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Teach Abroad in China Alumni, Jennifer Rives

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Jennifer Rives

From: Tampa, Florida
Major in college: Psychology, minor in Chinese Language
Name of School: Chongqing Vocational College of Transportation

What made you decide to teach abroad?

I knew that I wanted to teach abroad when I was 15. I discovered TESOL in high school, and I swore to myself that one day I would try it out and move to another country. However, going through college and trying to fully participate in the college experience, I ended up forgetting about that goal completely. Everyone around me was following the same pattern of graduating and then immediately going to graduate school, so I thought that I should do the same thing. As it turns out, just a few days after graduating with my Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, I was formally rejected from the one graduate school to which I applied.

After reading my rejection letter, I started to feel like I had failed myself, but then I reminded myself that success is not a straight line. I thought back to all of the conversations I had with other college graduates who eventually went to graduate school. I realized that all of them had told me the same thing: if you can take a year off, do it.

With nothing stopping me, I decided to do it. And once I was resolute about taking a year off to do something I wanted, 15 year old Jennifer's dream of teaching abroad jumped into the forefront with open arms and a map in hand.

I realized that I had the chance to make my biggest dream in the world come true, and that everything in life really does happen for a reason. To this day, I am still so glad that I was rejected from graduate school, because without that rejection letter, I would have never spent 10 months in China, met the most incredible Chinese friends, traveled to the most beautiful places (including 3 other countries), and have realized that this career is something I want to pursue long-term.

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What was the most rewarding part of teaching abroad?

The most rewarding part of teaching abroad was realizing that I made a real impact in the lives of my students and friends. I also realized how much of an impact they had on me. I became close friends with a big group of students from my school, and we did just about everything together. We were able to have a relationship of true reciprocal teaching and learning; sometimes I really even felt like they were teaching me much more than I was teaching them.

One moment I will never forget is when one of my student friends, Amy, pulled my co-worker and me aside one night to talk to us about her future. Amy always loved learning English and was very interested in American culture, but she had given up on herself and her future after scoring low on the college entrance exam. She said that seeing how we were traveling the world and living passionately made her realize how much she wanted to do the same thing. She told us that she had decided to study abroad in America and had already begun the preparation process. Amy later left the school, started at a study abroad preparatory program, and is moving to the United States in January 2017 to start her undergraduate career.

By seeing the kind of work I was doing, she decided to become a Chinese teacher in America. I didn’t realize how much I could influence and inspire students until Amy pulled me aside and told me that I directly inspired her to follow her dream of studying in America.

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How were you challenged while teaching abroad? What did it teach you?

I was challenged in just about every way you can imagine while teaching abroad. I was teaching in a small town in Chongqing, and I had a much different experience than my CIEE colleagues teaching in Chongqing city. My living situation was okay at best and I had to learn the local Chongqing language because few people would speak Mandarin to me. My other colleagues and I were the only foreigners living in the town, and on top of that, it was my first time teaching so I fumbled around the classroom for a while until I figured out my footing.

Even though the challenges seemed far too many and far too great at the time, I overcame each and every one of them. The only way to overcome challenges while teaching abroad is to adapt to the way things are done in the local culture in which you are teaching. Once you get in the groove of doing things the way local people do them, you'll find that daily life becomes a lot easier.

I found it very helpful to look for the positives in every situation and to always do my best to laugh at the crazy and hard times. I tried to see each new obstacle as a chance to learn something new. You'd be surprised just how well positivity and adaptability go together!

What was one of your favorite memories of teaching in China?

I have so many wonderful memories from my time teaching in China! I loved meeting my amazing group of student friends who kept me sane, helped me out so selflessly, made me laugh and smile all the time, and taught me more about Chinese language and culture than I could have ever learned from a college course (or five!). I also traveled Guilin, Harbin’s Snow & Ice World for the Ice Festival, or even just the nights I spent out in Chongqing city. I never got tired of how beautiful it was or how good it felt to be in a big city with my friends by my side.

How did teaching abroad influence where you are today? 

Teaching abroad made me realize that I want to pursue a career in TESOL. I am currently preparing to teach abroad a second time with CIEE in Thailand. After I finish my year of teaching in Thailand, I plan to go to graduate school to get my Master's degree in TESOL and I hope to teach at an international school in either South Korea, Singapore, or Taiwan. I would eventually like to move up and take on other educational roles so that I can continue to make an impact in the lives of students and help them achieve their long-term personal and professional goals. 

