The reason why I love to travel is because I get to experience different cultures and compare them to mine. Everyone has a different view on the world and it is really refreshing to see and hear new beliefs. After spending a week filled with constant traveling, meeting new people, and becoming closer to our already existing friends, I can honestly say my impressions of China is unlike anything I have ever experienced before. Everything from the food to the people is completely unique and has allowed me to really reflect on the differences between our cultures. What has stood out most to me is the sense of serenity and community that is prevalent in Chinese culture.
One of my favorite events this week was traveling to the Lama Temple. Right as our group walked in, everything was quieter and calm. Incense filled the air and people prayed beside each pavilion. I never felt so at peace in any area before. Buddhist culture is not as prevalent in the United States so being at this Temple was an experience unlike any other. I walked around by myself to really soak in the experience; and even being alone I felt safer there than anywhere else in the world. The more I learned about Buddhism, the more I have been able to agree with their tenets and teachings, especially the fact that desire causes suffering. In the United States, I have noticed people really value materialistic goods a lot more than other people. When I was at the Temple I realized the best things in life are traveling, being with friends, and being at peace with your surroundings. Not money or power.
Another aspect of China that stood out was the sense of family and community. Every person I met was eager to talk to me and help me. On my first day I was walking around the markets by our hotel and I started talking to this man from Beijing that was an artist. He created calligraphy pieces of art that he said took him weeks. He kept telling me about his life and how he ended up doing what he was doing now. But as much as he was happy to tell me about his life he wanted to hear about mine. When I told him I was traveling as a student and interning he made sure to tell me all the good markets and stores to go to. He told me different apps to get on my phone to ensure that traveling would be easier. It is the little things like helping a stranger and treating them like a friend that stood out to me. Even the meals are more welcoming than in the United States. We would sit at large circular tables and share all the food together. There was never really side conversations. We all talked and shared the experience together. I was never expecting to feel more at home in a foreign country where I do not speak the language than where I have grown up.
I was not exactly sure what I would expect coming to China. I knew it was going to be something unlike anything I have experienced before. And I was right on that. But I did not expect to love a place as much as I love Beijing. My first impressions have exceeded my expectations. I am excited to experience and learn more about their unique culture.
What I learned this week: Being in a place so different from the United States has made me realize there is no ‘right’ way. There are only different ideas, and different is good.