Four things I learned in Inner Mongolia

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of WorldTeach and its affiliates.

 

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One of my favorite photos I took out in the grasslands

Hello, everyone! I have returned! It’s been almost two months (!) since I got back to Hunan Province from Inner Mongolia, and I’ve had a lot to think about for what I want to write about my time there. I’ll probably write about what we did and where we stayed in another post, but I want to write about what I learned out in the grasslands, because quite honestly, I’ve put off posting this article for far too long. I know I hoped to have more articles after my last article, but the Universe had other ideas; we were without WiFi in our apartments for pretty much all of November. We are, however, now back online, and I’m hoping to make up for lost time and make good on my promise to bring y’all more articles! So here are the four things I learned in Inner Mongolia:

1.     I want to learn beyond the surface. It’s easy to just visit the tourist spots and say I’ve been to an area, but for me that almost feels like cheating, and it feels like I can’t say I’ve been to a certain place (e.g., I’ve been to the tourist attractions in Paris, but I can’t say I’ve seen France). When I was at Dazhao Lamasery in Hohhot and out in the grasslands, I could tell that the places we visited were old—very old—and I was curious to know about the history and the culture of the place. When we were out in the grasslands, I wished I knew Mongol so I could sit with our host families and ask about their story. There was one instance when I was sitting in the family’s kitchen, and I would have loved to be able to sit with who I assumed was our host’s wife, and talk with her about what she was cooking or how life was out there. The fact that I know Chinese is rather convenient for Inner Mongolia, but if I’m to travel to other countries like Thailand, Cambodia, or Nepal, or any other country where my language proficiency is less than ideal, an interpreter would be invaluable for this.

2.     I realized my privilege in America. I know that Pinterest and other social media platforms can make off-grid living sound really comfortable with the right tools and planning (when my parents learned we were living in a yurt, they asked if it was like “glamping”), but out in Inner Mongolia, we got a taste of no-frills off-grid living (AirBnB). When we were out in the grasslands, we had no running water, no paved roads, no power grid, no central heating, and no public infrastructure like police or medical centers. We depended on potable water, solar and wind power, a wood-burning stove in our yurt for heating, cars made for off-roading, outhouses, and a lot of hoping and praying that no one got hurt or sick. While it was easier than we expected, we were also staying there for only a few days. I imagine that there’s a lot of planning that goes into living out there, but they at least seemed to make it work. It just made me realize how much privilege I have living in America, not only to have that security of public infrastructure, but also having the opportunity to travel and have these experiences.

3.     I realized how much stuff I actually need.  When I was preparing to leave for a year in China, I realized how much stuff I had accumulated, even after only a year in my apartment at the time. I’m starting to begin my journey to minimalism as a result, especially if I want to travel somewhere else after my time with WorldTeach is over. In Inner Mongolia, I knew we’d be on the move a lot of the time, so I knew I had to pack light for the week we were traveling. I traveled with a small suitcase (my backpack wasn’t big enough) with all my warm clothes, which were only a few items like sweaters, a light coat, a leather jacket, and leggings I layered under my jeans (we were totally unprepared for the cold). Aside from that, I’ve realized how much I need certain things like my journal and my tablet, and how much I don’t need other things, and it’s been liberating to travel without lugging around a giant suitcase.

4.     I’ve questioned some of my views on traveling. Before I went on this trip, a lot of anecdotes I had read about traveling almost belittled the idea of youth hostels, claiming that they weren’t safe or they weren’t up to par with hotels in terms of cleanliness or service. That was not my experience when I stayed at a youth hostel in Hohhot near the East Railway Station (AirBnB). The woman was very helpful, she spoke enough English to have a basic conversation, the rooms were clean and comfortable, and I never felt that I or my belongings were not safe. Also, when I booked a standing (!) train ticket from Hohhot to Sanggendalai, strangers were kind enough to let me share seat space with them. I realized how lucky I was to have a place to sit down on a train, which was amusing to some of the train staff when they realized a waiguoren (foreigner) had to buy a standing train ticket. I never thought I’d do those things when I first came to China; I would be open to doing a standing train ticket again (but for a shorter journey), and I’ve stayed at another youth hostel in Zhangjiajie City since then.

