I never saw myself in China, or any country in Asia for that matter. In fact, I didn't even plan on going to China until a few months before the trip actually left. It didn't actually hit me that I was going to another country until I was physically on the plane, reviewing in my mind the Chinese words I learned last year. Even then, the feeling was almost surreal. Over the course of fifteen hours, I grew impatient to experience what I assumed would be a whole different world. When we landed, it was certainly not what I expected, but then again, I didn't know what to expect in the first place.
Walking off the plane, I almost wanted it to seem like I was on some distant planet, but it didn't. Walking on the streets of Shanghai or along the canals going through parts of Suzhou pretty much felt as if I was back home. The real differences came when we were in places like restaurants, subway stations, and bus stops. Public transportation was always packed with people standing shoulder to shoulder. Restaurants were always just as frenetic, with people hovering over you as you ate just so they could swoop in and snag your table as soon as you began to collect your trash.
As the trip began to near its end, there was almost this gray cloud looming over the group. We all knew that once we got on the plane to head back to the US, we would never step foot in China again. The feeling is hard to describe, almost like that last lick of an ice cream cone, or opening your very last present as Christmas comes to an end. As I look back on the experience, I'm glad I did it. While it took some getting used to while we were there, China certainly left its mark on me; a mark that I'm sure will be with me for the rest of my life. I understand a bit more the transitions Chinese students must feel when they come to the US. Even now, as I write this, I still can't believe that not even a month ago, I journeyed around the world and back - a journey that I certainly will never forget.
-Kendall Brennan-Navedo (2014)