Of course, Margherita was right about my exam results, and I did end up studying at PKU. To my own amazement, I have now managed to muddle through an entire year in a city whose population is over one thousand times the population of the town where I grew up. Some things have remained the same - I still frequently visit Beijing’s many parks and gardens when I want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, and I still eat a lot of cheesecake.
However, other things have changed since I first visited Beijing, and since I moved here nearly one year ago. I have now studied China, including the Chinese language, for two years. Although there is still plenty more to learn, I feel I have a much better understanding of China, its culture, and its people, than I did before. Through speaking Chinese and making an effort to speak to Chinese people wherever I go, I have begun to understand a perspective very different to that from which I view the world.
For me, regardless of your nationality or area of study, studying abroad is a unique experience that allows you to appreciate, if not understand, how and why people from a different country (or different countries) see the world in a different way.
One example from my year in China was when Beijing declared its first ever (and, just a couple of weeks later, its second ever) ‘red alert’ for air pollution. This was an event that was widely covered in international media, and I received about a dozen concerned phone calls, emails and messages from friends and family back home, concerned about my health at this time. “Can you go outside?” one family friend asked me. “Do you have enough food in the refrigerator in case you can’t go shopping?” enquired another. I found this all somewhat laughable, as although schools were closed and extra restrictions were placed on driving in the city, it was business as normal for most of us here in Beijing.
I do not deny that the air quality was fairly horrific at this time, but the way it was reported by the media in the UK actually made me quite angry. My family, watching the news back home, had only seen images of the smog at its worst, of people wearing huge masks with high-tech filtering devices, and so on. When I sent a photograph of the view from my window (taken on the same day the red alert was issued), with the sky looking relatively clear, my parents were very surprised. Through this example, I saw how easily the truth could be skewed to demonstrate a point.