Tag Archives: china


By Sabrina Hsu

There isn’t much green in China. Beijing, China’s capital, is notorious for its horrendous pollution. So when I was given the opportunity to stay at a friend’s house in rural Qinghai, I was thrilled. Qinghai is one of the few well-preserved landscapes left in China – planes are not allowed to land anywhere near the small area and rarely do non-locals visit the place. Unfortunately, well-preserved usually comes hand in hand with underdeveloped economies and a heavy reliance on agriculture. But the experiences I had there, regardless of the poor conditions we lived in, will forever be some of the most precious and valuable memories I hold onto.

I was basking in the moonlight as I lied on the prickly grass in my friend’s backyard, looking up at a site so alien yet so familiar to me – stars crowded in the darkness, blinking down gently. I was in awe. This isn’t scenery one sees on a daily basis in China – in fact, in the 10 years I’ve been in Shanghai, there wasn’t a single day I could look up in the sky and see more than ten stars. We opted to sleep outside, on the moonlit plateau, to fully appreciate Mother Nature. Even though we ended up getting soaked from the downpour that night, it was still worth the experience. It’s an enchanting feeling to lie in the cradle of nature and let your mind run blank, concentrating on the things we usually take for granted. The noise that was usually covered up by cars honking or buildings under construction was crystal clear – birds chirped early in the morning, bugs buzzed around harmlessly, and the cattle and dogs roamed around freely, scraping at doors looking for food.

The next day, I rode in the back of a truck, my hair whipping in the wind as we drove through mountains of scenery. Though underdeveloped, the farms were kept in good shape and cattle roamed idly in the mountains. We arrived at our destination midway up a mountain. Changing into local clothes – long dresses with long sleeves that go way beyond one’s arms – I grabbed a bag of salt and started feeding the cows. I never knew cows enjoyed salt so much, but herds of old cows bounded towards me, scraping salt off my hands with their harsh tongues. In the end, I struggled away from the cows’ insatiable hunger for salt and tried to milk cows. The rhythmic movement of milking cows always looked so simple! But I failed again and again and didn’t manage to squeeze a single drop of milk out. I have plenty of embarrassing videos from that.

The entire trip was filled with so many activities and fond memories that I can’t even begin to describe how amazing it was. But I think the one day that will stick with me the most is the day I went mountain climbing – not mountains that have roads and stairs paved into them, but actual mountains that are almost 180° steep and if one falls, they fall to their death into the river hundreds of feet below. We had no harness, no map, and no guidance. The only things we had were support from one another and a lot of courage. By the end, we were exhausted physically from the climb and yelling chants to make sure we stuck together, but even more exhausted mentally from the fear of falling. To give ourselves a small celebration on achieving what seemed like the impossible though, we soaked our worn-out feet in the stream, which looked a lot gentler close up than from on the top of the mountain.

This trip taught me to open my eyes and fully appreciate the things and people around me. What we have will only become better if we make them so. It doesn’t matter where you go or what you do, as long as you put yourself into it completely, you’ll get something (good) out of it. And definitely, step out of your comfort zone and do something you think is impossible. Do something you love and always wanted to do – that’s what college is for! The friends who will stay with you for the rest of your life are the ones who will support you and stand by you when you fail or make a fool out of yourself trying something new.

Step out there and fight on!

Featured image from Pxfuel

Sabrina is studying Health and Human Sciences and minoring in Chinese for Professions and Managing Human Relations. Though born around the Bay Area, Sabrina moved to Shanghai, China at the age of 8 and has since then attended different international schools. She has 4 years of tutoring experience both in student organizations in her high school and outside of school. She was also a member of the National English Honor Society and took part in the Writing Center, which focused on editing student’s essays and helping students with their English classes. In her free time, Sabrina loves reading, hanging out with friends (exploring LA), and doing anything that makes her happy.

