Time abroad speaks through me in soft ways, like I’ve awakened a secret power within, which I can never lay to rest.
I light up when people ask about my time abroad. I’m humbled and astonished that so many remember my social media stories from the summer.
My Chinese friends call and we talk. I see my content resurface some days. Peers from my USAC groups and I recount memories like they were yesterday. When I talk to other friends who studied abroad, we’ve all new insights after our lives across the world.
Back in America, I’ll sometimes absentmindedly read Chinese off menus and signs that I never before I realized had Chinese characters. Even while seeing things as simple as sidewalks, I flashback to the way paths were wider in China.
The trauma of losing my mother left me still trying to piece together who I was, who people admired me for before the accident. Shanghai was my cradle, I realize when I look back at my life abroad. The ‘me’ I was in that city seeded the ‘me’ I am today. Who I was before, I still search for.
At the University, I frequent the Newman Center to rest. Catholicism and traditional Chinese conveniently share beliefs about death. Some nights, waking on the floor where my bed lies, I feel saddened I’ll never be able to tell Mother in-person about all I learned in China, not just about our family but about her. I often consider Mom’s values in my decisions and find myself still coming to terms with her. By the end of 2017, I’m ready for life’s next step. But placing my final photos into this book on my last day compiling, I realized — it's all real.
Everything I saw, everyone I met, every word I said was real, and all of those experiences are part of me now.
Who I was abroad and who I am now are the same: changed. I aspire during December 2018 to conduct my Honors thesis research in China, focused on Catholic media. Between juggling projects this semester, I’ve begun contacting people about options to consider. I may return to the subject in graduate school, possibly abroad again. I sincerely hope all who have the opportunity to go abroad to see a country of ancestry will.
Ultimately, I want to help people through this story. I want people to share the things that move them, that help them reimagine their lives for the better. I hope this especially for the memoir I write of discovering my mother through family.
One of the most special changes in my life has been my ability to relate more deeply with Chinese people, new friends and old.
Exactly one month after I reached America from the Pacific, I saw the Atlantic. On a surprise trip to Yale University for a conference the fall after China, I saw two of my favorite classmates I hadn’t been with since high school graduation. Coincidentally, both women were Chinese. My mom would have felt elated, I’m sure. They showed me their campus and took me to eat and introduced me to people as their high school friend the way that students I met in China had called me their foreign friend. I felt moved in ways I could scarcely describe. Even trips across the United States prod in me the twinge of magic I felt across the world.
I no longer look at myself as simply “Asian-American” — I’m Chinese.