I’m glad to be able to have this experience growing as a person, as well as being able to go out and see the grasslands of Inner Mongolia. If you want to know more about where we stayed and what we did, please leave suggestions and requests in the comments below!

A few life updates: I was able to win NaNoWriMo (*cue celebratory fanfare*) so it’s been good to work with my novel and hopefully get it published before the end of the academic year. Plans for the Christmas holiday are still up in the air; I get Christmas Day off (effectively giving me a four-day weekend, since I don’t teach on Fridays), so I will likely go and travel another part of southern China. I hope to get back into the routine of posting updates to the blog regularly after having no WiFi in the apartment for a month. See you then! Zai jian!

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Random Thoughts: In and Out of Love with THE SIMS 4

In preparation for NaNoWriMo, which starts this coming Wednesday, I made the decision to purchase The Sims 4 to work through writer’s block and burnout. Whether or not that was a mistake is still to be decided, but either way, I’m glad I bought it—if for no other reason, then because I know more about myself as a result. It has taught me more about who I want to be, what I prioritize in life, and my relationship with video games.

I’ve noticed a common theme in the “stories” I’ve made in the game. The character I play the most is normally a young adult woman that lives in a smaller home (if not a home that would be considered a tiny house), is creative and a music lover, often achieves the maximum level of the Violin, Writing, Painting, and Gardening skills, is also highly skilled in the Cooking and Handiness skills, and often works as a writer, musician, or painter (to be fair, there aren’t many career options in the base game). I know enough of myself to discern that that’s the “fantasy me”—the person I would love to be in real life. I’ve been missing the violin here in Cili (although I hated practicing in the U.S. because I felt my playing always sounded awful, no matter how I tried), and I have been trying to grow a container garden in my apartment. I’ve even been trying to get back into watercolors, since I can’t easily find acrylics in China, but I’ve been frustrated with my paintings for this past year, so painting is not a pleasant experience anymore (but that’s another story). Also, I don’t dress like my avatar does, I don’t look like my avatar does, and I’m not as brave to publish my writing as prolifically as my avatar does. Why is that? There’s nothing stopping me in real life, much like in the game, so why do I find it easier to live the life I want in The Sims as opposed to real life?

I think part of the appeal of video games in general (and games like The Sims in particular) is because of the escapist element. We can be whoever we want to be, with the impact of failure or other people’s judgment minimized or nonexistent. Just like I can’t cast magic like the spells from The Elder Scrolls, or travel through space like in Ratchet & Clank in real life, I can’t do everything from The Sims in real life (for instance, I don’t have to worry about whether or not my neighbor is from outer space). Fantasy elements aside, however, who’s to say that I can’t be the person I’ve made in The Sims in real life? Who says I can’t hone my skill with the violin, find joy in painting again, have an amazing garden, or be a bestselling author? I think I now have more of an idea of who I want to be through playing The Sims, but now I need to summon the courage to make that happen in real life, regardless of failure or people’s judgements.

Until I have that courage, my time playing The Sims 4 is over. I’ll probably play if I’m burned out or facing writer’s block during NaNoWriMo (as I planned when I bought the game), but even then, I’ll need to be more intentional about why I’m playing. If nothing else, I need to be certain that I’m living my life in the here and now, and not through a computer screen. My goal now is to have it be so that, one day, I can be the person I wouldn’t need to play a video game to become.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for listening! This coming month will be chaotic with lesson plans, NaNoWriMo, and traveling for Thanksgiving, but I hope to get back into writing articles for this blog on a regular basis. I realize I’ve been putting off my articles about Inner Mongolia, so I hope to have those up later this coming week! See you then! Zai jian!

