Regardless of where I wake up, the first thing I do when I hop out of bed in the morning is look out of my window. The first view of the world outside gives me an idea of the day’s mood. Beyond merely checking for snowfall outside of my Allston apartment, I can see the world waking up around me in Shanghai.
Before I go to sleep, a quick glance out of the window is as a reminder of my ties to the outside world. This glimpse, depending on the events that transpired throughout the day, serves to either congratulate me on a day of accomplished goals or remind me of work left unfinished. A glance out of my window, it seems, is all it takes to set me on a particular train of thought. As a result, I put serious stock in my daily ritual.
Since arriving in Shanghai, I find myself even more drawn to these kinds of indiscriminate, “time-between-time” moments. Looking out of the window as I wipe sleep out of my eyes, staring up the sides of buildings, and becoming enveloped in the steam coming off of a mug of coffee at the office of my internship, these moments become something more to me than just lapses in attention.
Maybe my amateur attempts to educate myself in Zen Buddhist principles before coming to China are paying off — I do feel mindful of the world around me, sort of. However, the longer I remain in China, the more often I find myself thinking of home during these idle moments.
Don’t get me wrong — the experiences I’ve had in the past few months override most of my homesickness.
Short of returning to live in Shanghai, I doubt I will ever encounter another city so filled with such lights and activity that simultaneously displays the constant juxtaposition of new and old culture. The full immersion into life in Shanghai has improved my Chinese speaking skills beyond what I expected before arriving in Shanghai — I even catch myself thinking in Mandarin on occasion.
But despite a wealth of exposure and a never-ending stream of new ideas, my thoughts always seem to turn toward America.
A love for family and friends is a quality most of us share. I’ve experienced pain, as most have, but the thought of those who care for you is enough to make any struggle worth emerging from.
Although I’ve established a great network of old and new friends within a stone’s throw of my dorm in Shanghai, the absence of the friends who motivate my daily life leaves me prone to moments of nostalgia.
The concept I grapple with most of all is time. As much as I wish to relive some of my best moments (and of course, hope to forget my worst), I actively try and dissuade myself from focusing on the impossible. Similarly, though I can’t wait to see my family and friends when I head back to Boston this June, I try to focus more on the beauty of experience right in front of me.
As a new day breaks, wind rustles through curtains while the soft tones of birdcalls and rainfall bring me back from a dream-filled sleep. I stretch, yawn and head toward my window. The view from my room is much different than what I remember waking up to six months ago; instead of an Allston parking lot, I hear an occasional conversation in the local dialect reach up from the sea of trees that sway below me.
I brew myself a cup of instant coffee, silently lamenting China’s lack of quality roast. As I anticipate the energizing effects of caffeine hitting my bloodstream I continue to ponder the world beyond my window. I see high school students getting in a game of basketball before class, street food vendors posted on the corner whipping together breakfast burritos for passersby and students hustling to class, heads down.
Again, I reflect on my friends in Boston and my family in San Francisco and beyond. I came to China with the goal of improving my Chinese and trying something new — I recognize the need to branch out beyond my lovely yet limited lives in Boston and the Bay Area.
Reflecting on the past two months, I’ve accomplished much of what I came to China to do: I’ve made Chinese friends and spoken until I was nearly sick of the language, and, not to mention, the leap I took out of my comfort zone was a metaphoric skydive.
The feelings of nostalgia and homesickness, I like to think, are natural. It’s impossible to travel so far and totally leave behind all baggage. With that being said, I eagerly anticipate coming home. Until then, the Chinese experience will be more than enough to keep me occupied.
Tate Gieselmann is a College of Arts and Sciences junior studying abroad in China. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.