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How did CIEE make your experience teaching abroad better?

I would definitely recommend CIEE Teach Abroad! When you're first starting out in the teach abroad world, it can be very intimidating finding a good school, getting a visa, finding housing, and knowing what to pack for success. When people want to teach abroad, they don't often realize how much work goes into getting them from their point of origin to the institution abroad.

The CIEE Teach in China team made that process so easy for me. I would call Ally Sobol at least once or twice a week with a long list of questions, and she would always be ready to answer them. I really appreciated CIEE's help with the visa application process, and they laid everything out so well and helped simplify the process. I also felt a sense of security knowing that CIEE knows each school that they place teachers in and keeps up communication with those schools.

CIEE enabled me to feel confident and ready boarding my plane to China and made me feel like I was part of a community of global educators and citizens. All of these are reasons why I am using CIEE a second time to teach in Thailand in October 2016!

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Interested in teaching abroad in China? Vist CIEE Teach Abroad!

Canvas: Is there room?

At times, the city can be mesmerizing.

For me, Shanghai has achieved tangible time travel. It is the closest humans have ever come to bridging the gaps. There is a consistent push and pull felt amongst its people. While the young are disconnected from its history, the land itself has its roots layered in the past. Extensive changes have quickly ushered in an imbalance that is palpable.

It is here, in this exact notion, that I find myself captivated.

Shanghai is currently fighting a war on ideals. Morals, and cultural normalities are the blocks in transition. The players in the arena are comprised of the young and the old. Different generations fight for supremacy. The young wish to move, while the old hold on to a China that is no more.

Why?

If generational shifts are a global phenomenon, then why is it found to be more pronounced here?

All in all, Western influence is the culprit. China’s tumultuous 5,000 year history is bathed in tradition. It is not until recent that the nation has begun to reorder its closed door mentality. In a handful of decades, the asian powerhouse accomplished what takes centuries, for most. 

Pandora’s box has been opened, and at the end of the day, the lid cannot be shut. The nation’s young will make sure it stays that way forever. I am not wondering whether or not the land will continue on its path of media assimilation. Rather, I am curious to see if past traditions will come along for the ride.

It just seems, that the car is too damn full.

[Erick]

Teach Abroad in China Alumni, Andrea Smith

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Andrea Smith

From: Chicago, Illinois
Major in college: Elementary Education, Concentration in Math
Name of School: Red Star Kindergarten, Eldo Primary School, and various reading centers around Chengdu, China.

What made you decide to teach abroad?

I taught abroad after college in Los Andes, Chile through the program TeachingChile and I completely fell in love with the idea of traveling and teaching at the same time.

What was the most rewarding part of teaching abroad?

My students were by far the most rewarding part of my trip. Watching them grow more and more each time I was with them was thrilling and inspiring. It was also rewarding to learn about a new culture, become part of the community, and see how I fit in somewhere completely foreign. You learn so much by living in a new country than you do by simply being a tourist there.

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How were you challenged while teaching abroad? What did it teach you?

Teaching in so many different places was sometimes challenging because I wasn’t always sure what I was getting into. Being thrown into various situations taught me how to work on my toes and have teaching plans for all ages. It also taught me that you can accomplish so much if you are spontaneous and go into things with a positive attitude.

What was one of your favorite memories of teaching in China?

My favorite memories all lie within traveling. China has endless job opportunities which makes it a great place to live and it’s close so many other countries. I was able to visit Hong Kong, the Philippines, and Thailand. And there are still so many other countries I would like to see in Asia like Vietnam, Cambodia, Japan and Korea!

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How did teaching abroad influence where you are today? 

Before I knew about teaching abroad, my plan was to get a teaching job in Chicago. My friend introduced me to the idea of teaching abroad, and I’ve been doing it ever since. Next, I’m going to teach in Spain with CIEE to volunteer as an English teacher! 

I recommend teaching abroad to anyone who has the opportunity to do it.

How did CIEE make your experience teaching abroad better?

