Deborah Graff Peking University
Humboldt State University - Majoring in International Studies
I chose my major so that I could understand different cultures, determine their greatest needs and learn how to help them. If your life goal is to love people worldwide, I highly recommend taking a year abroad. Here are a few of the people I have had the privilege to know and love...
Here I'm with a friend waiting to enter Gu Gong, "The Forbidden City." My classmates and I went to several famous historical sites in Beijing. The university organized a trip for international students to climb the Great Wall for only 10 yuan. The ticket was more like 50 yuan for a trip down to the famous Tian An Men to check out the Forbidden City.
My Chinese reading and writing professor liked to take our picture, so this is one of the pictures he took at the end of the semester. We international students came from Tibet, Korea, Mexico, Germany, Spain, U.S.A., England, and Japan. Like in U.S. universities, PKU displays several subcultures, just as I have found in every college I have attended so far. It seems that, for the most part, students from wealthy families in China and the U.S. have many similar behaviors rooted in common values. The same is generally true for middle-class students in both countries.
My marvelous neighbors, a young Chinese family, have helped me in many ways. The first night, just after I put my two suitcases into my apartment, I met a grandma playing jump rope with her grandchildren. Even though she was just visiting, she invited me over for dinner. I got to share a meal with a real Chinese family on my first night in a foreign country! Since that night, my visits with my new neighbor, her philosophical husband, and their three- and four-year-old kids have deeply blessed us both. We eat, play, sing, dance, do crafts, celebrate my U.S. family's birthdays and practice both languages. This is a picture of us outside the Forbidden City at night.
In October, the kids' international teachers at the kindergarten taught them about dressing up, so when I came over, they put on their costumes. This is one of the pictures of "scary goblin" and Snow White.
Haidian Christian Church has become a family support system here for me. This is a picture of my fellow CSU-IP classmate wearing green, our friend from PKU wearing black, one of my two best girl buddies in yellow, and me after church one Sunday in September. This girl buddy, along with our other sister-in-Christ, has been through a lot with me. We have done fun things like walking up Xiang Shan (Fragrant Mountain) and singing karaoke; we have also shared hardships. Our time together is precious.
Since my dear friend also lives in the same apartment complex, I get to go over frequently and hear her practice the gu zheng, or ancient zither. This picture was the first time, so my CSU-IP friend and I got to try it out, too. When she plays I like to close my eyes and imagine the stories about fishermen that go with the songs.
The third Sunday at church I met a young woman who told me she knew a group that planned to visit the children in an orphanage. Since our first meeting, I fell in love with the kids and the group. Because it takes about an hour and a half to get to the suburban apartment where the middle-aged dad and mom have made a home for these kids, we only go once a month, but it is such a fun time!
This is Yang Yang (Sun Sun), the oldest adopted child. He is 17, and although he responds to questions in one-word mumbles, when it is time to recite scripture or sing songs, his words flow beautifully. His sunny smile is quite contagious. All but one of the 11 or 12 children have special needs, and they range in age from infant to 17 years old. We come to help them, but I think their smiles, perspectives, potential, and love help us even more.
The second time we went to see the kids, we took a trip to an elderly community first. The woman in charge had such a lively spirit and put on performances and activities for the residents to attend. With mobile-home-type rooms that face the outside, a big vegetable garden, and workers who enjoy their jobs, this community to care for elders who do not have family caring for them provides a harmonious home for single elders.
Da Wei, the 10-year-old boy on the right wearing the Sponge Bob shirt, is an orphan I truly look up to. After leaving his home a few years ago, he left behind a dog he loves and misses. Here at the orphanage, he helps care for others. Don't let his uniquely formed fingers or his skin that makes him look like he was burned from head to toe let you underestimate his brilliance. Since arriving, his adopted parents have taught him to play the violin, memorize scripture, and gradually to read. He is incredibly mature for his age, but he still likes to be picked up and twirled around until his eyes go spinning.
Before I came to China, I also hoped to find a group that I could play soccer with. When we were at the orphanage, they told me about a soccer fellowship! What awesome news! Every Saturday that they've gotten together to play soccer, I've joined in. At first we did not know what to expect from one another, and I did not know their rules or how to call for the ball in Chinese. It did not take long before I picked up what they say, they saw I knew how to play, and they accepted me as a teammate. When I think about leaving them next June, I already get teary.
When I first saw my bathroom, I was a bit worried. The squat toilet didn't concern me, but the shower that splashed water all over took some getting used to. If you move to China, make sure to follow the advice to use shoes that bu pa shui—"do not fear water." I reminded myself that I wanted to get as far away from the West as I could during my year abroad. I included this bathroom picture because it is a symbol of how I hope to shed the label of "foreigner" and become an average Chinese person. The restroom represents the biggest cultural difference I have experienced so far. Otherwise, people here are just people.
Learn more about the study abroad program in China