Chinese New Year, the Coronavirus and Coming Home

Daniel and I wearing masks to protect ourselves from the coronavirus
“Masks are super in this year”

I have been in the United States for just over two weeks now, and boy has it been a wild ride.

In this blog you will find details about a global health crisis, a plot twist that includes an emergency return to the United States, and an ice sculpture of a train.

Last we left off, I was in Beijing, China starting my second semester at the China Studies Institute program at Beijing University. Everything was going great and we were out of class for a week for Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival. My friend Daniel and I were planning to travel to China’s northernmost province, Heilongjiang. Our trip would start in Harbin for the city’s ice and snow festival and then we would make our way South, stopping briefly at Shenyang before returning to Beijing.

We never could’ve predicted what would happen.

So before we even left for Chinese New Year break, there were talks about this Coronavirus. Nothing super serious yet, and there was no widespread panic. Some people who were from Wuhan were canceling their plans to return home for Chinese New Year, but most people were continuing on with their travel plans as if the Coronavirus was no big deal.

So my friend Daniel and I decided, since we were traveling away from the outbreak, (literally as far away as we could get from it), we would continue with our plans as well.

At the Beijing train station, me wearing my mask.
Mask on and ready for some fun!
The view from the train across the frozen fields and electric poles.
The view out the window of the high-speed train









Things you should know about Chinese New Year in China:  it is one of the largest human migrations of today. Chinese people only get two vacations, the National Holiday Break and Chinese New Year Break. Billions of people travel home to see their families and celebrate the new year. There is no single comparable holiday in the United States. Chinese New Year is more so like a combination of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years, with a huge emphasis on family and tradition.

Daniel and I were some of the billions traveling during this time, and we made it to Harbin after 8 hours on the high-speed train. An Alaskan girl at heart, I had been so deprived of snow for so long that when I finally arrived in Harbin, the snow-y paradise, I couldn’t stop smiling and jumping around like a maniac. It was cold as Alaska, so very comfortable for me!

Posing with the snow sculptures
“Life imitates art” part 1
Snow slide across flat snow fields as far as you can see.
Snow slide in Harbin, China

We visited some attractions in Harbin, and here are some of the photos from that!

In front of an ice sculpture of a train
As promised, an ice sculpture of a train
Ice sculpture of a train
Choo Choo!
Visiting the ice sculpture competition
Visiting the ice sculpture competition in Harbin
In front of an ice castle
In front of an ice castle
Posing with an ice sculpture
“Life imitates art” part 2
Ice sculpture at night with blue, pink and yellow lights shining from inside.
Ice sculpture at night
Posing with a rat ice sculpture since it is the Year of the Rat in the Chinese zodiac.
Posing with a rat ice sculpture because 2020 is the Year of the Rat in the Chinese zodiac
Ice festival at night with lots of blue and gold lights.
Ice festival at night
Ice and Snow World
Ice and Snow World


However, after a couple days in Harbin, things started to go downhill. The Coronavirus had started to gain momentum, and the virus, with so many people traveling in such a small period, was spreading rapidly. I would wake up every morning to messages from my program director and teachers, cautioning us students against going outside and being among large crowds. It snowballed from there. Transportation was cancelled, Wuhan was quarantined, official announcements of school and work schedules being postponed, the government stepped in to manage the situation, but everyone was stuck, confined to their homes, some not able leave their homes to even see their family.

It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The biggest cultural event of the year was being completely disrupted. All of the events, temple celebrations, reunions, performances, –basically any attractions of any kind that could draw crowds, were canceled. People were barely leaving their homes. The few that did, wore masks and gloves. Restaurants were closed or only available for take out and delivery. We were heat-checked entering buildings, and some even denied entry if you were not wearing a mask.  The country had come to a complete standstill.

Beijing University had postponed the start of their Spring semester, as they did not want students from other provinces returning back to Beijing while the Coronavirus was still on the move. The CSI program I was enrolled in decided to offer online classes to reduce the risk of any kind of contagion resulting from in-person contact. With the transition to online classes and the recommendation of self-imposed quarantine, the situation was deemed dire enough to cause many students from my program to return home, by the requests of their parents, schools, or just by their personal judgement.

I really did not want to leave. I was committed to staying in China, quarantined in an off-campus apartment, taking online classes, basically waiting this epidemic out. However, so many students returned to the United States that it was no longer possible to continue my program. Daniel and I were on our train to Shenyang when we realized we had to return to Beijing. After getting off our train, (which was empty because so many people had canceled their travel plans due to the virus), we purchases tickets the same day and took another train to Beijing. Once arriving in the city, we were able to get our luggage from my dorm room with the help of my classmates and teachers. Since I had been traveling during Chinese New Year, I was unable to even enter the campus because there was a risk that I might be infected, so my classmates had to pack up all of my belongings and bring them to the gates of university.

I flew out of Beijing the next day, and after five flights, I was finally back home in Kenai, Alaska.

You never really think something like a global health crisis will be the thing that disrupts your study abroad experience. Maybe you lose your passport, or luggage, or maybe you’re so homesick you need to come home. These things happen, but a virus? It never crossed my mind.

I was really upset about having to leave China.  I still felt as though I had so much more to learn. The most frustrating thing about it all was it was not even my decision to leave. Everything felt so out-of-my control.

But even though I am still deeply saddened that my abroad experience was cut short, I am very thankful that I was able to depart the country while I still could. I am also very fortunate that Linfield’s spring semester did not start until Feb. 10th, giving me time to see my mother in Alaska, which I haven’t been back to in over a year. I had time to register for housing and classes, unlike some of my classmates from other universities who had to immediately jump into their Spring semester, which had already been in session for two weeks.

