I realized that it would be a long semester when three of the other students and I snuck off to McDonalds for dinner after less than a week in China.
Actually, that realization may have come earlier,. I got sick the moment I stepped off of the plane in China and met the co-director of SU Beijing, Jane. Leave it to me to make such an unfortunate first impression. It was a lot to deal with for a girl who doesn’t speak Chinese or use chopsticks, and it was a lot to deal with for anyone who left America and landed on the continent of Asia less than 24 hours before. Somehow, I’ve managed to stay alive in this country for a month now, and that fact never ceases to amaze me given the whirlwinds I get caught up in everyday.
Nothing about living in China is easy. Today, I woke up to a broken toilet that won’t flush and a cold shower because I missed the hot water time from 7-9 a.m. Inconveniences like these are becoming regular occurrences, seeing as I’ve already had to replace my clogged showerhead. Everyday tasks are complicated and can be close to impossible. Want to go to the bathroom? You better bring your own toilet paper. Want to buy toiletries at the supermarket? Good luck trying to distinguish which character means shampoo and which one means conditioner. Also, watch out for lotions made with skin whitening. Even trying to find a meal at the campus dining hall is a task in of itself. And I’ve learned to get used to not knowing what I’m eating.
My excitement about studying abroad in China caused me to completely overlook the fact that I wouldn’t be able to function like an independent person here. I’m entirely dependent on my Chinese-speaking friends to read restaurant menus, tell the taxi driver where to go, and to help me buy pretty much everything that I need. Sometimes you just need a break from this constant exertion of effort and find a place where you’re comfortable. For an American living in China, McDonalds is the answer. A restaurant where you know exactly what kind of meat you are eating and you can point your finger to order anything you want. No words need to be spoken. Point, pay, eat.
It was during that first McDonalds run that I realized it would be a long, exhausting semester, but it was also when I realized that I was absolutely loving my time abroad in China. It had only been five days, but savoring the familiar taste of french fries with three fellow Americans in China made me feel like I knew them my entire life. On our first day, our program director told us that the Beijing program is small, but there’s a tendency for the 20 or so students to become a family. It was only the first week, but I could already see that those three people would always be there when all I need is a Big Mac.
After that night at McDonalds, those inconveniences that once made me question my decision to study abroad in China started to look more like adventures. I slowly gave up on any hope I had of getting served a bowl of cereal for breakfast; instead, dumplings have become a food that I occasionally crave. I have started to appreciate things about this country, like the free music I can download from Google China. My makeshift family and I have overcome even more challenges, like surviving bouts of food poisoning and scrambling to book a quick flight when a train we needed to get back to Beijing was booked solid. There’s no doubt in my mind that many more McDonalds meals are yet to come during my next four months in this country, and I have a brand new family to bum some fries off of.
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