(WAY overdue from the summer. But thought I'd leave this here.)
Well. Right now, we’re about five hours away from America as I write this. Slightly different scenario on the plane here than it was last summer. I’m next to a lady from Hebei province, traveling through Beijing to her job to Detroit. It’s not only her first time flying, but she speaks no English and this is her first time going to America. I’ve been translating everything for her as best I can and chatting with her about her life, my life; small talk. But it seems to really calm her nerves. And as someone who was in approximately her same situation last summer, even though I don’t understand –everything-, I can tell that she appreciates the effort.
What a summer it’s been. If I could do it again, I would in a heartbeat. And probably take the time to sit down and write more blogs, too.
I learned more about my limits than I ever had this summer. Out of Norwich for exactly two days, and it was off to Field Training for 28 days, where I was trained and prepared to enter the POC (Professional Officer Corps; the upperclassman group of Air Force Cadets) this coming fall. Field Training was incredibly intense, but I loved the overall experience and made some really good friends. And then, exactly 13 hours to pack yet again, and it was back to China, back to Minzu University, Beijing. Round 2.
The feeling of stepping into a place on the other side of the world and having it suddenly feel like home is beyond words. I walked up and down the halls and relived the previous summer for the first several days; remembering old friends, old faces, old jokes. Relishing the feeling of being back. The only summer camps I really ever went to as a kid were military oriented, and so… in a weird kind of way, Beijing last year was really my first summer-camp type experience. And it blew my mind. Really, it shaped my outlook on life, made me who I am today. And it took being in a totally foreign place to find what I loved the most about home. Funny how things work out that way.
I had one of my best friends there (besides Joe). Trung Nguyen and several other Norwich cadets joined in on this summer’s program and gladly put Norwich on the map for everybody else there. Being the biggest group of students from any one college, we sort of made a name for ourselves by just how closely we worked together and how obnoxiously proud we were of our school. In the words of our friend and classmate Phil Carr; “When I met you guys, being that you were from a Corps School, I figured you were all going to be clique-y and sort of stuck up. But you proved me wrong. Very wrong. I have a lot of respect for Norwich now.” A lot of kids on the hill will gripe and complain about our school, how we don’t like it, how this and that could be better, but get us away from the hill and get more than one of us together, and you can be guaranteed to know where we’re from. Don’t worry; we’ll tell you.
I had a lot of adventures this summer, but to be fair, I studied harder than I ever have in my life. (Minus some senior-itis the last week, I’ll admit.) We’re talking about 6-7 hours of interviewing, researching, translating, homework, review and preview. Every day. This may have been easier, granted, if I hadn’t skipped two levels. Yes, last year I was first-level in the program. And this year, I was third-level. And let me tell you, the first day was –rough-. Like, doubting everything I ever learned about Chinese rough. I walked in with a first-year vocabulary.Basically, I could speak Chinese, but I still had the internal wordbank of a six year old. (Probably less, to be realistic.) I walked in to third year, and they started talking about the current state of the Chinese economy.
I felt like I was in an ocean of words, and I was drowning. I couldn’t understand any of what they were saying. I almost went to second year right then and there. But I remembered my friend Will from last year, cheering me on. And I knew that I could either go back to second year, which would be very doable, or continue to do third year, which would be a fight right up to the bitter end. And in the end, I chose third year. And it was indeed a bitter struggle. But I stuck with it, sometimes grimly, and my Chinese exploded in learning progress.
There are the disadvantages, of course. While I’m a huge fan of the food in China (note that I don’t say Chinese food; our perception and their reality of this is very, very different!), it can get old sometimes, and occasionally I’d just like some cheese or a Deli-style sandwich. Or unsweetened tea. Good lord. That’s practically all I like to drink in America and it’s non-existent other than the hot-tea-at-a-restaurant form. (First world, problems, I know.) I’m also looking forward to being back In America because I have this magical ability now to order food, ask for directions and express my opinions without having to ask how to say things, stumbling over my words, or paraphrasing for lack of vocabulary and sounding… dumb. That, I won’t miss.
But despite the ups and downs, the culture shock second time 'round and the reverse shock that's sure to sink in these next few days, I'm ready and excited for the year. I'm home!
Band Co. '15