Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Over the past few days I've been reminded of how American I am. I know it by the fact that any Argentinian looking at me seems to know I'm foreign, by the Spanish that goes over my head and the mannerisms I'm just not used to. A simple example; in Argentina most people greet and say goodbye to friends with a kiss on the cheek. Though it's probably closer to brushing cheeks with someone. When the first friend of Cami's I met was saying goodbye, he kissed her on the cheek and then tried me, I tried to hug him, and the result was a very awkward nudge to the ear.
It went something like this.

But more than little mannerisms like personal space or hello kisses, being abroad has shown me how much my mentality has been affected by where I am from. I spent most of Saturday and Sunday feeling very American.

I'm also starting to see how Beijing has affected me also. When I got to China I wasn't prepared for it at all. I was 17 and had just graduated high school, I felt like I was missing out on a fun semester with my friends and boyfriend. I wasn't focused on learning Chinese or genuinely experiencing life in another country the way I now wish I had been. I spent a lot of time hiding in my dorm room.

Right now, I'm ready.

And meeting the other American students on the program last night drove that point home.

Last night, after two days with Cami and her friends and some time to contemplate how completely American I am, I got a text from one of the other CFHI interns saying that the group who would be here for June was meeting for dinner and would I like to join? I was pretty eager to meet the people I'll be working with, so they picked me up at the apartment and we walked to the main square for dinner.

We ate at an expensive restaurant (although the bill only came out to about $14 USD per person), spoke English the whole time and more-or-less spent the night introducing ourselves. Two of our group had already been here for 3 weeks and were 2nd year medical students at UT Galveston. The other three had also just arrived. Two are rising pre-med juniors and one is a 2nd year med student at U of Tulsa. Except for Paige, the U of Tulsa student, ALL of us were either from Texas or went to school there (really strange coincidence!).

In fact, there were a lot of strange coincidences, but maybe I'll write more about that later. All in all, I really liked the group, they were friendly and easy to talk to and I think they'll be fun to work with, although there was definitely some med-student style competitive bragging >_<. Also, I think I'll particularly like Paige, the girl I am paired with for the next few weeks. As a bonus, our skills are well matched; she has the medical knowledge, and I think relative to the rest of the group, my Spanish is pretty good.

Anyway, by the time we got up to go I didn't feel so American anymore. Or rather, I felt like I could see how much China had changed how I think by comparison. I can see that some of them are repeating parts of my Beijing experience- like focusing on foreigners and staying shut in. I don't think that's a bad thing depending on your personality or what you're looking for in your time here. But I think that what I am looking for from this summer is different from what they want, and I'm pretty sure it's completely because of how I acted in Beijing.

An example of the opposite experience in China; One of my good friends in Claremont (Evan) went to China last summer, worked at a tech company and stayed with a host family. He left the states not speaking any/much(?) Mandarin, but when I met him on a camping trip before the start of sophomore year, he spoke better than I could, and I had spent triple the time in the country. Now, Evan definitely has a knack for languages and is the sort of person who talks to/is loved by everyone. But what he told me when we met is that he didn't spend time with the other international students on his program, he spent all of his free time with his host family and spoke Chinese as much as possible.

So that's more or less my plan for the summer. I don't want to spend lots of time with other international students. I think really lucked out with my host sister and want to hang out with Cami's friends, go out all night, go to the park, drink mate tea and above all else really finally learn Spanish.

So I guess this blog will record how that works out- maybe by the end of my 2 1/2 months here I'll be mistaken for an Argentinian? Well, that's doubtful, but maybe I'll leave speaking decent Spanish.

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