Friday, May 13, 2016

The downsides of studying abroad - what happens when it's over?

Studying and living abroad is awesome, but what most people don't talk about, is how difficult it is to come back home and to get used to the life you had before. I mean it's difficult enough to leave home, your family and friends, and to go to another country without knowing anyone there, but what's worse is coming back. Not that coming back home is bad, but leaving behind your life there and knowing that you won't be going back is.

During your time abroad you grow attached to people you have just met, you become a new person and you get used to the life that you have created for yourself. You see and you experience so much. And then at one point you just have to leave, because well it was all meant to end at some point.

So you leave everything behind and what's different this time, is that you know that you won't be going back ever again. Yes, you can go back in theory and visit the places you saw and become nostalgic because of your memories there, but you can never create the same environment and be with the same people in the same place and experience the same things that you did during your time there.

And when you get back home you realize that everything is the same and nothing has really changed. But you have and you have so many stories to share and so many things that you have learned, but no one really truly understands it. I mean your friends and family try and they listen to your stories, but at one point everyone else gets tired of this. And then at one point you start losing these characteristics that you developed during your time abroad. You fall back to the old patterns and all that remains is your memories.

You want to keep the friendships that you developed, but you cannot really be together with these people that you left behind or who went back to their own homes. So you still talk, but when something good or bad happens to them, you can't really be with them. You can try to support them as well as you can, but it's never the same.

So at one point you start asking yourself is it worth it? Is it worth going abroad again? To move to another country, to leave behind your family and friends, to make new friends just to leave them behind afterwards?
Are the experiences and the memories you gained worth it?

What I've realized  lately, is that they truly are and if anyone would ever ask me if I regret it, I would definitely say no. And if anyone would ask me if I would recommend others to go abroad, I would say yes. Without any hesitation.
There are cons to everything and this is what makes living abroad temporarily sad and painful, but everything else that comes with is great. You gain life-lasting memories, learn more in a short period than you would in years. You step out of your comfort zone and learn so much about yourself. And you meet people that you would have never met.

And this all is amazing and so much worth it!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Zhangjiajie and Fenghuang - my last trip in China

I was supposed to write this post a long time ago, but for different reasons it hasn't still happened.

Anyways, after a semester in China I wanted to end my Chinese experience with one last trip to a place I've never seen and to do it with some of my best friends. The destination had been on my 'List of places to visit' for some time already and since the others had  also been thinking about it, we decided to travel to Hunan province to see the Zhangjiajie mountains, which are often known as the Avatar Mountains. I mean you must know the Flying Mountains in the movie Avatar that you thought were definitely fiction? Well they're not really fiction, because the Zhangjiajie mountains look awfully like them in the morning when the sun is rising and the fog makes the narrow and tall mountain peaks look like they're flying.
Since we had a bit more time and we found a nice old town only a few hours from Zhangjiajie, we also stayed a few days in Fenghuang, which also turned out to be a pretty cool place.

Although the Golden Week trip we took in October was the perfect description of how sometimes you are so lucky during your trips, this one did not really turn out that perfectly, but we definitely saw some cool places and enjoyed our time. The only problem was that the weather was pretty awful and that made hiking not so pleasant. Just imagine hiking up the hill for a few hours to see the best view in the area, and then getting up there and only seeing the fog. Now add here about a hundred hungry and angry monkeys and you get the picture.

One other thing about Hunan province - the food is crazy spicy. And I don't mean Estonian spicy (we don't really eat anything spicy) but Chinese spicy. Everyone else besides me really enjoyed it, but I must admit that having extra spicy noodles with beef is not the breakfast that I usually dream of. Luckily they had baozi and jiaozi and as a huge cookie-lover I luckily had cookies with me all the time, so that probably saved my life.

Anyways, thank you Karianne, Jing, Tobias, Hidayah and Alex for an awesome trip :)

Friday, January 22, 2016

China: the finish line

Some people say that going abroad is a lesson for life and it will teach you how to get through life on your own. You will get to know your weaknesses and strengths and figure out how to be comfortable with yourself.

Coming to China didn’t teach me any of this.

The thing is, the only time I felt alone during this whole semester was the first evening when I got here and didn’t know how to use internet, where to get food, or how to manage to fall asleep in a really hard and uncomfortable bed. When I got up the next day to figure out administrative stuff, I met Soyeon. And then I met Robert. And then Karianne and Jing and all the other amazing people.

And I truly believe I was extremely lucky to meet them all, because they all taught me so much about life and helped me to keep my life balanced in an environment that was so different from everything I was used to.

I met people who are so similar and at the same time so different from me. People who left behind their lives to come to live in one of the most interesting countries in the world. People who are adventurous, spontaneous and are still looking for something exciting, something new.