Shifting Winds: My Introduction to Digital Nomadism

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and do not reflect the views or opinions of WorldTeach or its affiliates.

I remember watching Raiders of the Lost Ark when I was four or five years old, and watching Lara Croft: Tomb Raider for the first time when I was ten or eleven. I remember being in love with all the locations that they were traveling to and everything they did, and that’s a major part of what got me into my Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology. Unfortunately, that also made me realize that my options for anthropology invariably required a doctorate, which I was not ready to commit to right after undergraduate, so that took that out of the equation (at least for now; I’m not saying “never” because anything can happen).

I’ve been thinking about graduate school as a possibility when I’m done with my fellowship here, but after all the changes I’ve experienced already, even a year feels too far ahead to plan in advance. Even before orientation was over, there was already a bit of talk among us cohorts of “what happens next”—what we may plan to do after we return to the United States. I think a lot of us (myself included) are still in the “wait and see” phase, which I see as a bit problematic because a lot of deadlines in the U.S. for opportunities like graduate schools are rapidly approaching. I was lucky that the deadline for WorldTeach was this past April, so I could apply for this year’s fellowship! So, what happens next? I’ve written down a few ideas, and one involves digital nomadism.

 

 

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Digital nomads usually don’t work from the beach. The sun, heat and sand make working with a laptop very hard. The Instagram pictures are only to show-off.”- Digital Nomad Soul

I’ve heard of people working remotely, but I’ve only recently heard of the term “digital nomad”—being able to work remotely anywhere in the world and travel full-time—and I’ve been curious about it ever since. I know I’ve been curious about the idea for a while about being able to live anywhere (one of my dream home ideas involves a tiny house on wheels), so this is not helping my imagination at all (I’m laughing at myself as I type this). It seems like that was what attracted me the most about the lives that Dr. Jones and Lady Croft lived—the fact that they could go anywhere they wished and still do their work.

I’ve had a writer’s callus on the middle finger of my right hand for as long as I can remember, and I go nowhere without a notebook and pen to write any ideas for stories, poetry, or blog articles. Being here in China has helped me become even more productive with writing for the blog and writing my stories, and with my writing, I feel like I’m getting closer to where I belong in terms of what I’m meant to do. I’m tempted, now more than ever, to make a career out of writing, and with the idea of digital nomadism, as long as I had Internet, I could possibly write from anywhere in the world.

 

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This is not to say that I’ve already decided this is what I want to do. This is just to say that this has been on my mind for the past week, and I’m wondering if this could be something that I can do after my time with WorldTeach is over. I hope to travel to Southeast Asia and other areas of China while I’m teaching in Cili, and I would love to be able to share my experiences and combine that with my passion for writing. Having adventures and writing about them sounds like an ultimate dream for me; I’ve joked with my friend that I’ve become Bilbo Baggins, “I want to see mountains and finish my book!”

If I chose to take this path, I understand that the reality of digital nomadism is likely not as glamorous or carefree as it appears on social media (but then again, one could easily say the same about any lifestyle—even a “normal” one, by societal standards). I have no illusions that hardship would be nonexistent, especially when I’d just get started. One common thread I’ve seen, however, is that despite all the drawbacks and sacrifices that the bloggers and location-independent freelancers have to make, the end result—being able to travel around the world, having the freedom to live the life they wish, with only what fulfilled their daily lives—is more than worth it. Hopefully if this is the path that I’m meant to take for the time being, that it is well worth the hard work that it will take to make it a reality.

As I’m writing this, my classes have been cancelled for today and tomorrow so I’m taking the time to plan my next lessons and keep up to date with what’s going on with Hurricane Irma (I’ve checked with my family and friends, and everyone’s okay thus far). Random update: a group of cohorts and I booked our tickets to the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia for the National Week holiday! I’m really excited to travel to a part of China I’ve never been to with other people in my fellowship, and I hope that I can bring you along with me! Hopefully, I can be back here later this week with a new post! See you then! Zai jian!

