Last updated on January 4th, 2024 at 10:17 am
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Take a deep breath. Just say something. Quick.
My mind raced as I finally made eye contact with the cashier.
Once again, another person beat me to it, rattling off his order of delicious baos and fried dumplings so quickly I could barely understand his Chinese.
My parents immigrated from China to the US right before I was born. I grew up in Houston, Texas and at home, my Chinese held up enough to have understandable conversations with my parents — I could even write a few traditional poems. So, for a girl who grew up in America, I always thought my Chinese was pretty decent. That was until I was humbled on my trip to China as a 15-year-old.
It was the first time my dad didn’t travel with me. My grandma was busy so I set out early to spend my first day exploring Shanghai alone. My first stop was this tiny dumpling house nearby. They sold my all time favorite food, Shen Jian Bao. These were the most delicious pan fried pork buns and when you took a bite, steaming hot broth would explode out.
I stepped into the small shop and immediately the savory aroma made my mouth water. However, it was also packed. Customers were shoving to get to the front and it seemed like pure chaos trying to get through the crowd. In my hometown, I was used to waiting neatly in lines so I first moved to the back to try and get in line. But I soon realized that somehow I was actually moving backwards and people who came in after me were cutting in front. Furious yet still shy, I tentatively squeezed forward enough to get a look at the menu.
Darn it. It was all Chinese and no pictures, my worst nightmare.
I spent a good minute trying to decipher the words I did know and piece them together like a puzzle. Unsure, I chose what I thought was a soup and pork buns and edged towards the cashier. As people kept rudely cutting me off, I thought back to my hometown, where all these adults would surely let a small, confused girl through first and be kind enough to offer some help. But here, I guess it was a culture shock that everyone truly minded their own business. Seeing all these people ordering dumplings made me understand the importance of taking my own initiative to make things happen.
Through a stroke of courage, I swiftly pushed to the very front and feigning confidence, I spoke my order. Then the cashier asked something I didn’t quite catch. He spoke too fast and I also wasn’t ready for follow up questions. I just nodded, paid, and finally went to wait for my food to be ready.
Stepping out of the dumpling shop, I realized I needed to act with greater confidence here. The rest of the day, I challenged myself to ask for directions as I got lost around the city and to learn how to bargain as I shopped. I know shopping and navigating doesn’t seem too significant, but for me, it was the act of
adapting to a foreign culture that I was proud of. It seems silly but ordering those pan fried pork buns taught me a great deal. First, it made me realize that what I think I understand can change drastically after experiencing something new. And never expect opportunities to be handed to me, I should always take initiative to put myself out there.
Now as I prepare to study abroad, I plan on taking those lessons with me to Copenhagen. I want to experience and overcome both the ups and downs of a foreign environment. I want to immerse myself in Danish culture, meet new people, and get out of my comfort zone in hopes of gaining independence and a more diversified perspective. There’s so much out there that I don’t know — I want to open my eyes to the things I don’t understand and the realities and issues that exist beyond my home. And as a landscape architect, I want to evaluate and apply my existing knowledge through my studies in Copenhagen. I aim to challenge my current design perspective by observing a city that’s the paragon of urban planning. Now a lot more confident than my 15-year-old self, I feel ready to take on my second experience abroad alone — one pork bun at a time.
Ling est un partisan engagé de l’apprentissage des langues et de l’éducation mobile. Nous sommes donc heureux d’annoncer notre programme de bourse d’études — Apprendre au-delà des frontières
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