As I sit in the little cafe I found in the University City, I read my book and drink my tea (Earl Grey), realizing that I like the sounds of Chinese coffee shops better than their Western counterparts. This one is full of students, if rather small, but they’re all so easy to tune out. Granted, it wasn’t difficult when I was in the US, but it’s considerably easier here. And I know why: I can’t understand them.
When I first got here all the Chinese was overwhelming, but I’ve reached the point where I’ve gotten used to it. I can sit with a group of people who don’t speak English and feel only slightly out of place. Partially because the people I now sit with occasionally translate for me, but mainly because I’ve gotten used to the way Chinese sounds. Even though I still can’t understand even half of a conversation that’s happening near me, the language doesn’t really sound foreign anymore.
Before I came here, my experience with culture shock was limited to hearing about it or reading about it online. Now, I’ve lived it. And after six months here, I’m beginning to imagine how the reverse culture shock is going to go. It won’t be as bad as the initial culture shock because I’ll only be in China for a year, but I can already tell I’ll go through it, if only to the extent of jet lag and wonder at how clean even the dirtiest thing seems in comparison.
Along with these realizations is an awareness of how much I’ve changed since I’ve been here. Although China isn’t the place for me and I haven’t enjoyed being here as much as I thought I would, it’s still been a great experience. In getting a fresh start in a country where the people don’t understand me, I’ve learned who I am and who I want to become, even though I graduated from college without a boyfriend and without trying to obsessively hold on to what we are told are the “best years of your life.” Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret a single day, a single choice, or a single experience of my college career, but it’s over.
If I’ve learned anything from my obsessive reading, it’s that all chapters end. My college chapter has ended and so too will my Chinese chapter. And that’s okay, because the book’s not finished yet. I was terrified when I graduated because I thought I needed a plan, I needed something next, but I don’t. The book will continue, chapter by chapter, and some days I know what chapter is next and sometimes I have no freaking clue.
That’s okay. Life goes on.