I recommend CIEE to people teaching abroad for the first time or those who want the comfort of having constant support. CIEE takes the hassle and stress off!

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Interested in teaching abroad? Visit CIEE Teach Abroad!

A Restless City

Accessibility is a common trait found in an urban environment. If so inclined, everything rests at your fingertips. Shanghai, is no different. Whatever interests may arouse you, rest assured, a niche for it lies in wait.

The heart of Shanghai bleeds opportunity. Pure, clean, and undiluted. Early on, the night lights may hold your gaze, but until you meet the belly of the beast, you’ve yet to settle in. Here, in the confines of the landscape, ambition becomes your only friend. Use it.

One hobby that I partake in is skateboarding. A goal of mine was to find a community of riders upon arrival. Before coming, I discovered the sport was not particularly cared for. Though, to be fair, reception has begun to rise recently. Be that as it may, not many skateboarders can be found. With a population of 20 million people, only a 1,000 claim to follow the sport. Roughly speaking, in a crowd of 20,000, only 1 skateboarder exists.

My prospects for continuing the activity was not a hand I’d safely bet on. But, as with most hobbies in Shanghai, if you look for it, you will find it. After a week of research, a board was bought, and a club was joined.

As mentioned previously, your opportunities are endless.

All that’s required is effort. 

Just move.

[Erick]

Time In

Greetings.

Many days have followed since my last. As of now, I’ve been in Shanghai for a month. In some ways, it’s difficult to write on what has occurred. Even still, I am uncertain I’ve the energy to word my thoughts.

At its core, I am quite tired.

The first month hits the unprepared like a wave. Do not get me wrong. This does not mean that I’ve yet to enjoy the moments that pass, rather, I am just exhausted. The company I work for handed over a robust schedule. Most teachers will be clocking in eight hour days. You may be thinking, “Erick, get it together, this is an international standard”. In that regard, you are correct. Unfortunately, these days are filled with teaching at multiple schools. Traveling back and forth throughout the day is tiring to say the least. Not to mention, my colleagues have just one day off a week. These schedules, coupled alongside a new environment appear, difficult. Well….no. Terrifying, yes, terrifying is a better fit.

Yet, once accustomed, you realize the worth.

I find this to be an important factor. The first month will be tiresome. But, do know, the days here have so far been great. Although draining, rest assured, it is one hell of a time.    

[Erick]

Beginnings

It seems, that for those of you who are reading, a new horizon is on the fold. If accepted you will welcome in changes, that for some, may usher in anxiety. For this reason alone, I would like to share with you my personal experiences that will succeed in due time. The following posts will hopefully offer up advice on how to prepare for your own departure at a later date. Please note that I am in no means a widespread traveler, or for that matter, an expert on Chinese culture. Rather, I am someone who simply wishes to pass on the proceeding days that await me.

For the rest of 2016 and the spring of the budding new year I will be teaching English in Shanghai. Throughout this span of time I will post both frequently and consecutively. Logistics aside, I have yet to construct an overall map of what my writings shall entail. However I do know that these pieces will attempt to cover a wide range of topics. In the end my primary concern is to share with you what it is like to live and teach in China. If at any point in this journey you would like me to write on a subject that interests you, by all means please let me know.

And with that, enjoy the days ahead.

[Erick] 

Culture Shock

I have been in Chengdu, China for a little over a month now. Of course, when you enter a new country,  you know things are going to be different... a lot different. Although there's no better way of finding out those differences than entering the country itself and figuring it out, it's nice to be aware of them before coming to alleviate some of the "shock". I want to share with you the culture shock I have been experiencing my first month in China. 

 

