“Thank you for giving me such a good memory! I used to tell you that i came here (the international student dorm) for a better accommodation , but now i think what really matters is that it gave me a chance to meet you. You are so nice and brave, and i really want to be independent and free like you.I will miss you too!!! And i also hope that some day I can come to America to meet you ~ of course, if you have any problem in China, call me or email me at any time~ ”
My roommate messaged me this after we said our final goodbyes last week. It has been a wonderful, wonderful ride, and I cannot believe my semester in Shanghai has come to a close. I have learned so much, tried things I never in a million years thought I would do, and seen more of the world and this amazing country than I thought possible.
Before I came to China, I only thought about MY goals, how MY life would change, what I hoped to gain from it. I never really thought about how me simply being here, in China, could impact the people I interact with everyday. It took my roommate’s final message to me to realize this.
In China, foreigners are a novelty. We are trophies to have pictures taken with, strange creatures to gawk and stare at. I have more times than I can count taken pictures with random Chinese tourists or posed as someone walked by and snapped a shot of me.
Most of the Chinese poplution will never have a foreign friend, never have the chance to experience another culture, and will only perceive other countries from what they see on TV or hear on the news.
But we can change that.
We, us travelers, can bring our world, our lives, our experiences to new places and people. And we can do this by simply being present.
I didnt have to talk about American culture or explain my beliefs to my roommate for her to see how I act, what I do, how I live. She experienced my life just I experienced hers. We were learning and growing together, every day.
I learned from my roommate that she is devoted to her family, is itching for something new and exciting in life, is part of a generation leaning towards modern culture, and yet is still part of tradition. I saw that she did her laundry every day in the sink, made noodles in a hot eater heater, following Chinese talk shows, and volunteer for a Shanghai expo.
And she learned from me that not every American stereotype is true. That we dont all have blonde hair and party. That I love to learn and experience new things, talk about more than the weather and news, am addicted to TV, and must decorate my walls with something colorful.
Its this kind of culture exchange that I believe has the potential to change lives. I came to China with a whole heap of stereotypes of both Chinese and American way of life. And I can say that every single one of them was broken at one point or another.
Spending 15 weeks in Shanghai has taught me that life half way around the world really isnt too different from home. School is still school. People are still people. Students are still students. Life is still life. Ive learned that no matter how different something seems, at the core, its probably more familiar to you than you think. And I hope one day we will all start realizing our similarities more than our differences.