I also want to highlight in this blog the amazing response rate and help of the Linfield International Programs Office in particular, but also of the Linfield Financial Aid Office, Academic Advising and Housing, which were so great in helping me prepare myself for a return to Linfield. I felt completely supported the entire time by these offices, who were so patient with me and made sure that I was safe and taken care of the entire time. Shout out to the power of a small college!

I have no regrets about my time in China. It truly was the most amazing experience of my life. I grew and I changed, which has been apparent to me as I rejoin the Linfield community, but what I want to highlight as the thing that really makes me feel like study abroad was the best thing in the world for me, was about how it challenged me. It was the most challenging thing I have ever had to do. I had to be independent, responsible, and work my butt off. I had to make myself a home. There were times when I felt so uncomfortable. There were times when I felt so afraid, so stupid, so confused. But everything about feeling these ways, it’s all part of the process. It’s all part of what I love about the experience of being abroad. It’s a challenge and I am so much stronger, know myself better, and happier knowing that I have the capability to do anything.

I truly do not have any regrets. I did everything I wanted to do, and many things I never knew I would have the chance to do. Now I know I can do anything.  We are capable of so much more than we think we are. Studying abroad taught me that. Now whenever I think about whether or not I can do something, I don’t spend time questioning whether it’s possible, because I know I can do it.


Beijing Baby! (pt. 2)

Weiming Lake in winter, frozen over with hockey players in the middle of a match
Weiming Lake in winter, frozen over with hockey players in the middle of a match

Well, we’re back baby!

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Roads busy with motorcyclists
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Roads busy with motorcyclists


I recently returned to Beijing after spending a month in Vietnam! The most drastic change is probably the weather, as Vietnam was in the 80s and 90s every day, and Beijing has snow on the ground. I am so glad to be back in China, the cold weather is actually one of the reasons.


Hoi An, Vietnam. Colorful lanterns of all different shapes and sizes hanging in a room
Hoi An, Vietnam. Colorful lanterns of all different shapes and sizes hanging in a room

As an Alaska girl, I have no issues with the cold, dry winter Beijing has to offer. It’s weird hearing Chinese again, to be hearing a language I can actually speak and understand. I had such culture shock after arriving in Vietnam, because I can’t speak any Vietnamese and had never been to Vietnam before. I had honestly not even considered the culture shock I might have in Vietnam because I didn’t experience a large culture shock when I came to China in September (this being due to the fact that I had learned some Chinese and had to been to China before).

A couple days after my return to Beijing, we had orientation for the new students. Since I was enrolled here last semester, there wasn’t much for me to do except help the new students get used to life in China.

CSI Spring 2020 students group photo under amazing architecture
CSI Spring 2020 students group photo under amazing architecture

First orders of business after arrival is familiarizing new students with the campus and classroom buildings. New students will also need a Chinese SIM card or a Chinese phone. In order to set up a Chinese bank account, you need a Chinese phone number.

Group photo in front of rock with writing on it
Group photo in front of rock with writing on it

Even if you’re only here for a semester, I strongly suggest setting up a Chinese bank account. Once you have a bank account you can use apps such as Alipay or WeChat Pay, and use your phone to pay for everything. These apps will make your life in Beijing so extremely convenient that you won’t even want to go back to using cash or card.

This semester I am enrolled in the non-immersion track, because I need credits for my majors and have already experienced the immersion track. The social sciences track offers content courses taught in English. I am taking three classes, Sino-American Relations, Social Stratification and Inequality in China, and Chinese Media Studies. These classes are once a week for around three hours and all taught by Chinese professors. I am also enrolled in Chinese language classes this semester, and am taking level 402 classes with two other students. I have a Comprehensive Chinese class three times a week for two hours and a Spoken Chinese class twice a week for an hour and a half. If that wasn’t enough work for myself, I am also participating in an internship/volunteer experience at an app development company here in Beijing. It is a live-streaming app, and I’l be helping out with content, operations, and marketing! The commute to my internship is about an hour and a half by subway (one-way), and I work three days a week. I speak Chinese and English at work. My coworkers were really surprised I could speak Chinese because most interns cannot. One didn’t even think I was Chinese! He thought I was Japanese!

The campus is pretty empty right now because it is currently winter break for the students at Beida.

Winter at Beida-Pathway lined with snow and trees with no leaves
Winter at Beida – Pathway lined with snow and trees with no leaves

Their finals just ended this past week, and now they’re all returning home for the month, and will celebrate 春节(chunjie) also known as “Spring Festival” or “Chinese New Year” with their family. I think Chinese New Year is similar to Thanksgiving because food is a huge part of the event. It’s also a holiday centered around family and tradition, and everyone comes home to be with their relatives, much like Thanksgiving dinner in the United States. It’s not so much like Christmas because gifts are not a huge component of the holiday. You do receive or give 红包 (red packets) with money to relatives, but it’s nothing comparable to Christmas presents.

Frozen Weiming Lake Ice skaters swarm the lake surface
Frozen Weiming Lake. Ice skaters swarm the lake surface



While I was gone, Beida’s famous Weiming Lake has frozen over and turned into an outdoor ice rink. My friend Philip, an international student from Singapore and I went out on the lake for some frozen fun. It’s only five kuai (less than a US dollar) to skate on the lake if you are a Beida students. They rent out skates right on campus too! I taught Philip how to ice skate, and we stumbled our way across the ice. There are quite a lot of large cracks on the lake’s surface, but it didn’t seem to ruin anyone’s fun. It was really nice to see so many students out on the lake because most of the time I feel like Beida students are constantly busy and stressed with school, and do not have much time to socialize or participate in fun activities for pleasure.