I spoke to people who even at their young age have traveled more than most people do in their whole lifetime. I met people who were so motivating that they made me work harder and dream bigger. They taught me to be braver, more spontaneous and how to manage to keep my life balanced in a strange new country.

I honestly didn’t expect to get so close to these people in only such a short amount of time, but I did. I really do believe I found friends for life and even though I cannot knock on their doors anymore at any moment, I believe they will always be there for me.

My Chinese experience was amazing and even though I now feel even more that I don’t know enough about China, I have a way better sense of their thinking and their culture. I had conversations about the Chinese culture, politics and it made me see everything from a totally new perspective.

Thank you China, Beijing and Tsinghua University for treating me so well!

And moreover, thank you mom and dad for always being so supportive of me and helping me to reach my dreams! And big a big thanks to my sister and my friends and relatives for always being there for me, even when I’m thousands of kilometers away.

It feels good to be back home!

I will miss you all! 

And to all of my readers, I promise to write more about my latest trips soon and add lots of pictures!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

What did I learn this year?

With the year coming to its end it’s pretty usual to start thinking about what did you accomplish this year. What will you most remember about these 365 days? Is it the trips you took, the accomplishments you made, people you met or just these small moments that at the time didn’t seem to matter that much?

What I appreciate the most about this year, is how much I learned about myself and about life. Yes, I am still kind of confused about what is going to happen in the future and what exactly do I want to do with my life, but I feel like I’ve come so much further and am so much closer to achieving the things I have so far only dreamed about.

For one thing, I finally took the leap and came to China.  I’ve been talking about coming here for years and everyone said that one day I will do it, but at one point in my life I wasn’t really sure if it’s one of those dreams that is better off to keep it as what it is – a dream – or should I actually turn it into reality.

It turns out that it wasn’t just a dream. It was something that needed to be done, because honestly I feel like every day in here has been a blessing. Yeah, there are days when I feel like I really want to go home and hug my family and friends, but at the same time I feel like I'm surrounded by everything so exciting. Yes, it was tough making myself overcome the fear of the unknown, but I am sincerely proud of myself for doing it.

But in the last few months I’ve been thinking about the meaning of the concept „home“. Is it the place where you were born, where you spent most of your life, the place where you feel the most like yourself of the place where there are people you love?

And I have realized that when you travel around, the concept gets really hazy. Of course, my home will always be with my family at the place where I grow up, but during these past few years I have added several other places to the „List of places I can call home“: Tartu, Tallinn, Morgantown, Beijing.

I’ve discovered that it's the people that make it feel like home. It is the people that you care about and who care about you. So yeah, my real home will always be with my family, but I feel like I also have „families“ all over the world now.

And I haven’t really decided yet if it’s a good thing or not because no matter where you are you will always miss this other family and this other home that you left behind.

But honestly, the year 2015 has given me so much – I’ve had the chance to spend time with my family and friends, I’ve gotten new work experiences, met new people who I’ve grown so attached to, seen the world, traveled, and most of all, enjoyed every single day of this year!

Emme-issi, ma tulen varsti koju, ärge muretsege! :)

And here is my year in pictures. 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Golden Week: Travelling With Low Expectations

My time in China is passing by so quickly and every time I see my friends, who are also abroad either studying, doing volunteer work or just travelling, posting something on their blogs, I feel a sting of guilt. Why haven't I managed to post anything?

I could say that I don't have enough time for this and it wouldn't be a lie. I really don't have the time to write a long blog post that I would read through several times, correct all the mistakes and add some great photos to accompany it.

But honestly, it's just that I have decided to spend my time on other things - I've decided that it's important to concentrate on school, to see as much Beijing as possible and most importantly, to spend as much time as possible with the people I've grown to care about. For god's sake, I only have two months left in Beijing!

But one thing that I haven't still managed to tell you about is my Golden Week trip, which (spoiler) was really awesome.

I guess the biggest thing that we learned with this trip was that you should never have high expectations while travelling. Just a week before our golden week holidays we honestly  had no idea where are we going, where are we sleeping or when and how are we going to get back to Beijing. We ended up booking a place in a hostel, which had no rooms left, so they were going to "put us somewhere" and our train tickets to come back home were "standing tickets", which if you know anything about the Chinese train culture or the masses of travelers during the golden week, wasn't a good idea at all.

But if you really don't know what to expect, there is no chance to get disappointed.

So we finally ended up taking the bus to Hohhot, which was actually pretty decent, had soft chairs and took us from point A to B. The only disturbing moment was the toilet stop, which at the same time could be considered an experience because I am pretty sure I will never ever see a toilet that awful again. And when I say awful, I mean like really awful and even if I had a picture of it, it would probably be too immoral to share the picture on my blog.

