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.
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