  1. Squat Toilets - The first one of these bad boys I encountered was at the airport in Chengdu. I knew it was coming, but oh how soon it came! It's practically just a hole in the floor. Something to get used to, that's for sure. Also, there's no toilet paper or soap so always have some hand sanitizer and kleenex handy. And I mean ALWAYS. The smell of these bathrooms is quite excruciating and don't be surprised to see older ladies doing their business with the door wide open. It's quite normal. 
  2. Smoking - I absolutely hate cigarettes and this is the hardest thing for me to get accustomed to. I try to walk around people that are smoking in front of me which usually isn't too hard given I'm from Chicago and am an extremely fast walker compared to Chinese people. However, I am a little stuck when the guy next to me lights one up in the elevator. Remember when you were a kid and you would go to a restaurant and the host would ask "smoking or not smoking?"...and how that was banned a long time ago?! Well, here, it's completely legal. Smoking. Everywhere. Inside. Outside. EVERYWHERE. 
  3. Spitting - My dad was right!! He warned me about this. You will commonly here people hacking up phlegm and spitting on the ground. No shame at all. At first, I was very disgusted by this, but after being here, I honestly can tell why they need to do this all the time. The pollution can really get to you and I'm sure it's better to get that stuff out rather than keeping in. Although, not smoking probably would help this situation a lot. 
  4. Traffic - Chengdu isn't the most populated city in China (around 4 million people) but holy crap, that's a lot of people! There is rush hour just about every hour and people lay on their horns the entire time they drive. You really just have to mute the honking in your mind to remain sane. There's no other way. 
  5. Food - The food is so spicy, but so delicious! So this isn't really a culture shock for me, but the pig brains in a bowl and pig's feet hanging up...that's another story. I only ate chicken and fish at home, but I made the decision to end that for my duration in China. Food is a huge part of Chinese culture and the way they prepare these dishes (no matter how strange the body part), it's really delicious. Just don't think about it too much or have your Chinese friend tell you what you ate after you already ate it. 
  6. Stares - I am blonde with blue eyes. So my daily life consists of Chinese people staring at me and asking to take pictures with me. So much to the point sometimes, it's hard for me to get through what I need to get through. I went to the cherry blossoms a couple weeks ago and about 20 people stopped me and asked if they could take a picture with me. And when I say ask, they wrap their arms around me and a photo is taken so quickly, I didn't even know what happened. It doesn't bother me though, they are truly curious about foreigners and are happy you are there, especially if you're a teacher.

My best advise to future teachers/travelers that are coming to China is to just come into it with open arms. These are the norms are and it's best not let them get to you. 

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My First Day Teaching

What a successful day it has been!

Throughout the night, I kept waking up just about every hour. My body is still trying to get used to the time zone in China. 14 hours later than Chicago. With a mix of jet lag and being excited/nervous, I sprung out of my bed at about 4am. Oops. But hey, nothing wrong with getting an early start on a big day, right? Right.

My roommate Joy shows me the way to my kindergarten school. I couldn't contain my excitement the whole 45 minute bus ride sitting in bumper to bumper traffic. (Joy probably thought I was a little crazy, but that's okay). I enter the school and am greeted by the friendliest teachers and the CUTEST students I have ever seen. 

I had 4 classes today, all kindergarten classes and all in a row. I could barely catch my breath between classes; there was just so much excitement and energy. I felt like a little super star in the classrooms with teachers on the side taking pictures and students high fiving me. Each class was filled with games and songs. I taught them a hello song, we played "Teacher Says", practiced animals, played hot potato, practiced "My name is...", "How old are you?", and so much more. It's crazy the amount you can do within a 30 minute time period. 

I am very happy with how today went and can't wait for more with these munchkins!

My advice for future teachers: Stickers + songs + games = SUCCESS

 

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Sticker Time = Best Time
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London Bridge is Falling Down

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My Winter Break in China: Travel Itinerary and Pictures

Hello again, CIEE Teach in China readers!

After finishing teaching the Fall semester at your school in China, you will be given one or two months off. During this time, you are free to do anything and everything you wanted to do during the previous working months. Many schools, like mine, encourage you to spend your long break traveling. Schools especially hope that you will visit other places in China during this travel period so that you can see more of the history and culture that Chinese people are so proud to claim. Many schools will give you a bonus to be used on travel expenses during the break. Some schools will even give you a paycheck or two during the break, which can really help relieve some of the stress of budgeting while traveling. Since no two schools are the same or have the same policies, it is always in your best interest to ask your contact person at the school about the benefits they will provide during the long winter break.

During this long break, many of the CIEE teachers I met in Chongqing took the opportunity to travel abroad to countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Taiwan. Some did a mixture of international travel and domestic travel, seeing some of China's major cities here and there. I decided to use the break as an opportunity to see as much of China as possible. Sitting here now, I can proudly say that I have been to 12 different cities in China, each offering different views, different local cultures and dialects, different historical sites and perspectives, different lifestyles and living situations, and, of course - different foods (food is one of if not the most important discussion topic/concern/point of interest for the average Chinese person).

