By Alexandrianna De La Cerda
When you think of a dream trip, it’s always to some exotic country in South America or a luxurious one in Europe. Not one where you you squat to use the restroom. A place that I would see myself in was China.
The school offered a program in which 20 students have the opportunity to travel throughout China for two weeks. The first week involved staying with a host family and the second week comprised of sightseeing. In order to be selected, I had to submit a 200 word essay answering what would I gain out of the trip and why I was the best fit to be chosen. That was a struggle because when I am asked to answer questions about myself I suddenly forget my name or what I like to do. I must have remembered all of the important things, however, because I was chosen to be one of the students on the trip.
When I found out that I was selected to attend the trip, I had no idea what to expect. My dream of traveling the world would start off in a unique country, and I was more than ecstatic.
The other 19 students and I had met on various occasions before the trip for different bonding activities. It was only right to get close with the people I was going to travel halfway across the world with. We learned about the culture and history of the country, went on hikes with each other, and played many icebreakers in order to build a strong bond. By the end of the school year, I had made 19 friends that I would share the experience of a lifetime with.
June 12 came around the corner sooner than expected, although I still had no idea what to expect. On the bus ride to the airport, my emotions were everywhere. I wasn’t afraid to leave my family, nor was I nervous to board my plane; I just felt plain neutral. That was until we finally landed in China.
Once we arrived, I could not fathom the fact that I was in China. I sat there and contemplated life wondering how in the world I ended up there. I was so mind-boggled that I started to ask everyone around me if they were just as amazed as I was.
After a lengthy delay for our plane from Beijing to Shenzhen, my emotions fled and I became neutral again. This neutrality might have been from my inability to process the situation. But it all changed again once we finally landed in Shenzhen. Little did I know that this was the start of a life changing experience.
When we arrived at the host school, I felt like I had just dipped myself in a pool of sweat. California heat has nothing at all on China’s summer. It was pouring rain, yet 100 degrees at the same time. I didn’t feel remotely presentable enough to meet my host family for the first time. I haven’t complained about the heat at home ever since last summer’s adventure.
Despite the heat and my appearance, when I got off the bus and greeted my host family, they didn’t mind that I was a mess. They hugged me, and understood that I was not yet adjusted to the weather there.
My host sister was 17 and a senior, with a younger brother and older sister. The hospitality and kindness of the Chinese people are beyond what I had imagined. I expected them to be just an average family, and be welcoming. It was more than that. I was treated like a family member from the first day I met them. Being able to actually feel the welcome instead of just seeing it was a warm feeling. You can usually see the smile on people’s faces, but in China, I felt their smile.
My host mother’s food was incredible. I know the saying goes that no one beats mother’s food, but no one beat my Chinese host mother’s food, in particular. The funny thing is that I don’t know how to use chopsticks, so my host mom had to bring a fork to every restaurant we went to. I ate well that first week in Shenzhen with my host family.
On the second part of the trip, we traveled to see historic sights like the Xian City Wall, the Terracotta Warriors, the Great Wall of China and the Wild Goose Pagoda.
While the second half of our trip was the more traditional educational experience and was memorable, but I truly gained something more out of the first week of my trip. During those few days with the family I learned more about the culture itself than I did from the actual sites and places we went to. And I fell in love with that culture. At times I even forget that I walked the Great Wall of China and visited one of the Seven Wonders of the World because the experience was so surreal. But to experience a new culture has been hands down one of the best experiences of my life.
The Chinese people are so welcoming and are all about the family that they have near them. They are also very humble and appreciative. They understand that they might not live in the best circumstances but they value what they have. The culture of family is very much similar to my Latino culture. I guess that’s the reason why I felt so comfortable there and I never felt like I wasn’t home.
The mother always made sure I was fed and well rested. The father took us out every other night to see how they pass free time. The little brother treated me like I was his own older sister and played mischievous little jokes on me, along with laughing at the way I pronounced certain mandarin words. The sister and I connected like actual sisters, starting from having friendship bracelets, going on walks together talking about our lives, and becoming best friends within a matter of days. I get a warm feeling knowing I also have a family away from home.
One of my favorite encounters of the trip was with an old man that teaches crickets to fight, a famous man in the village. He was so excited about sharing how he teaches them and where they live. He was so pure and genuinely happy talking about his passion that when he saw us enjoying it he started to tear up. He talked about how happy he is with his life and his job and yet he’s stuck to his humble beginnings.
When I first heard about the program opportunity I felt discouraged because I thought that I would never be able to afford an experience like that. I thought that my mother would never let me fly across the globe. When I told her about it, there was very little time before the application due date. I was not confident at all that I would get a spot in but maybe it was fate leading me towards a great experience.
Even though this experience was a little over a year ago the memories stays near the top of my mind everyday. It has impacted me in the best way possible by allowing me to be more accepting and open minded to new things and motivates me to create more memories similar to this experience. From time to time I still wonder how they are doing, even though we do have communication connections, the time difference makes it a struggle to connect everyday. Overall GHC provided me with an experience that I will connect with for a lifetime.