many popular things such as going to sports events or night clubs.  As far as Chinese pop culture goes, I am completely out of touch.  What if my classmates don’t find me interesting?  What if we don’t have anything in common?  What if they hate my pink hair? What if I am too shy or too nervous to go out and just experience things?  Will I be able to get all my classwork done and still have time to explore the city?  The unanswered questions pile up in my head, threatening to bury me. 

If I find traveling so stressful, why do I do it?  I have found that the stress at the beginning of a trip is well worth the adventure.  There is absolutely nothing like visiting a new country and experiencing a culture, language, food and the city (or countryside) firsthand.  I have been fortunate enough to be able to travel to Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan and China.  Every time, even if the program lasted for only two weeks, I was amazed at the culture differences.  I loved meeting new people, and understanding new points of view.  It was also fun to visit places that I had read about, such as Abbey Road, Tokyo Tower, and the Great Wall.  Reading about them, or watching television specials, cannot beat actually seeing them firsthand.  For those two weeks, every day was an action-packed educational adventure. 

This trip was immensely important, an integral part of my major in International Studies. I wondered about a future career that required travel, and needed to prove to myself that I could move to a foreign country and adapt to the changes.   I chose to go to China for many reasons. China not only has a rich long history, it has also become a global economic powerhouse.   IA semester of studying in China would look good on my resume, and in this weak job market it would give me a competitive advantage.  Also, I had run out of Chinese courses at the University of Colorado Denver.  I had a choice: commute to a nearby city for more classes or study abroad.  So I decided to study in Beijing to immerse myself in the language, improve my Mandarin-Chinese skills, and learn more about China and the views of the Chinese people.  More importantly, I wanted to make friends.  If I didn’t have friends I couldn’t practice Chinese, I couldn’t ask important questions on serious topics, and the trip as a whole would be boring. 
Plans had been underway for this trip for over a year and a half.  I was so worried that I was going to make a mistake and mess it up.

I hoped that I would make friends, that my classes would go well, would not become horribly terribly lost, and would not forget to bring anything important.  I went through my lists again--  how many shirts did I pack?

What I didn’t realize was that after returning from the trip, I would still be staying up until 1:40 in the morning.  This time, I was Skyping my best friend Anqi, whom I met in Bejing,  to discuss all the great times we spent singing karaoke, eating Chinese hot pot foods and hanging out with classmates.  What mattered most wasn’t what I packed—it was the memories and friendships I brought back.
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