Can you settle into a routine in an unfamiliar city?

So far the answer for me has been no, and with good reason.

I don’t know Beijing. I’ve been in China for a month, and I am still learning how to navigate the 980 acres of Tsinghua University. I’m still figuring out the good restaurants in the nearby Wudaokou area, and I’m just now breaking into the bus and metro system.

If you have a routine in a new city, I think you might miss the point.

Every day, I try to go to a new place. I’m burning through money taking the metro for an hour to the other side of the city and eating at whatever random place with some menu options I can read. I’m probably spending my dwindling time in the city reading maps a little too carefully or googling historic locations in Beijing a little too much and not going “outside the wall” —what our group has lovingly deemed venturing off campus— enough. Missing out on what this city has for me while I am here is my biggest fear for this trip.

I thought being in Beijing for three months would be a long time, but now I feel like time is running out.

On the other hand, I am here to take classes. Improving my Chinese is what motivated me to come here, and I’m having a difficult time balancing actively practicing my Chinese and staying in and studying from my books.

I’m lucky because I’ve graduated already, and I don’t have any obligations back in the states. I can stay here for as long as I can get a visa, and I can’t imagine leaving so soon because I still have so much to learn.

In class we learn things like asking for directions and cultural norms, family names and historical context, but living in the city and immersing myself in the language has taught me things like how to ask to recharge my metro card, and what a napkin is called and how much is too much to pay for a pack. I’ve learned that you enter in the middle of the bus and exit at either the front or the back, and to always double check the end destination of the metro unless there’s only one direction.

I’ve learned how to read more and navigate more and acclimate better to stressful situations, and I think if you have the option to go abroad you should drop everything to take it.

I keep saying that this trip is a “returning to my roots” Eat, Pray, Love-esque adventure and more and more I realize that it’s even more than that. Being abroad challenges you in ways unimaginable, and this trip has prepared me for the real world in ways that graduating college didn’t even come close.

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