To encourage all of you to make a full China travel itinerary and to use your breaks and weekends in the spirit of adventure, I am sharing my 2016 Winter Break China Travel Itinerary. I hope that you will find it useful in choosing locations to visit in China!

Destination 1: Guilin 桂林, Guangxi Province (January 15 - January 19)

Three years prior to teaching in China, in my Contemporary Chinese Society and Culture class, I was introduced to this breathtaking city. I promised myself at that time that I would visit Guilin and that I would do it as soon as possible! So, naturally, when it came time to crafting an itinerary, I made sure that it included the city of my travel dreams.

This was the first stop on my trip, but it stole my heart right away. Even after completing the trip, I would have to say that Guilin remains at the top of my list of favorite places in China. When you see the green limestone mountains lining the light bluish-green waters of the Li River, you feel like you have walked right into one of the Chinese paintings that they display in art museums. Especially when you stand on the bank of the river and look up at the mountains, you understand why Chinese poets, artists, playwrites, and scholars were so enthralled by the landscape.

Taking a boat or raft on the Li River is an absolute must to get the full natural experience of Guilin. I also highly recommend going to the Dragon's Backbone (Longji) Rice Terraces, especially in the warm months. It is another wonderful experience to walk around the terraces that were built into the side of Guilin's gorgeous mountains. If you are looking for a place to feel at peace and feel conncted to China through nature, Guilin should certainly be first on your list.

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Image The Longji Rice Terraces - a must see, especially in warm weather!

Destination 2: Hangzhou 杭州, Zhejiang Province (January 19 - January 23)

Hangzhou is a city that many Chinese citizens recommend as a place to visit and hope to one day visit themselves. Many Chinese people even claim that Hangzhou is one of the most beautiful cities in all of China. Hangzhou is of high cultural significance, as its varied landscapes served as the inspiration for many famous Chinese paintings and works of poetry throughout Chinese history. Indeed, it is a very large city with abounding natural beauty.

There is much to see and do in Hangzhou, so I definitely recommend giving yourself enough time to get lost and enjoy the beautiful places to be seen. Each season brings a different charm and aesthetic to the city, but Spring is said to be the best time to visit because the flowers are in bloom (Hangzhou is famous for its lotuses in bloom). Hangzhou is interesting in the fact that you can find quiet and secluded places wherein you can feel at one with nature, but you can also find high-end shopping malls and nightlife.

One thing is for certain: you must go see West Lake, Hangzhou's most famous natural tourist attraction. It's a huge lake, so it's hard to miss and able to be experienced from several locations in Hangzhou. I recommend getting on a pleasure boat and going out on the lake as well. Some of the pleasure boats will take you to small islands inside the lake on which you can walk around and explore. It can be a little pricey to do this, but you do get some wonderful views of the lake this way.

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3. Shanghai 上海 (January 23 - January 28)

I had one reoccurring thought the whole time I was in Shanghai: this place is another world. People always say that Shanghai is a perfect blend of Western and Chinese cultures, and boy are they right. Sometimes it really did feel like we weren't even in China! But if there is one thing to keep in mind when visiting this city, it's that Shanghainese people are very, very proud of their history and happily claim their identity as Chinese citizens living in THE most global city in China.

Shanghai has a little bit of everything to offer travelers. It was probably the most expensive stop on our travels, but the experience just could not be matched. It was also a strange phenomenon to see so many foreigners in one place, especially for me, coming from a small town in Chongqing where I am one of only four foreigners. But with plenty of restaurants, shopping, and nightlife, you can pack your schedule from morning until night with things to see and do. I also recommend trying some of Shanghai's local foods while you are there, especially if you are a fan of seafood. And of course, try to take part in the shopping culture (even if it's just window shopping) and nightlife that make Shanghai so famous. Image
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4. Qufu 曲阜, Shandong Province (January 28 - January 30)

If you tell any of your Chinese students or friends that you're going to Qufu, chances are they won't know what you're talking about right away. That is because the Chinese characters in the name are not commonly seen or used by the average Chinese person, and also because Qufu is a place that the young generation in China deems "boring." But, the older generations deem it as an important historical and cultural site in China. In fact, Qufu is the hometown of Confucius. His grave is in Qufu along with the graves of his relatives and some of his most famous followers. There are also plenty of Confucian temples as well as the Confucius family mansion. If you are a fan of Chinese history and culture, then Qufu is definitely worth a visit.

