“Please remain seated with your seatbelts fastened, we are approaching the runway,” boomed the overhead mic filling the cabin with the voice of the Air China 747 pilot. Nervousness gripped my stomach. I heard the low rumbling of the plane’s landing gear being extended, before suddenly, the jolt of the wheels propelled me forward. I had forgotten to tighten my seat belt. Still, with the deceleration, I felt the anxiety of being in a new land replace the nervous edge of being in a giant flighting tube; what would be my place, would I fit in, how did I end up here? The mic cut short my meanderings, “Welcome to New York City, New York; we have just landed in John F. Kennedy International Airport. The weather outside is a chilly…” The date was January 21st, 2003, I had arrived on American soil for the first time.
The same questions would plague me nearly thirteen years later as my plane made its decent into Baiyun International Airport. But while my primal instincts of uncertainty have remained still all this time, the world has not; I had long since traded my red passport with a building for a prettier blue one with a eagle, America had traded its status as the leader of the free world for that of an isolationist teenager, and China traded its soviet-styled cement apartments and bicycles for western-styled skyscraper and Mercedes. As I walked towards the immigration kiosks, the was another surprise waiting for me there; there were so many people waiting to enter China that the line stretched on for two hours, an unimaginably anomaly fourteen years ago. But that daunting sight was only a reminder of the chasm that has divided the Chinese and American sides of my identity, and with that I handed my passport and immigration slip to the agent with apprehension.
By every definition of the word transition, mine was remarkability smooth, paved over with the assistance of my godmother and her amazingly helpful graduate students. With this lifeline, I was able to adjust to Chinese dorm life and cooking almost immediately; trying to make this change without this assistance would have been almost unimaginable. Within a week or so, I was able to meet friends who filled my time here in China with laughter and smiles. Some of the teachers that I would encounter were phenomenal and beyond exceptional, while all were at least adequate. The two years that I have been here have taught me independence, entrepreneurship, and variety of medical subjects. Even my Chinese skill, which languished rusted and unused in America, was bought forth and cleaned and sharpened until it gleamed for which I have of course the ingenuity of my teachers to thank.
Aside from the daily monotony of classes, a plethora of extracurricular options were laid open to me by the university. Choices ranged from Chinese classics, like classical calligraphy, to western styled clubs, like Model United Nations and sports clubs. During my freshman year, I dabbled in a variety of activities; however, by the time the second year rolled around I had settled on a few core interests that I had formed. One of which, I am proud to be part of and even contribute to is that of a program which links students together to help each other in difficult subjects. This mutual assistance program, hosted by the Student Activity Center, expanded my line of sight for the potential of my time at this school.
Everyone wants to make a contribution to his or her community, myself included, and I believe that I have found my niche. A few months the school began to encourage students to expand their entrepreneurship skills by opening an incubator where students can pitch ideas to the teachers and, if approved, would be given the resources to put their ideas into action. A group of friends and myself were all keenly aware of a drastic lack of school paraphernalia on campus and came up with a plan to address that gap. In the weeks that preceded my commissioning to write this article, my team has prepped multiple items, such as t-shirts and key chains, as an initial wave with hopes for a much larger range of products in the future. With this simple souvenir shop, my team hopes to inspire in our schoolmates the same kindred school spirit that rages in western universities.
I would like to take a bit of room here to thank all those that made my incredible journey possible. To begin, one must start with my tireless parents who strove to push me to achieve in the face of any adversity. My heart goes out to my godmother, Liu Jun, and her students for their tireless assistance; all my teachers and administrators who made learning so effortless. Finally, how could one forget all my friends, colleagues, and schoolmates who turned my time here from bearable to unforgettable. The chasm inside of me still exists, but the bridge that these individuals helped me build will endure and with passing day I feel it being pulled a bit closer.
Name: Zhenkun Guan