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Stranger from a Strange Land: Life as a Foreigner in China

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and do not reflect the views or opinions of WorldTeach or its affiliates.

To my knowledge, as I’m typing this, I am one of two wai guo ren in Cili, a town of about 400,000. The last time I was in Zhangjiajie in 2014, I hardly saw any foreigners, so for all I know, I could be the first foreigner some of the people in Cili have ever seen. It makes getting around town very interesting.

Let me just clear up one thing first: even though the term wai guo ren means “foreigner” (“person from outside the country”), it’s (usually) not used in a negative context like English speakers usually use the term. (I’ve also overheard some people near the school calling me “wai jiao“, or “foreign teacher”, so I imagine most people assume I’m there to teach English.) When I was studying abroad in Beijing, I sometimes heard lao wai (literally, “old-outside [the country]”), but that hasn’t been as commonly heard in Changsha and Cili. It could be because Beijing had more foreigners out and about, even in areas outside of the tourist areas like Sanlitun and the area near the Forbidden City and Tian’anmen, but that’s just speculation on my part.

As someone who doesn’t like being stared at, it’s a leap of faith for me to be in Cili. I have to admit, sometimes I feel like Christina Ricci in the movie Penelope, wanting to hide myself whenever I go out and about, since I’m going to stand out no matter how hard I try otherwise. If nothing else, it reminds me to put on a bit of makeup and put a bit of thought into what I’m wearing; in my mind, they’re going to stare at me, so I might as well make it worth their time. I’m concerned, though, that one day, I might cause a traffic accident because someone was staring at me. That would be embarrassing beyond belief.

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I’d like to think I’m being a good guest in China. Interestingly, though, when it comes to how I come across to people, there appears to be some criteria for “how to detect an American wai guo ren” that I am not fulfilling. When I was in Zhangjiajie, I overheard people wondering out loud if I was French, Canadian, English, or Russian—never American. I never determined the logic behind their assessments, and to be honest, I didn’t feel comfortable asking. Either way, Cili is no exception; when I was getting my haircut this past week, the guy cutting my hair casually asked me if I was from Russia. Memories of standing on a Beijing subway platform and being asked the same question at random came flooding back. It’s almost incomprehensible for them that I could be American, and I’ve yet to figure out exactly why.

On a similar note to appearances, I’ve been told “You’re so beautiful!” as if that’s as common for them to say as it is for us Americans to talk about the weather during small talk. Part of me wonders if it’s because I, as a porcelain-skinned woman, fit an ideal beauty standard for China (it’s still considered beautiful for a Chinese woman to be fair-skinned). Another part of me wonders if it’s merely because I’m a wai guo ren—different, and therefore something of “exotic”. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

One minor annoyance is when people see me in stores and follow me around, whether or not they’re staff or fellow patrons. I imagine they either A) assume I don’t speak or read Chinese and hope to help, or B) are merely curious as to what I’m choosing, so I can’t be too upset about it, but it’s definitely something to have everyone stare at you (and/or take pictures of you; they’re not always sneaky about it, and I’m not sure how I feel about that either) when you’re trying to buy toilet paper or laundry detergent. I imagine this is close to how celebrities feel when they’re out and about.

I don’t let it get me down, though, because I imagine I would have to deal with it no matter where I went in China. If nothing else, it reminds me that I’m a guest here, and not to get too in over my head. I’m representing not only the United States, but also the rest of the world, in a sense, to these people, so I hope I’m doing a good job.

My first week of classes went well here in Cili, and I feel like I’m getting on my feet with teaching, slowly but surely. I’m expecting a week-long vacation coming up in October, and I’m hoping I can have some exciting articles about my travels! In any case, I’m hoping that I can be back later this week with another post! See you then! Zai jian!

A Long Way to Go: Musings on Being Forever Curious

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and do not reflect the views or opinions of WorldTeach or its affiliates. 

