I started writing this on a United Airlines airplane, slowly realizing that I was heading to a new home with only five recognizable faces for the next six months. Things will be difficult – getting adjusted, learning the language, and figuring out Chinese culture. I did not know what to think, except to think about the faces of my loved ones back home. As I arrived in Shanghai, 14 hours later, I was immediately anxious to see China and my Chinese brothers and sisters.
As I walked out into the airport, I was hoping to get more of a culture shock. Ironically, I did not. I believe the reason why I felt so in place here in China was because I live in San Diego. San Diego is such a huge melting pot of people and we all appreciate our own culture. This is probably reason why it was easier for me to adjust and to accept the authentic Chinese culture.
I will say, however, I am definitely not adjusted to the burping out loud, the crazy driving techniques and the smoke and pollution entering my lungs. Also, huge tip to anyone wanting to come to China, BRING TOILET PAPER AND SOAP WHEREVER YOU GO. It was so embarrassing when I used the public restroom – called the toilet here – for the first time. I’d heard about the hole in the ground kind of toilet, but never thought of anything else.
Walking into the public restroom, I was more concerned with the new squatting position I had to do; I actually prefer this to avoiding touching the toilet seat. But, as I was finishing my human duties, I realized that there was no toilet paper. I was so intrigued and nervous about the new style of restroom that I had no interest in making sure I had something to wipe myself with after. Thank goodness it was only number 1 (sorry for the TMI).
After wiping myself with the back of my hands, I was anxious to go to the sink to wash them. I stood by a lady who was also washing her hand. As I desperately reached for the soap, she stopped scrubbing her hands and stared at me with the most deathly stare I have ever gotten in my life. I ignored her stare and just got some soap in my hand. She rinsed her hands quickly, grabbed the soap, and walked out.
I was feeling guilty, rude and confused all at once. From there on out, I take a roll of toilet paper, a Ziploc bag of soap, and some hand sanitizer.
I have not adjusted quite yet to Chinese culture, but I have definitely accepted it and never once had the intention of showing disrespect. I believe that we should accept the reality that we are all humans, the same organisms, and we should be able to respect and accept one another. Things might be different around the world, some may agree or disagree with others, but there is no need to disrespect and not be able to accept one another.
After my first encounters, I soon headed to my new home with my new nuclear family. I now live with my lovely and sweet godparents and cousins in a cute little compound with beautiful people around the world as neighbors. After unpacking, showering, and eating, I got cozied up next to my cousin Kassandra in the comfiest king size bed ever. I thought about my loved ones at home, and closed my eyes after a long excursion to a new place.
I can already tell it will be an experience of a lifetime and I cannot wait to share it with you all.
Nasreen Nabizadeh is a public health junior. She is studying abroad this spring at East China Normal University in Shanghai, China.