Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Beyond Dim Sum :: Personal Narrative Essays

Beyond Dim Sum There is truth to the platitude that it isn't the destination that is important, but the route that one takes to get there. To say my goals for studying abroad were purely academic would be skewing the truth; studying Chinese took me to China. But just as from studying Chinese language, I have gained new insights into China's cultural and historical legacy, so too, in going to China have I gleaned more than just the ability to speak a foreign language. I remember arriving in Beijing. I was awestruck. Tiananmen Square on my left, the Forbidden City on my right, a giant-sized portrait of a deified Mao Zedong looking down on me from above. It seemed unreal. So many times had these images been a part of montages in books and on television, I had become accustomed to representations of this amazing place, but had never taken in "the real thing." It was all so surreal, so wondrous, these impressions were unforgettable. A week into my trip abroad, here is what I wrote as my first journal entry: "I am for the first time in my life truly alone. Alone not just in the sense that I don't have anybody to rely and depend on, but in that I am in a country where I can barely communicate with anyone, and beyond that, I don't have a cultural clue how to follow that old traveler's phrase: 'When in Rome, do what the Romans do.' I am a stranger here. I wear the marks in every sense of the word. It is in the way that I look, it is in my inability to communicate with people, it is in the way I carry myself. Sure, I am nervous, and rather timid. But, the fact is, I am excited. I am finding in China a new kind of engagement; it permeates every minute of my time. All these activities in my life that I have taken for granted, those that even no longer warrant the classification of 'activity,' those things like buying a soda or taking a bus, the r egimens of everyday life, have now become the instruments of my engagement. Ironically, my vehicle is Chinese; until this point, my studies have been so figurative. It is so strange to actually hear people use this language that I have been studying for so long in American classrooms as their everyday mode of communication, as I use English.

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