Ice skating on Beida's campus, with busy frozen lake in background
Ice skating on Beida’s campus, with busy frozen lake in background
Ice skating with Philip on the frozen lake
Ice skating with Philip on the frozen lake

To end this first and very jam-packed weekend, the program had its first excursion.

Chinese New Year decorations hanging from trees
Chinese New Year decorations hanging from trees



We traveled to the Summer Palace, only a few stops away via subway! It’s my third time coming to the Summer Palace now, and I have to say, I much prefer going in the winter.



Summer Palace in Winter with a light dusting of snow on the roof.
Summer Palace in the Winter
Summer Palace ceiling geometric shapes in teal, and dark blue
Summer Palace ceiling, geometric shapes in teal, and dark blue


In the summer it is way too hot, and there are too many people. In the winter, as long as you bundle up, it is a very pleasurable experience!

Summer Palace in the Winter, 4 stories high
Summer Palace in the Winter, 4 stories high
With my friend Maggie on a bridge overlooking the frozen lake
Maggie and I on a bridge overlooking the frozen lake
Summer Palace hallway. Extremely detailed work on ceiling and leaded glass on walls
Summer Palace hallway. Extremely detailed work on ceiling and leaded glass on walls
Friend and I at the summer palace
Maggie and I in front of the Summer Palace
CSI program for the Spring 2020 semester in front of the Summer Palace
CSI program for the Spring 2020 semester in front of the Summer Palace

Kunming Lake, the main body of water located at the Summer Palace has completely frozen over and locals and visitors alike can take a turn on the lake, renting small little sleds for 50 kuai (~7 US dollars).

A bridge leading over the frozen lake to Summer palace. Ice skaters in the foreground
A bridge leading over the frozen lake to Summer palace. Ice skaters in the foreground

There are no skates to rent for the lake, but the sleds are just as fun!

Posing on lake in front of Summer Palace
Posing on lake in front of Summer Palace
2 students posing on frozen lake in front of Summer Palace
2 students posing on frozen lake in front of Summer Palace










I’ve never been in China during the winter, but oh, it is so much fun!



End of the Year Study Trip: 14-days through Southern China! (pt. 1)

CSI students Traveling
Group photo with our suitecases

It’s the end of the semester and you know what that means? 14 days of glorious, glorious travel through China. This semester there were two trips to choose from. The first option was a trip to Tibet, centered around Buddhism. The second, a trip through Southern China learning about China’s ethnic minorities. All but nine of us chose the Tibet trip. Since I will be with the program next semester, I decided to choose the Southern China trip, and will go to Tibet when its warmer next semester. The end-of-the-year trip is easily one of the best parts of this program. Hotels, transportation, and tours are all paid for, and students only need to bring meal and spending money.

First up on our trip was Xi’an. We traveled by high-speed train, my favorite. We almost took up an entire car!

Students on the high speed train
Group photo in the train on our way to Xi’an

After settling into our hotel, we set off to find some dinner and headed to the famous Muslim food street.

Xi'an Muslim Street
Xi’an Muslim Food Street, lights line each side of the busy street advertising each business

Here you can find all the specialty dishes of Xi’an, as well as many souvenirs! I have to say, Xi’an has some of my favorite food in China.

Eating cotton candy in Xi'an
Group of 3 students eating cotton candy in the middle of Muslim Food Street
Lamb and pita bread
Lamb and pita bread in a bowl

 A couple of Xi’an specialty foods include biang biang noodles, roujiamo, and lamb soup with pita bread. Biang biang noodles are some of my favorite noodles in China! They’re thick and chewy and so, so tasty. Actually the character for “biang biang” is so difficult and complex to write in Chinese, that most keyboards don’t even have the character option for it. 

Biang Biang nodles
Biang biang noodles on a plate with chopsticks
With skewers and pomegranate juice
My Friend and I eating lamb skewers

You’ll often find it written in pinyin or English on restaurant signs or online. One of my favorite snacks at Muslim street were lamb skewers. They were perfectly seasoned and cooked right in front of you!



Also located in Xi’an are the famous Terracotta Warriors! It was my second time visiting this site. The Terracotta Army and Horses are modeled after Qin Shi Huang’s (the first Emperor of China) army.

Terracotta warriors
Terracotta Army in a dark covered area
Terracotta Army
Terracotta Army from a side view

Each statue is unique, with distinguishing facial features. There are a couple of different soldiers, including archers, standing calvary men, and riders, which were on top of the horse-drawn carts. Their purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife.

Terra cotta archer in a display case
Standing man
Terra cotta soldier ready for battle in display case

After the Terracotta Army, we went to Xi’an’s City Wall. When Xi’an was the capital of China, this wall protected the city. It is one of China’s oldest, largest, and most well-preserved walls. It kind of reminds me of the wall that protected the Earth Kingdom of Ba Sing Se in Avatar: the Last Airbender. It was built under the rule of the Hongwu Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang.

At the City Wall
Group photo on steps leading to the Xi’an City Wall
On the wall
China likes walls almost as much as we like group photos! Group photo on the City Wall!
Friends on the wall
Three friends on the wall with dust masks on
On the wall
The weather was really bad, but we still managed to take some semi-decent photos! On the City Wall! Grey skies in background
Group dinner in Xi'an
Group dinner around a circular table in Xi’an
Group dinner
Dishes of every kind of food in the center of the round table

Extra, extra! Here are some pictures from our visit to the Great Mosque in Xi’an! There was no one there, but it had some beautiful architecture!

