After a 4 am wake up for a shuttle, delays and canceled flights, we finally made it to Fuzhou, China (pronounced Fu-jou) at midnight. The exhausting aspects of traveling are often swept under the rug by the pretty Instagram photos and social media posts. That day was exhausting and I absolutely got a nasty cold from the lack of sleep. But, I wouldn’t trade in that exhaustion for anything else; it is part of the package deal when it comes to traveling and seeing the world is SO worth it.
Our first week in Fuzhou was at the Hwa Nan Women’s College where we had the privilege of staying in the dorms and finally feeling like we were college students again. We were individually paired up with university students who showed us around and had lunch and dinner with us almost every day. We also had various opportunities to meet other university students in the area and got to engage in conversations like women’s rights and gun control. It was absolutely eye-opening to talk to students who grew up in China with a different government system than what I’m used to, and it was absolutely refreshing. The candid moments with the students I met will be one of the most memorable experiences in China because I had to challenge my own views and preconceived notions. Creating relationships with people in each country has been one of the most important parts of this trip.
During a 4 day excursion around Fujian Province, I began having a lot of pain coming from my wisdom tooth that decided to come in really fast all of a sudden. My eyes ached, my ear hurt, my cheekbones hurt, and of course, my mouth hurt. My other wisdom tooth did not feel anything like that when it came in, so I knew something was wrong. There were no hospitals in the area with English speaking dentists, which gave me a lot of anxiety that perhaps things would be lost in translation. So, I waited it out until our group got to Beijing. Luckily by that time the pain went down. By my appointment on the 13th, it barely hurt and I felt stupid for not canceling the appointment. But, I thought the peace of mind of a dentist telling me my wisdom tooth is okay would make me feel much better.
I woke up early to catch the subway with the health coordinator who was escorting me to the hospital. When we transferred to another subway line, we saw so many people crowded and lined up for our train. We had no idea how we would make it onto the train, and we missed the first two trains that came by because we couldn’t even fit. Finally, when we knew we had a chance making it on, we physically pushed and maneuvered our bodies onto the crowded train. And just when you thought no more people could fit, you got shoved even tighter and more people got on. While I thought it was going to be claustrophobic, it was surprisingly calming because I didn’t need to use any muscles to stand; all of the people surrounding me were holding me up. It felt like we were all tall overgrown grass blowing in the wind swaying side to side, never falling down. A very weird analogy, but truly how I felt. It was nice and relaxing despite the different smells that emulated from each individual.
We got to the hospital and I met my dentist who happened to be French and living in Beijing. After getting x-rays, she told me I needed to get my wisdom tooth out THAT DAY or I would continue to have painful episodes from chronic infections from now on out until I got it removed. She gave me the choice to have my wisdom tooth taken out or to give me antibiotics and painkillers for the next flare up. I was so torn because I have only been to a dentist a few times in my life and I have never had to have any procedure done in my mouth! I had no idea what to expect which of course made me more nervous. And on top of that, the next day I had a group presentation and it was my 23rd birthday! I decided to get my wisdom tooth removed that day because I didn’t want to make the trek another day and I didn’t want to endure another flare up. To my surprise, getting my wisdom tooth out was not as bad as I expected and it made me get over my fear of dentists!
The medical care I have received in countries outside of the US has been amazing and I am so grateful to have had such easy experiences dealing with whatever issue that has come up. It took so much time, effort, money, and anxiety preparing for this study abroad trip medically that I am astounded at how easy it is to access the health care I need while I am abroad. Even when I went to the hospital in South Korea to get my prescription refilled, it was so quick and easy, and much easier than the US where I’d have to jump through so many hoops. It really makes me think about the health care system in the US versus the health care systems that I am witnessing abroad.
The following days were definitely exhausting and painful coping with the tooth, or lack thereof, and the academic school work I have been trying to keep up with. Each morning I wake up and think to myself, maybe I need a day of rest but then something amazing and important is planned for the day and I can’t resist, like the Great Wall of China (one of my favorite experiences on this whole trip)!!!
I will always hold a special place in my heart for Beijing, for being the place I got my wisdom tooth out. It was a spontaneous event that happened to be the day before my 23rd birthday, which is a particularly special year for me. Whenever I hear about wisdom teeth, I will always think about Beijing and my time in China. I will enter my 23rd year with less wisdom but many more experiences and new friends.