When I did my exchange program in Chengdu, China, the one thing I was not expecting was the lack of sunshine. Of the time I was there during the summer, I had three days of blue skies. For the first couple weeks there this was not a problem. I was fully immersed in my language courses and enjoying my independence outside the states. As the first month finished, however, I began to feel mellow, and less bubbly than I had felt in my initial weeks. While I knew the “honeymoon” period of my program had worn off, this feeling was not homesickness or any sort of changed relationship with the people around me.
It took me awhile to figure out, but finally I realized what was wrong. I missed my Colorado sun.
Granted, a difference in weather was not what I had expected to encounter as a problem. The sun was a hazy red ball in the sky, and I could look at it without having to squint. The sky was always hazy, partly from pollution and partly from the region’s climate. I began to wish for Colorado skies and mountains, with dry, crisp air and weather that was sunny but still made me sweat less than I sweated here.
Luckily, I had one of my closest friends on the trip, and we were able to talk about this. It’s weird to miss the sun, and I was completely unprepared for it. After recognizing what was bothering me, I was able to address my problem and focus on my program and the time in the city. When I return to China this August, I am prepared for China’s weather and pollution. Recognizing a problem and realizing there are situations you will encounter abroad that are completely unexpected is one of the most important things a person can do when going abroad. Yes, there will be challenges, but how you respond to them determines how your experience is. For me, it helped especially to remember that I was going back to Colorado at the end of the summer, and that made me focus on my time abroad rather than dwell on the future. I also found it helpful to throw myself into a number of activities, from calligraphy lessons to jamming at karaoke bars after class.
All in all, my experience was more memorable because I was able to focus on it. Just remember, you will encounter problems while abroad. But by recognizing this, you have already taken the first step in overcoming them.
– Michelle Yeager, DUSA Student Staff