One of the first things that Chinese people tell me when they learn I speak Chinese is, “Ni shuo de hen hao” (“You speak very well”). Even though I’ve been learning Chinese for ten years, I still reply with “Hai cha de yuan ne” (I translate this as “I have a long way to go”). This is not just coming from a sense of modesty (although, based on their reactions, I imagine that wins points in their book); I still feel like I have a lot more to learn about the language before I’m comfortable using it.

I’ve thought about this ever since I first arrived in Changsha, and I could easily argue that I have a long way to go in other parts of my life too. One thing about me is that I love to learn; I am never satisfied with what I already know. This could work to my advantage and to my detriment, but either way, it’s who I am. (Maybe it’s the INFJ in me talking.) I’ve always wanted to be better at whatever I put my mind to, whether it be learning another language or learning how to paint landscapes. I can only hope that I can keep this going here in Cili, with my learning how to teach English and traveling throughout the rest of China.

When I was living in the Washington, D.C. area before I came to China, I began listening to different personal development podcasts like The Simple Sophisticate with Shannon Ables, and audiobooks like Lessons from Madame Chic by Jennifer L. Scott. I was reading their work to figure myself out at the time, but one common theme that I picked up was an encouragement to be curious about the world around us, whether it be your favorite composer, or a new book that caught your eye in the bookstore, or traveling to a country that you’ve always wanted to visit. It just validated to me that I was on a good path, and it motivated me to keep going and make the decision that led me to teaching English with WorldTeach.

I found a quote from the website Adventure In You that reads, “Blessed are the curious for they will have adventures.”  Tying into that, another quote I love is by Andre Gide, “It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves—in finding themselves.” These two quotes sum up so well what brought me to China, and what I hope will keep me going long after my service with WorldTeach is completed.

So, here’s to being forever curious. Here’s to being explorers and students of life. I may have a long way to go, but I’m still moving forward, and that’s all I can ask of myself. Gan bei!

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This week is rather crazy for me (teaching six lessons almost back-to-back on Wednesday!!) but hopefully I’ll be back later this week with another article! See you then! Zai jian!
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Life in Cili: A Week in Review #1

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and do not reflect the views or opinions of WorldTeach or its affiliates.

Since I came to Cili, I have already made some leaps and bounds in getting out of my comfort zone. I joke with my friends and family about “skill points” like my life is a video game, so here are some of the “skill points” that I acquired this week:

Faith, Trust, and Pixie Cuts

For some reason, I was under the impression that I wouldn’t be able to find a place that could deal with my hair when I was in China, so I pretty much accepted the fact that I’d have to grow out my pixie cut. Almost as if the Universe was mocking me for doubting China, I found at least three hair salons near the school. One day I just decided that my hair was getting a bit dorky-looking (ladies who have grown out pixie cuts before, you know what I mean), so I decided to walk in with a photo and see what happened. Fifteen kuai and forty minutes later, I felt a lot more put together!

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The “before” shot
First haircut in China
The “after” shot

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Skill Point Acquired: It’s Not Easy Being Green

Before I moved to China, I lived in the greater Washington, D.C. area for work, and while I was living there, I tried to start a mini garden on my balcony. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite pan out like I had expected, but that might all change here in Cili! Within my first week, I found a potted aloe plant and a mint seed kit from my wandering around the city! When we were in Changsha, I found a hanging basket with English ivy; I’m hoping I can find one like that to hang from my balcony. I’m hoping that more greenery in the apartment would make it feel a bit more like home.

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Vegging Out

When I was studying abroad in Beijing, I didn’t really have much opportunity to prepare my own meals; given that the program was only for two months, it seemed unrealistic for us to go out and buy a wok, a pot, etc. when we could eat out cheaply, compared to the U.S. Luckily, my apartment came with a rice cooker, a microwave, and some of the other basic essentials for cooking, so I only had to get stuff like food storage containers and actual foodstuffs.