The Great Mosque
The Great Mosque, with sweeping roof lines
The Great Mosque
Walking up to the Great Mosque with trees surrounding the pathway
The Great Mosque
The Great Mosque, with trees and bushes surrounding it

Chengdu was our second stop, located in Sichuan Province and known for its crazy spicy cuisine! Hot pot is the speciality dish here, and I had it all every night I was there. I actually have a friend who lives in Chengdu. We used to work together in Alaska at her family’s Asian restaurant. A Chengdu native, she took us out for the best hot pot in the city.

With my friend Joyce
My friend Joyce and I in front of a storefront
Eating hot pot
Eating hot pot at a round table with all my friends

I’m not going to lie, after three consecutive nights of hot pot, my stomach was a little upset. That being said, it was totally worth it. Besides the deliciously addicting cuisine, Chengdu has a lot of sights to see. About two hours from the city, visitors can travel to see the Giant Leshan Buddha.

Leshan Giant Buddha
Leshan Giant Buddha,  covered in vegitation

The Leshan Giant Buddha is around 230 feet tall, carved out of a cliff face. The trek to the buddha feels never-ending, but believe me when I tell you, it is SO worth it. I’ve never seen Mount Rushmore, but I imagine it’s a similar experience to seeing this buddha. The carving is so well done, and the massive scale makes it a feat that everyone should see.

Leshan Buddha
Leshan Buddha from a lower perspective showing the enormity of the statue in the canyon
Posing with the Buddha
Group photo with my friends and the giant Buddha in the background

Chengdu’s other popular attraction is its Panda Conservation and Research Center. Famous in China and the world, we were fortunate enough to be able to visit it and see all the pandas! We saw pandas of all ages and all personalities. At the site they have red panda as well as giant pandas.

Panda Conservation Center visit
Photo in front of Panda Conservation Center
Photo of panda in an animal enclosure during our visit
Panda eating
Panda in the enclosure smiling at me!
Buddhist temple
Group photo in front of bright yellow, Buddhist temple wall

We also had some time to check out a beautiful Buddhist temple in Chengdu, and walk along some ancient streets of the city. I really enjoyed that we had a lot of free time to explore and experience the cities we were visiting.

Inside Buddhist temple with ornate architecture
Exploring Chengdu
Colorful red and yellow lanterns in Chengdu
Aesthetics inside the temple
Perfectly sculpted plants inside the temple
Ancient street in Chengdu
Ancient street in Chengdu, with red lanterns hanging on the second story of the buildings to the left

Next we were off to Lijiang! Check out End of the Year Study Trip: 14-days through Southern China! (pt. 2) for the wrap up of my study trip and fall semester!


End of the Year Study Trip: 14-days through Southern China! (pt. 2)

Chinese Flag on the top of Jade Dragon Mountain in Lijiang
Chinese Flag at the top of Jade Dragon Mountain in Lijiang

The next stop on our trip was the gorgeous destination, Lijiang. Surrounded by mountains and clear, cool water, Lijiang honestly might have been my favorite city on the trip. It’s a beautifully quaint town in Southern China, that has all the small-town charm of my favorite places in the US. We were staying in Old Town Lijiang, a preserved part of the city which was overflowing with liveliness and culture. Lijiang was like a Hallmark movie version of a Chinese town and after spending an entire semester in Beijing, it was the change of pace I needed. Lijiang is a cultural center for the Naxi ethnic minority in China, and we were able to learn about their culture while we were there. We attended a lecture and visited a museum of Naxi culture, learning about their rituals and pictographic writing system called “Dongba”. One of the requirements for every student each semester is completing a project or essay that is relevant to our trip. My essay compared and contrasted women in Naxi and Han culture.

In Lijiang, some of us students went on a horse ride through the mountains with local Naxi tour guides. It felt like a movie. The tour guides sang Naxi traditional music, and we were high in the mountains under blue sky. It was truly one of the most beautiful and peaceful experiences I’ve had in China.

3 people Horse riding in Lijiang, PR China
3 Students riding horses with trees and mountain range in background
Taking a break and feeding our horses
Group of students feeding horses with forest behind them

Afterwards we enjoyed some delicious Lijiang specialty food, chicken hot pot.

Hot pot
Group meal around chicken hot pot
The lift to the mountain
View from mountain lift, high above trees looking out at mountains, clouds and sky

The next day we traveled to Jade Dragon Mountain. It takes about 20 minutes to get to the mountain via the lift, and the views were spectacular!




Once we arrived at the mountain, we grabbed some corn on the cob and started trekking (no really, corn on the cob was the snack that they had).

At the mountains
Posing in front of Dragon Mountain
Jade Dragon Mountain
Jade Dragon Mountain
With Tibetan prayer flags
At an old rest stop on Dragon mountain. This structure had ropes running from the top to the bottom, with flags running the entire length of the rope. These are Tibetan prayer flags . Mountain in background.
Tibetan prayer flags
Tibetan prayer flags and Dragon Mountain in the background

It was so quiet and empty on the mountain. The cold air cooled us down as we hiked up the mountain. It was definitely the cleanest air I’ve breathed in all my time in China.

On the mountain
A weathered pathway made of wood that scales the mountain with mountains and sky behind

I could’ve stayed up there forever. I didn’t realize how much I had missed nature, but staying in Beijing had made me yearn for wide, open spaces with no pavement and no people. Growing up in Alaska and living in Oregon, I feel extremely blessed to be surrounded by so much nature, and it was nice to get a little taste of that again. We walked the mountain, encountering a Chinese flag, a baby goat, and some Tibetan prayer flags.