Compared to other cities in China, Qufu is considered very small with a population of around 100,000. After living or staying in a large city filled with millions of people, going to a small city like Qufu can be a much needed break. The lifestyle is definitely more simple there, but if you look around, you can find hidden gems and charms. As a word of caution, there are not many English speakers in Qufu, so I would recommend going there with someone who can speak at least basic survival Chinese.

Qufu is also close to one of China's famous mountains, Mount Tai (泰山). The mountain is only a 30 minute bullet train ride away, so I would highly recommend going there as part of your stay in Qufu. The mountain is a bear to climb because it is so tall; its peaks penetrate the clouds, so once you're at the top, you are standing inside the clouds. But standing at the top and looking out at the mountains covered in a cloudy haze is an unmatchable sight.

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Image The clouds at the peaks of Mount Tai

5. Qingdao 青岛, Shandong Province (January 30 - February 1) I studied abroad in Qingdao in the summer of 2013, so I was not sure what to expect going there in the winter. Because Qingdao is right on the ocean, the winter breezes were bone-chilling. I share the opinion of the locals that the best time to visit Qingdao is in the warm months, especially the summer months. While the rest of China is boiling hot in summer (especially in the middle of China where I am located), Qingdao stays cooler than most places because of its seaside location, making for a very pleasant experience.

Qingdao is not a particularly touristy place, but it does have some places of interest for tourists, such as the Qingdao Beer Museum. In some places, it also retains buildings constructed by the Germans when they occupied Qingdao. Many Germans visit Qingdao because of Germany's past influence in the area. Qingdao is a lovely place to visit for a few days, but an even lovelier place to live or stay for a long period of time. It is a large city with millions of residents, but everything is spread out, which makes it seem far less populous. It is also cleaner than most Chinese cities and has plenty of Western amenities. If you are a student of Chinese or learning Chinese, Qingdao people speak Mandarin well, so you should not have much trouble communicating with them.

In short, if you're debating taking a teaching position/job in Qingdao, just know that you would be living in a beautiful area with beaches and sea views, kind people, good public transportation, and all the trappings of big-city life with a more laid-back feel.

Image Inside the Qingdao Beer Museum

6. Beijing 北京 (February 1 - February 5) Of course, no one can resist a trip to China's capital city. It is a must see for all visitors to China. You could spend a long time in Beijing trying to see and do everything the city offers, or you could spend less than a week and pack your schedule full each day. To save some extra money, we opted for the second option.

Must sees in Beijing include: The Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, the Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace, the Lama Temple, and the Great Wall (I recommend the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall). When in Beijing, try to stray away from Western food and embrace all of the delicious Chinese food options around. Eating Beijing duck (Beijing kaoya 北京烤鸭 in Chinese) is a must for one meal as well - it really deserves all the hype and all the fame it receives! Beijing duck can get very pricey depending on where you eat it, so do some research or ask beforehand for recommendations on duck restaurants that won't break the bank.

Souvenir shopping and haggling are also famous in Beijing. You will find all sorts of cute and crazy China souvenirs when you're there! Just know that if you look like a foreigner, you are at an immediate disadvantage because the Chinese vendors will always give you a higher price for things (they have a tendency to assume that all foreigners are wealthy). That is why haggling is so important when it comes to buying anything on the streets, and especially at the infamous Pearl Market. I think that everyone should do a little shopping and use it as an opportunity to practice their Chinese and improve their haggling skills (which are very useful for anyone looking to save money anywhere in China).