I also was able to cook my first homemade meal here in China! I made steamed rice in my rice cooker, boiled a leek and half a carrot in a pot on my hot plate, and then fried an egg with spinach and a bit of soy sauce. The only issue with the meal was that it was too much for just me! Oh, well—all the more excuse to invite guests over! That said, though, the best part about having one pot and pan is that there are fewer dishes to clean up!

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P.S. Bonus points because I found shou zhua bing pancakes in the market across the street from the school! Since I haven’t been able to find a pancake stand near the school (though that might change as classes get going), I made one! I’m still trying to get used to the hot plate concept, though, so it got a bit burnt. That said, it still tasted like sweet victory!

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手抓饼(shou zhua bing) with an egg

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Spice it Up

Normally, I go to one place for everything from mantou (steamed rolls; perfect for when my stomach isn’t cooperative) to rou si chao fan (fried rice with shredded pork), but one day, no one was out in front, the lady who helps run the shop was watching TV, and while I was likely within my rights to call out to get her attention, I wasn’t in the mood to yell. So, I decided to move on down the street to a mi fen (rice noodle) place, and ate there instead.

Normally, they ask, “yao bu yao la jiao?” (do you want spice?) and my answer is usually “bu yao la jiao” (I do not want spice). In Changsha (possibly because there were more foreigners), people were generally okay with this, but here in Cili, there was some commentary from the people behind me the last time I ordered food; I didn’t catch all of what they said, but I imagine it had something to do with how foreigners can’t handle spice (guilty as charged) and that the food wouldn’t taste as good without spice.

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At the mi fen place, I took a baby step and ordered my beef mi fen with yi dian la (a bit of spice). Later on, the lady handed me some pink vegetable or fruit; I never figured out what it was, but it cut the spice a lot.

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Could anyone tell me what this is? I wasn’t able to ask the lady who made my food.

Tomorrow I start teaching classes here in Cili, and honestly, as grateful as I am for the time to explore, I’m ready to start teaching. Hopefully I’ll be here next week with another article! See you then! Zai jian!

Think like Kiki: Hayao Miyazaki and Culture Shock

Disclaimer: May contain spoilers for the film Kiki’s Delivery Service. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and do not reflect the views or opinions of WorldTeach or its affiliates.

I think I was about six years old when I first watched Hayao Miyazaki’s Kiki’s Delivery Service, and the movie is still one of my favorites to this day. Earlier this week, upon reflection that I’m going through an almost-identical experience as an adult, I was tempted to go back and watch the film again. After thinking about it, the film basically goes through the general arc of culture shock. Even if it’s technically a movie for kids (although I would say that people of all ages can enjoy most of Miyazaki’s films), it provides a great lesson of overcoming adversity, and discovering purpose and self-confidence. Now that I’ve arrived at my placement in Cili, Hunan Province, it feels like we’ve gotten past the tutorial section of a video game, and now we’re getting into level one, and I have to admit that I’m a bit nervous. Here are the lessons that I got from Kiki’s Delivery Service, and what I can expect from culture shock over the next few months.

Stage One: Initial excitement and curiosity. Thirteen-year-old Kiki, accompanied by her talking black cat Jiji, goes out into the world to begin her training as a witch. She finds a new city to live in and makes new friends like a baker named Osono and a young flying enthusiast named Tombo (the story takes place in a world that just started to develop air travel), as well as starting her flying delivery service after a fellow witch asks her what her skill is.

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When I first came to Changsha, I was incredibly hopeful for the year ahead, despite my nerves about living in a foreign country for a year. We had so much work with lesson planning and working towards teaching practicum (four days in which we taught classes in a trial setting). I’m glad that we were all able to work together and we could ask each other questions about life and how to prepare to teach in a Chinese classroom.

Stage Two: Uncertainty and a sense of isolation. About halfway through the film, Kiki actually tells Jiji that she feels like an outsider, after having a brief “honeymoon period” of feeling great and meeting people. She feels estranged from Jiji after he starts a friendship with a neighbor’s cat (her name is Lily in the English dub).