Jade Dragon Mountain
Jade Dragon Mountain, with vast empty fields in the foreground
A baby goat
A baby goat sleeping on the ground next to 4 plastic water jugs
Tibetan Prayer Flags
Tibetan prayer flag structure

We ended the day at Blue Moon Valley, a picturesque tourist destination with water so clear and blue, it should’ve been in a travel brochure for the tropics.

Blue Moon Valley
Blue Moon Valley. Light blue water in the foreground leading to mountains in the background.
With a friend at Blue Moon Valley
Posing with a friend on a bridge with light blue water in background
With friends at Blue Moon Valley
More friends on bridge in front of the light blue water and mountain

Here are some other pictures from Lijiang!

Exploring Lijiang
Traditional multi story house with sweeping roof lines
Exploring Lijiang
Walkway next to a body of water that overlooks the house with sweeping roof

We traveled to Dali and Kunming to end our trip, but these last two visits were pretty uneventful. We had a lot of free time to finish our study trip projects and mostly relaxed. We returned to Beijing, tired, and with suitcases full of dirty laundry. Our study trip projects finished, we all reunited with our friends one last time for our commencement.

Commencement ceremony
Group photo on the podium for commencement ceremony
Last day of classes with friends
Group photo of 3 friends before last day of class

It was bittersweet to say the least. None of us wanted to leave each other, or Beijing. It was extremely difficult to say goodbye to these amazing people I had made such great memories with.

With my Chinese teacher Tan Laoshi
Group photo with my Chinese teacher and best friend Sarah!
My best friend Sarah
My best friend Sarah from University of Denver, and I on a circular swing made of wood and rope. Couldn’t have imagined this semester without her! Picture taken in Lijiang!

I truly made lifelong friends during this semester, and hope to visit them all in the United States when I return. Even though we’d only known each other for a couple months, we all became so strongly bonded.

Best friend
Photo with Will from University of Richmond! We are both wearing dust masks. My mask buddy!

I guess that’s what happens when you step so out of your comfort zone. It opens up a world of possibilities for friendship, growth, and life lessons. I am so thankful I came to do this program and can’t wait to return for Spring!


Great friends
Group photo of everyone in a pink jeep in the middle of a field

Chinese Primary School Visit!

It’s been a very exciting week for me, and one that came with very impactful experiences. This week I had the chance to spend time with and get to know a few Chinese kids. First at Hong Ying primary school, an elementary school in Beijing.

CSI students at Hong Ying Primary School
CSI students at Hong Ying Primary School

My program’s visit at Hong Ying Primary School was definitely one of the top activities I’ve experienced here. We were very fortunate to have the chance to interact with Chinese students, have them teach us about Chinese culture, and interview them. It was interesting to see the similarities and differences in elementary school in the United States versus in China. The students at this school had uniforms, not unlike many schools in the United States, and the they have extracurricular classes. They have music classes where the students learn how to play traditional instruments. The boys and girls are separately trained in two instruments. The female students may also join a traditional tea culture club, and we were able to join them in a tea tasting ceremony. Although the students were separated for extra-curriculars, the academic classes and P.E. classes were co-ed.  In the academic classes, the students learned English, math, and Chinese. Their Chinese textbook was not unlike my own, and contained many stories or legends from Chinese history and lore.

My favorite experience with the students was the tea ceremony. The student who served me was named Lily. She was extremely sweet and spoke English very well!

The student performing our tea ceremony
Lily serving us tea!
Traditional Tea ceremony
Tea ceremony

The next subject we experienced was music! The male students performed for us and taught us about their instrument, and after that I was given a lesson with the female students to play an instrument resembling a standing harp. The most difficult part was distinguishing the different strings from each other because they’re very close to each other, but other than that, I think my musical background helped me catch on pretty quickly. A couple of students performed “Jasmine Flower” 茉莉花, (molihua) a traditional Chinese song (that I once learned at a Chinese culture camp when I was young), and Pachebel;s Canon in D. Then they proceeded to teach us how to play “Jasmine Flower” on the instrument. My teaching assistant was very enthusiastic and after I picked up the first phrase very quickly she exclaimed “wow you learn so quick!”, and played the rest of the song through, afterwards looking at my with expectant eyes. I said “I’m gonna need you to do that one more time” and we laughed.

Student playing Chinese instruments resembling a large harp.
Learning how to play music with Chinese students
Selfie with student who was giving me music lessons
My music teacher!

A group of us then went into a classroom to interview students. When I introduced myself, I could tell some students were confused as to why I was there. I didn’t look “American”. I introduced myself, saying that I was born in China but grew up in the United States, following with the fact that I’m adopted. They all simultaneously elicited a sigh of understanding. This is a very common experience that I run into in China, where people don’t understand why I am with a bunch of foreigners or why I speak English so well but my Chinese is slow. I have heard other people tell me how difficult it is for them to convey their identity as someone who identifies differently than they are usually perceived. Identity is complex, but I’ve learned the best way to get past this initial issue, is to learn how to sum up your life story in a couple of sentences. Mine is “我在中国出生,我在美国长大。我被领养了。” Which translates as “I was born in China, I grew up in the United States. I’m adopted”.

Young students posing at their school desks.
Interviewing students
Students Dina and May posing with their class in their classroom.
My students Dina and May (and my Chinese teacher Tan Laoshi in the photobombing us)

The two students I interviewed were Dina and May. They were so much fun to talk to. We spoke in both English and Chinese and they taught me their favorite Chinese phrases/sayings, and told me about their life. They told me that they usually have a lot of homework and are very busy. They had a break over Golden Week (my Fall Break) and spent it with their family.

