I went into the weekend of the Beijing homestays feeling pretty nervous about being in a new place with a family I didn’t know. Once I met up with my homestay student, Hurry, it didn’t take me long to realize that I didn’t have much to be nervous about after all. By the time we arrived at his apartment, which was near the Youyi Shopping Center, the biggest shopping mall in Asia, I was immediately welcomed by his mother and 5 year old sister. That night she cooked arguably the best meal I have had so far in China, and, while she couldn’t speak English, I could feel her warm hospitality at all times. I have never felt more welcome in such an unfamiliar place, and that night I had already lost any apprehension I had felt going into it. That night Hurry and I also went and saw San Andreas at the mall, and throughout the weekend we did all kinds of fun things. When he asked what I wanted to do that weekend, I told him the he knew Beijing the best, and that he knew all the best places to see. We indeed went to some pretty cool places, and I was happy to feel like I was experiencing China through the eyes of a Chinese person instead of the all
too comfortable lenses of a tourist. My favorite thing we did all weekend was a lake boat ride on Saturday. After meeting up with Amanda and her host, Amy, and Hurry’s friend, John, we piled in the boat for a peaceful afternoon on the water. The halcyon day was perfect for a boat ride, with cooler temperatures and blue skies. It was nice to finally relax a bit after being on the go so much earlier on in the trip, and it was a good time and place to reflect on what we had done thus far. The next day I met Hurry’s father after he returned from a marathon in Hong Kong, and he too was very hospitable. That day Hurry took me to the art district where I saw some really cool art and ate some delicious food. By the end of the day, it finally hit me that I would soon be leaving Hurry and his family the next day as the new school week would begin and our time at Beijing 101 would come to a close. I had done so many other fun things besides the activities I have just delineated, and by the end of the weekend I was wondering why I ever felt the slightest bit of trepidation in the first place. There was some solemnity in the air as we all said goodbye to our families, people who had made us feel not like visitors, but brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters. The weekend taught me that there is so much more to be learned not by going to tourist sites, but by immersing myself in the daily lives of the people here and interacting with them. While I have a few tangible remembrances from the weekend, I will never forget the multifarious memories I made along the way. Beijing is a place I will never forget; while most things we here about it in the U.S. may be negative, actually being here completely changed my perspective for the better. Yes, it is crowded and yes, the air may not be the best, but here lies a city with so much history, opportunity, and a people that are welcoming in every sense of the word. I will never forget Beijing, and I implore those who haven’t visited to add it to your travel list. While this chapter of the trip may be over, and what comes next is a mystery, the lessons I learned this weekend have, and will, guide me for the rest of my life.