But after about 8 hours we arrived to Hohhot and we even had a guy with a minivan picking us up from the station. And although at one point we were quite sure that we had gotten into a random guy's car who had taken us to some creepy small alley and was going to kill us, our hostel was actually over there on this strange street and it turned out that they had booked us a room in a hotel nearby for the same price. Since the hotel actually looked nice and breakfast was included in the price, our expectations had already been exceeded more that 100 percent.

This was followed by our two-day-trip to the Inner Mongolian grasslands and to the Gobi desert. And let's be honest, I didn't really expect that much from the grasslands because well I'm from Estonia, which has a lot of flat land and these big fields of nothingness. But the whole trip was so awesome and the grasslands with their endless emptiness, clean air and amazing night sky were great. We spent a night in a traditional Mongolian yurt with -5 degrees, had traditional Mongolian food and spent the following day in the Gobi desert with +25 degrees. And for real, everything was amazing!

But we had to wrap up our things in Inner Mongolia pretty quickly because we also wanted to make it to Datong. The 5-hour train ride to Datong was pretty good, the only annoying factor being the Chinese people constantly taking "not-so-secret" pictures and videos of us. And again to our surprise, our (quite cheap) hotel turned out to be a really nice "love hotel". If you haven't heard anything about these Chinese or Asian "love hotels", they are the places where young people go to spend some time alone with their partners (the dorms in school are usually only for men or only for women and no visitors are allowed after 11).
But how can you recognize a love hotel?
1. You can only check in for one night and every day you have to register and pay again
2. Instead of snacks and alcohol, your room is supplied with a wide selection of condoms
3. The bathroom and toilet have see-through glass walls
4. You see a lot of young couples
5. Prices are relatively cheap

But enough about that. Datong was really great! I loved the old town, walking around in local markets, having the famous Datong shaved (yes, shaved) noodles, climbing on Hengshan mountain and seeing the Yunggang grottoes and the Hanging Temple. The only negative thing was that there were masses of Chinese travelers in the touristy places and the amount of pictures that we had to take with them was way too big (Yes, I'm still famous here and everyone wants to take pictures. And WOW, I'm SO WHITE!).

By the end of the trip I was quite sure that such an awesome trip with such great people has to end with something bad, because how is it possible that everything goes so well?! But it didn't. Yeah, the train ride back was the worst train ride ever, but we got back to our not-so-soft beds by the next morning and the memories we had collected during the trip were so vivid, that nothing could really ruin our mood.

So to wrap this up, I really want to thank Karianne, Jing,  Inge, Tobias and Robert for this amazing trip! And once again, I would like to say that China is so great and diverse. Where else could you climb a mountain in a 26-degree heat one day, walk around in a desert the other and spend the night with -5 degrees in a Mongolian tent?!

But now, prepare yourself for an overdose of pictures!

PART I: Inner Mongolia (Hohhot, Xilamuren grasslands, the Gobi desert)

On our way to Hohhot

Welcome to Inner Mongolia
Just next to our hotel in Hohhot there was this coffee shop, which was the cutest and coziest place ever. 
The view from our hotel in Hohhot

Our Mongolian yurt, which was actually way more civilized than we expected. But it was for sure the coldest night of my life.
Our five-star hotel in the Xilamuren grasslands

PART II: Datong, Shaanxi province (Hengshan mountain, Yunggang grottoes, the Hanging Temple)

On our first day in Datong we were just walking around the city center and looking for a place to eat. Since we literally didn't see any restaurant, cafe or anything, we asked some locals where should we go. This is where they lead us - the restaurant street behind the shopping area. 

But to our surprise we actually found a decent place next to that street and their food was  honestly amazing!

The climb up to Hengshan mountain was pretty rough to say the least. We had a limited amount of time, but the Chinese people, who had already overcrowded the whole mountain didn't really want to give us the opportunity to make it to the top. After taking like the 10th picture of the day with them, our conversations weren't that long and polite anymore. Instead of making small talk it was more like: "Can I take a picture with you? - Make it quick." But we did make it to the top and the view was amazing!

The Hanging Temple - built more than 1500 years ago it is the only existing temple which combines the three traditional religions: Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. Since it literally hangs on a cliff, it is a miracle that it still stands. 

But as you can see, the day had been long and our bodies tired.   

But as it turned out, China is small and so we happened to meet our friends from Tsinghua at the Hanging Temple. 

This picture describes travelling during the golden week pretty well. I think there might have been like ten times as many people there as there are on my home island in Estonia. 

For our last dinner in Datong we were planning on going to the best restaurant in Datong, but since the waiting time there was like 3 hours, we found this place just at the main square of the old town. And luckily they even turned on the lights just before we finished our dinner. 

Hopefully you will see a new post from me soon, but if not, be safe and enjoy life!

PS: I miss you all back home :)