One of the girls is an only child, and the other one has a younger sister. May, who’s an only child said she would love to have another sibling, maybe a brother. When I asked her why, she said she needs a distraction so that her mother isn’t so hard on her all the time. The girls and I then proceeded to discuss how both of their mothers are tiger moms. The girls said their mothers are only “tiger moms” sometimes.

It was such a great experience spending time with them, and I believe I’ll see them next semester.


Abandoned but not Alone

China Studies Institute students posing with the children at the learning center
CSI students with the children at the learning center

I had the recent opportunity of visiting a learning center for orphans with special needs with some fellow classmates. This experience was more than I could’ve ever expected. It was really special for me in ways that are hard to describe. I was adopted from an orphanage in China as a baby, and I had physical issues as a child. This experience was personal, but I didn’t know how personally it would impact me.

I had visited my orphanage in 2009, and actually had the opportunity to meet the man who found me abandoned at the gates of the orphanage. I was very young at the time but I still knew how special the moment was for this man. As I grow older, I can’t stop thinking about that. I met the man who saved my life. I was abandoned as a newborn, my umbilical cord was simply tied off and I was wrapped up and left alone. I was adopted, grew up loved, supported, and encouraged and I came back to China. This time, I knew more about myself. This time, I could actually have a conversation with the people at my orphanage without a translator. This time, I had really grown up. This time around I had seen what could’ve been if I hadn’t been adopted and what could be because I had been adopted. This time around I wanted to love, support, and encourage someone like me.

We went to the orphanage and sat with the children while they sang songs. We danced with them, painted pictures, and played games. They were all very young. Some had physical disabilities and some had mental disabilities. They all smiled a lot. Then we smiled a lot. Happiness is so infectious, and it only takes a little to create a lot. At one point, I bent down to say hi to a child and without words, he touched my face in the gentlest way. He didn’t talk at all in fact, just touched my face softly and silently. In that moment, I felt so much. I felt for this child like this child was me, because I truly believed that this child and I were the same. From the same place, wanting the same things, and capable of doing so much.

Sitting with the children sitting around a table in the orphanage.
Sitting with the children
Painting with the children around a table in the orphanage.
Painting with the Children

The whole visit, I smiled the entire time. I could see myself in these children. Like them, I was in the care of an orphanage, and while I wasn’t there for long, it is still a part of my identity that I carry with me every day. I was taken in by an orphanage when I had no parents, and I was adopted into a wonderful, loving family —the best family a girl could ask for. Seeing these kids was like looking into another life, one that felt strangely familiar yet uncomfortable at the same time. I have imagined my life if I hadn’t been adopted, a thousand times over; I have imagined my life if my parents hadn’t abandoned me. I was filled with feelings of guilt and longing as I played with these children, who smiled and laughed and were carefree. Inside, I wondered what they are feeling. I don’t know how to say what I want to say… how to say “You are loved. You are special. You are important”, but I hope that one day, I will be able to do all this and more. I hope that one day, I will be able to look at someone like me and make them proud.

Playing with a child at the learning center visit, running under a tree.
Playing with a child at the learning center visit



Celebrating China and the Mao-soleum!

Student standing Inside the Forbidden City
Inside the Forbidden City!

Now one last thing that made this Fall Break so special was that it was Golden Week. Golden Week is the anniversary of the founding the People’s Republic of China, which was officially founded on October 1st 1949. From the beginning of October, the country was celebrating the 70th anniversary of, well, the country. Beijing was filled with festivities including a national parade which was televised all over China.

If you weren’t an official and had an invitation, you couldn’t get anywhere near Tiananmen on Oct. 1st. The morning we left Shanghai, the national parade was being broadcasted in the living room of our hostel. We all gathered around to watch. People from the United States, Europe, South America, and China, all gathered to watch soldiers march in the streets, dancers perform in ornate traditional clothing, and Xi Jinping deliver a salute and order. It was a celebration of China, and we were all there to witness it.

70th Anniversary decor can be seen everywhere in Beijing. Here is a picture on Tsinghua's campus with my friend Michi from Germany!
70th Anniversary decor can be seen everywhere in Beijing. Here is a picture on Tsinghua’s campus with my friend Michi from Germany!

This weekend our program’s excursion included a trip to one of the most famous sites in all of China. We took a trip to see Mao! Not actual Mao, although you can see him for a short period in the morning if you wish. It’s dubbed the Mao-soleum, and people from all over the country come to visit and see Mao Zedong’s preserved body. What we really went to see was Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden Palace!

Picture of Tiananmen Square
Chairman Mao!
Selfie with Chairman Mao's picture in Tiananmen
Selfie with Chairman Mao’s picture in Tiananmen

You’ll see many tourists at Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, as its a very popular tourist destination for Chinese nationals who don’t live in Beijing. My Chinese teachers said that Mao Zedong is especially special to the older generations from the countryside, and many come to see him and pay their respects. The Square was packed when we went, and looked quite festive!

Tiananmen Square for the 70th anniversary with students and many visitors.
Tiananmen Square for the 70th Anniversary
Sarah and I in Tiananmen posing with a large display of flowers behind us.
Sarah and I in Tiananmen

It decorated for the 70th anniversary, with flowers and red and gold decorations, lucky colors in Chinese culture.

After some photos and general wandering, we entered the Forbidden City which is right next to Tiananmen. Not only is the Forbidden City the backdrop to some of your favorite kung fu movies, but it is the former Chinese imperial palace from the Ming dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty. I can’t even imagine living there. The grounds are massive with multiple palaces and a huge garden. It’s quite amazing to be able to stroll around on ground that has been there for centuries. One of the most impressive things about visiting these famous sites, is that they’re in impeccable condition. China does a very nice job of protecting its sites, despite the hundreds of thousands visitors and tourists that come see them. We finished the day off with some tasty treats including this Chinese snack of sugared hawthorn berries, also known as 糖葫芦 (tanghulu).