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Image The Summer Palace in winter

Image The Mutianyu section of the Great Wall

7. Harbin 哈尔滨,Heilongjiang Province (February 5 - February 8)

Harbin is known as the "Ice City" in China and attracts many tourists in the wintertime for its famous Ice Festival. During the Ice Festival, one can find ice sculptures on the streets of the city as well as in certain parks. The ice sculptures are all lit up at night with colored lights, making for a beautiful wintery scene. But the most famous place to see the ice sculptures lit up is Harbin's Ice and Snow World (bing xue da shijie 冰雪大世界 in Chinese). It is located on an island and it contains the largest ice sculptures in all of Harbin. Seriously, the ice sculptures there are massive! They craft everything from castles to pyramids to pagodas out of ice and include fun winter games and activities in most places too. The entrance fee is a little steep at 330 yuan, but it is well worth the price in my opinion. The experience was so unique and one that I will certainly cherish.

Another famous tourist destination in Harbin is the Siberian Tiger Reserve. The reserve claims to have over 1,000 tigers living in it, and when you go there, you believe it! Harbin is also very interesting to roam around in during the daytime because there is evidence of Russian influence everywhere. Most of the signs are in Chinese and Russian before they are in Chinese and English. While in Harbin, trying Russian food on the streets is also quite a fun experience. My favorite food of all was the sausage, which is sold on the street for 10 yuan. The flavor is smokey and delicious! And of course, if you're looking for a unique souvenir from your time in China, Russian dolls are sold just about everywhere in Harbin.

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Image All photos are images of Harbin's Ice and Snow World

Losing my Grandma in China

*I originally made this post in January, but it was unable to post due to technical difficulties. Below is the original post I intended to make on the night I found out about my grandmother's passing.*

I somehow gravely knew that I would lose a relative while I was in China.

A week or so before my flight, the thought crept up on me in the late morning hours. I let it impact me for a little while, and then I just shook it off, telling myself that I am no psychic and that it was probably just nerves trying to deter me from my drive for adventure. When I heard the news three weeks ago that my grandma was dying, all the same thoughts and their accompanying emotions crawled back into me.

Being the only family member away from my Grandma during her final countdown was difficult. I felt selfish, like I had abandoned her when she needed me most. I felt distant, as far as the physical miles keeping us apart. I felt helpless, because I knew that I was stuck here with no money for a flight and a contract binding me to stay.

So many people asked me if I would break my contract and fly home to see her. Honestly, the thought did tempt me for a while. But I felt the right answer come to me on Christmas Eve, when I ate Christmas dinner with three Chinese teachers from my school.

At dinner, I told them that my Grandma was dying and that we were all hoping she would at least make it past Christmas. One of the teachers then asked me, "How old is your Grandma?"

"90 years old," I replied.

The three of them were in awe. They smiled at the thought of someone living that long. And then, they gave me a new perspective.

They said that in China, if someone lives to be 80 years old or older, people will greatly admire and respect them. This is especially true because of China's history, across which many people passed away considerably earlier.

They then said that, being that my grandma is 90 years old, no one would shed any tears at her funeral. When I asked why, they said that because to them, the death of someone that old means th end of bodily suffering. They are happy to know that their relative no longer has to live in pain and can essentially be set free.

My grandma endured nothing but pain for the three weeks leading up to her death.

I cherished their perspective so much that it became my own. And now that I have officially received the news of my grandmother's passing, I both stand by it and cling to it. And in her memory and honor, I have composed the following letter. May she feel every word as she shines magnificently in the light of another realm, one so much bigger than I will ever understand.

1:50 am on January 11th, 2016: China Time

Dear Grandma,

At 10:00 am Florida time, you passed away. I only heard the news tonight, and it is making me feel so hollow.

I knew that this was coming for three weeks, but there is no way of preparing to lose someone who has always been such a source of light and happiness in your life. I so wish I could have seen you in person one last time and held your hand like the rest of our family, but I thought of you every single day and sent you my love in every way I could. I drank your favorite drink and thought of you. I looked at your picture and smiled like you. I dove into my memories and held on to you.

On New Years Eve, I promised that I would live out 2016 with your immense love as the driving force behind everything I do. And when I leave to explore beautiful lands in China this weekend, I know I will find you everywhere I look.

Grandma, I have always wanted to live by your example; no matter where I end up next in the world, your way will merge with the one I am currently defining to influence the person I become.

Thank you for everything you ever did and everything you ever were. You will always be here with me and I will always find you in all of your favorite things.

I love you across every ocean and every continent, in every culture and language.

Your Granddaughter,

Jennifer

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