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Even after spending a week in Cili, there aren’t as many crazy new things distracting me from what might be the beginnings of culture shock. In Changsha we had cafés that we could hang out in and we were almost never in our hotel rooms besides to sleep and use a Western-style commode. In Cili, I’m still in the exploring phase, so I’ve been spending a lot of time in my apartment. I’m hoping to make it so I’m out of the apartment more often, so I’m not tempted to sink further into any emotional funk I may have though self-imposed isolation.

Stage Three: Emotional crisis. Kiki loses her ability to fly her broomstick and her ability to communicate with Jiji. She says in the English dub, “If I lose my magic, then I’ve lost absolutely everything.” This is a low point for Kiki, and it requires her to step back and work through her emotions.

I would be shocked if I don’t have to deal with this during my time in Hunan Province. I didn’t bring any of my knitting or other art supplies because I wanted to have a full immersive experience in Hunan, but I can understand how I’d miss that in the times where I’m not feeling the greatest. I have a backup plan, though… :Cue fanfare:

I’ve decided to participate in NaNoWriMo! For those of you who don’t know what NaNoWriMo is, it’s a worldwide writing challenge that requires participants to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days during the month of November. It might be that I don’t know what a bad idea is anymore, but there is a method to my madness.

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I’m anticipating that the time surrounding October and November is when culture shock is going to hit me like a train, so if I did something like NaNoWriMo, I’ll have something to look forward to, plan for, and counter culture shock with, as well as being able to work through any emotional garbage I might be dealing with at the time. I’ll be tracking my progress with NaNoWriMo on here, as well as possibly showing what planning methods I use. Let me know in the comments what you want to see!

Stage Four: Rebuilding. Kiki reunites with Ursula, an artist living in the woods outside of town, and she invites Kiki to spend some time at her cabin to take a break from flying. Jiji stays behind to spend time with Lily. The trip is a change of pace for Kiki, and gets her out and about instead of having time to dwell on her loss. She also learns a lesson from Ursula, that she needs to find her inspiration, or why she wants to fly or train as a witch. Ursula also provides a lesson with the metaphor of her painting. When Kiki asks her if it’s worth the trouble to find inspiration or purpose, she mentions that she thought about scrapping an idea for a painting; Kiki mentions that the painting ended up being beautiful, and Ursula replies, “So then it was worth it.”

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In this scene, Kiki is away from any trace of home (including Jiji), so she’s only able to focus on her own personal growth and working through what’s going on. I imagine that in Cili, I’ll have to think creatively to work with how I deal with my culture shock. I hope that I can work with my culture shock through working on NaNoWriMo, and focusing on creating strong lessons for my students. Another piece of advice I received was traveling once every three weeks to visit a cohort in another city, or to visit another place in general; the logic was that once every three weeks was enough to change up the pace, but not so much that one would get burnt out from traveling all the time. The other cohorts are a big support system even now, and I imagine it’s going to be even more crucial for us to stay in contact when we’re all going through culture shock; we’re already planning to visit each other at our placements, and planning trips together for longer vacations.

Stage Five: Growth. Kiki regains her powers, reestablishes a close bond with Jiji, and becomes a strong part of the town. A final montage shows that Kiki’s delivery service flourishes, and Jiji and Lily start a family. Even though she admits to her parents in a letter that she still feels homesick from time to time, she loves the town that she now lives in, and that she is much more confident in herself and her role with her delivery service.

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I can only hope that this is the path to culture shock that I take. I have no illusions that I won’t have any symptoms of culture shock while I’m here, so I can let this experience change me for better or for worse. There is a sticker left over from the previous resident on the wall of my apartment over my desk. It reads, “If you believe in yourself, anything is possible.” I’m hoping that I can take those words to heart.

We start classes on Friday here in Cili, but hopefully I’ll be back here next week with another article! See you then! Zai jian!

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P.S. Despite all the Studio Ghibli merchandise here in China, I’m still trying to find a Jiji mug.

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