Sarah and I touching the Doors in the Forbidden City for blessings.
Sarah and I touching the doors for blessings
Friends in the Forbidden City touching the knobs for good fortune
Friends in the Forbidden City touching the knobs for good fortune
Studet holding a Hawthorn berry snack
Hawthorn berry snack (tanghulu)


Fall Fun in Beijing

Weiming Hu in the Fall
Weiming Hu (Weiming Lake) in the Fall

The leaves are changing, the days are getting shorter, and the pollution is getting worse. It’s finally fall! It’s really, really, fall now, and as the temperature drops, so does my motivation to walk 20 minutes to class everyday. Thankfully, China has the perfect thing for me. One of my favorite things about China is the convenience! Specifically in Beijing, it is so convenient to order food, get around, and pay for anything with the click of your phone. However, one of the best things in this city is how bike sharing apps have taken over! There are tons of bike rental apps in Beijing, seriously tons. In an intersection you’ll just see a sea of bicycles, all lined up waiting to be used. These bike apps are so convenient, extremely cheap (less than a dollar per ride, or you can buy a subscription plan) and very good for your body and the environment (no pollution)! I’m a fan.

Fall leave on Beida's campus
Fall leaves on Beida’s campus
Fall on Beida's campus
Yellow leaves on Beida’s campus
View across from our classroom
Walkway lined with trees, leading into a building across from our classroom

This weekend the fall festivities included a fun night out with my friends Sarah and Will as we all went to a Beijing Guoan soccer game at the Beijing Workers Stadium. It was Beijing versus Shanghai and a lot of people came out to support. It reminded me of a Portland Timbers game because Beijing’s main color is also green, and there were a bunch of flags, cheering fans, and lovely green smoke! Although the Chinese League of Soccer is not very popular or as prominent of a league, it was still a great experience and our tickets were only $14.00! We actually bought them from a scalper on the street in front of the stadium, which many people end up doing because buying them online can be tricky and requires a Chinese ID.

Sarah and I at the Beijing Guoan game
Sarah and I at the Beijing Guoan game
Beijing Guoan game
Beijing Workers Stadium with players on the soccer field

Another thing that went down this week, was Halloween! And I know you’re all wondering, can you celebrate Halloween in China? The answer is yes and people do! However, I noticed some differences in Halloween traditions here versus the United States. Halloween in the U.S. is a huge party time for young people and the best part about Halloween is wearing that super cute costume that you look amazing in to your friend’s party, however in China, Halloween is more about looking scary than cute. My Chinese friend Jaye asked me what she should wear for Halloween, saying her Harley Quinn costume was not going to arrive in time, and I told her she could easily DIY a cat costume or something to that effect. She was very confused and asked “isn’t Halloween supposed to be scary?

My Halloween costume
My Halloween costume. Your favorite lil mouse!

Don’t you dress up as fictional creatures or monsters and ghosts?” I told her, that I had never really thought about just how much Halloween has changed in the past 20 years. I told her anything goes for Halloween now, many people dress up as celebrities, internet memes and cute animals. She thought that was very interesting and then I noticed that all the costumes I saw Chinese people wear on Halloween were all very scary, fantastical or ghoulish.


Sarah and I on Halloween
Sarah and I on Halloween

There was not much of a party on Halloween because the next day was CSI’s big Speaking Contest. Students from both the language immersion and non-immersion track could sign up for this competition and had to prepare a 5 minute presentation in Chinese. The topic was totally up for the contestant to decide. Most topics were about Chinese culture, but a few others opened up about their experiences in China. My presentation as about China’s Fifth Generation film directors. China’s fifth generation directors were a group of directors whose films the 80s and 90s gained internationally acclaimed for their controversial and raw depictions of life in China, especially during the tumultuous periods of the 1930s to the 1980s. This time period includes the Japanese invasion, the Chinese civil war, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution. I first learned about these directors from Prof. Christopher Keaveney’s Intro to East Asian Film class at Linfield my freshman year. We watched films and learned how to analyze techniques and styles, and also learned about the historical and cultural significance of films in general.

I really loved that class, and it stands out as one of my favorite classes I’ve ever taken. I decided to do a presentation on these directors because I love their films, but more than that, I love what they stand for. This group of directors created art because it was important to share the stories of the Chinese people. They could’ve been jailed or killed for making these movies but they did it anyway. It is an extremely brave thing and upon watching these films you will find the themes of their work are universal. They are about the resilience of the human spirit.

Me giving my presentation for the Chinese speaking contest
Giving my presentation for the Chinese speaking competition

I worked with my one-on-one teacher to create my script for the presentation and then it was memorize, memorize, memorize. I used a sheet a paper when presenting but could only use it for reference, and was not allowed to read off it. In the end, I didn’t win any awards but I was very excited to compete. I would’ve never expected to do something like this before coming to China and being a part of the CSI program. I had absolutely no confidence in my Chinese speaking ability and the thought of giving a presentation in Chinese absolutely terrified me. I’m so thankful for the support, encouragement, and help in the development of my Chinese skills by everyone in this program, and can’t wait to do even more one day!

Group photo of contestants in the speaking competition
Group photo of the contestants

Busy Week in Beijing!

This weekend was packed! I spent it in Beijing, but went all over the city. I headed on over the Temple of Heaven for my third time, and this time I actually snapped some photos in front of the temple! Then I went to the Happy Valley theme park with Aili and Will and spent the day riding rollercoasters and eating way too many sweets. I also celebrated my friend Jaye’s birthday this weekend.

Jaye's birthday
Jaye’s birthday

She is a student at Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU) and we met in Wudaokou one night. Since then she has become one of our good friends. She’s a Chinese native who’s majoring in English!

Aili, Will, and I in the kitchen wearing chef's hats.

We also had an opportunity to make our own dumplings (饺子)this weekend! They were delicious and filled with meat and veggies. The staff at our accommodation taught us how to roll out the dough and fold them up, and then they steamed them for us. You can have steamed or pan-fried dumplings but all of ours were steamed. Pan-fried are my personal favorite, but I recommend you try both ways!

CSI student group photo with our dumplings
Group photo with our dumplings!
Group photo in our chef outfits
Group photo in our chef outfits

The really fun experience this past week was going on a program excursion to 798 Art District in Beijing. It is a neighborhood full of street art, as well as galleries and museums.

Brick wall with "798 Art Zone" posted on it.
798 Art Zone
Art in 798 in rainbow colors on brick wall.
Art in 798
student standing in front of Graffiti in 798
In front of graffiti at 798
student standing behind a pig statue in 798
Statue Art at 798
4 students posing with a sculpture of faces.
Recreating a sculpture with friends in 798
Sarah and I in front of a colorful wall
Posing with a friend in front of a colorful wall

We visited a North Korean museum which had artwork depicting North Korea and it’s people, and North Korean propaganda as well. As we were taking photos with the art around the neighborhood, we stumbled upon an exhibit which was just opening. The exhibit is by a foundation called the I Do Foundation (I Do 基金会).

I Do exhibit poster
I Do Foundation exhibit poster

Their foundation supports a school for young people with disabilities in Tibet. The foundation helps support the arts at the school and their mission is about helping students with disabilities find their voice and showing them that they do not have to be limited by their disability. The foundation supplies the school with well-known artists who come to teach the students. The exhibit was a display of the art the students have created, as well as stories about the success of the school.

Painting of an eye.  There are multiple eyes in this photo, and it was created as a collaboration between the instructor and the students.
Painting of an eye at the I Do Foundation exhibit. There are multiple eyes in this photo, and it was created as a collaboration between the instructor and the students.
A quilt depicting hands in sign language
A quilt at the exhibit showing different hands doing sign language

We even had the chance to meet the students from Tibet, as they were coming for the grand opening of the exhibit later that day. Most of them were deaf, and we didn’t know sign language, but they could understand Mandarin so we wrote that we were visiting students from the United States. They had never met anyone form the United States and were super excited to show us their art. It was really special to meet these children, after looking at their art and seeing how creative they were. I love that the power of art is that of bringing people from all walks of life together.


Friends and I with the Tibetan students of the I Do Foundation in front of an exhibit.
Friends and I with the Tibetan students of the I Do Foundation in front of an exhibit


Campus Life

We were busy in the classroom this week. Since it’s starting towards the end of the semester, we have all of our big projects to complete. We’ve been working on a skit for our Chinese class for a while now. We had complete creative freedom in creating our skit so because our class only has one male in it, I suggested doing a Chinese version of the very popular American TV show “The Bachelor”. Everyone loved it so we wrote our own “Bachelor” TV show, complete with crazy characters, drama, and a surprise comeback contestant at the final rose ceremony.

Performing our "Bachelor" skit; student taking selfie.
Performing the Bachelor (in Chinese)
The final rose ceremony from the Bachelor TV program.
The final rose ceremony

It was a lot of fun for everyone. My characters name was “Tao Tao” 桃桃 (peach peach) which is a nickname derived from my Chinese name Chun Tao 春桃 meaning spring peach. My character was that of an Instagram influencer/gold-digger and needless to say, I did not win.

Group photo on skit day
Group photo on skit day

Next on our class schedule was a debate. There are two 311 classes, (311 is our Chinese level), and we went head-to-head on topics including “If a well-educated woman (someone who has a professional degree) chooses to be a full-time stay-at-home mother, is it a waste?” and “Is a single person ‘a dog’?”, meaning is it noble to be single or not. My classmates and I thought the topics were interesting and all remarked that these would never be academic debate topics in the United States.

My classmate Evan debating while I photobomb this picture our teacher took
My classmate Evan debating while I photobomb this picture our teacher took
Our opponents for the debate
Sarah and Charlie who were two of our opponents for the debate

Outside the classroom we had the Peking U cup, which was a game I was fortunate enough to see my friend Aili play in. She joined Peking University’s women’s soccer team and we all went to cheer her on for her final game of the season.

Peking University's girls team with their fans on the soccer field.
Peking University’s girls team with their number one fans (us)

Although her team didn’t win, everyone still had a great time, and she’s the real winner in our hearts. It’s a little difficult to become involved in activities at Peking U because our program is segregated from the main school’s classes. We only have classes with people within CSI, and we only live with people within CSI, so it can be hard and scary to venture out to join other groups or student organizations. I’m really proud of Aili for doing this, since she loves playing soccer. Definitely was worth it for her!

Posing with Aili at the soccer game
Group photo with Aili after her game

Another program update: we’re all obsessed with mahjong. Yes, the game that old Chinese people play. This has quickly became the favorite game of us students within the program. Our fantastic teacher Tan Laoshi taught us how to play and we haven’t stopped since.

Students Playing mahjong
Four students around a table playing majhong

To show how serious we are, now all of us have our own mahjong sets. Yes, our own personal mahjong sets. We often joke that we are like a couple of Chinese aunties 阿姨 (ayis) because this game is often played by older people as gambling. This is a very popular game among Chinese women throughout history, and women played to win money and respect among their social circles.