Pushing the Comfort Zone through Solo Backpacking

By Stephanie Corrigan

I look around at the international students in my classes and around campus and I am overwhelmed by the feeling that they are on a great journey. I know this feeling well and am excited for all the adventures and new knowledge my international peers will experience in their studying here from abroad. And for my soon to be peers, perhaps getting ready to jump on a plane and arrive at USC for the first time, let me share some of my fears and triumphs when I was the person from another land.

As some well-versed travelers will tell you, one of the best feelings in the world is that moment of victory when you realize you have reached your target destination. Though there are merits to getting lost and enjoying an off-the-beaten-path adventure, there is pride to be found in navigating your way through winding roads, complicated subway line systems, and inevitable misunderstandings with the local population with little to no effort. Unfortunately, I am not this kind of traveler. Last summer marked my second backpacking trip abroad, but the first of which I traveled solo. As a young female traveler, I had many fears and doubts before my first flight to East Asia. I hopped on the plane with extremely limited linguistic knowledge of Chinese, Japanese, or Korean. To say this was a daring, whirlwind venture for me is an understatement. However, I felt I needed to push the boundaries of my comfort zone, so I refused to let myself back down from the challenge that awaited me. Looking back now, I am incredibly grateful for the transformative experience I received. I learned more about the people and cultures of China, Japan, and South Korea than I ever could have by reading a book. From trying xiaolongbao in Shanghai to spending too many hours stuck in the labyrinth of Tokyo Stations, I became more culturally competent and self-aware than ever before.

Photo is author’s own

Since returning home, I have had plenty of other interested backpackers ask me about going solo. While there are undeniable risks to traveling alone as a young female, I believe the benefits far outweigh any of those fears. More often than not, people will bend over backwards to help you, going the extra mile to show you where your hostel is or to purchase the correct train ticket for you. In Japan, a man bought me a special type of tea, telling me that I need to understand “how important tea is to the Japanese people.” In South Korea, a hostel worker taught me key phrases to employ in my adventures around Seoul. These are just two of the innumerable moments that I had the good fortune of experiencing this summer.

Photo is author’s own

If you are venturing out to a new country for the first time, do not let any fear, anxiety, or self-doubt stop you from pursuing this fulfilling goal. Travel will always be a bit intimidating at the start, as it is a fear of the unknown that plagues us all. Nonetheless, immersing yourself in an unfamiliar and foreign environment is the best way to conquer your jitters.

Featured image is author’s own

Stephanie is an USC graduate who studied Political Science. She is from Orlando, Florida and loves to spend time outside, whether hiking or exploring a new city, as well as practicing her photography, writing in her travel blog, or planning her next backpacking trip abroad. She discovered an interest in working with foreign exchange students through her study abroad experience in Turkey the summer after her junior year of high school. She is interested in learning foreign languages, as well as better understanding cultures different from her own.

Experiencing Similarities and Differences in a Foreign Land

By JoAnna Enos

When I was 11, I went abroad for the first time. I was part of an exchange program that paired students at my middle school in Portland, Oregon with students at a high school in Suzhou, China. I remember being very interested in other countries and cultures at the time. I loved learning about the ancient history of other countries and I loved the idea of going to palaces, temples, and other places that people had built and inhabited centuries ago. I knew going to China would be an amazing experience, especially since I would be going with friends and would be staying with a Chinese family, but at the time I didn’t realize just how influential a single trip to another country would be on my future interests, both personal and academic.

A few months after the Chinese students had visited Portland, my classmates and I traveled to China to stay with them. We flew into Shanghai and drove about two hours to Suzhou, where our host families lived. During the drive, I was amazed by what I saw just by looking out the window. I was expecting everything to look completely different than what I was used to. I thought China would look similar to how it’s described in old history textbooks and I wasn’t expecting to see so many things, like cars, clothes, buildings, restaurants, etc., that looked just like they did in my hometown.

The landscapes weren’t all that different either. Growing up in Portland, Oregon, large wooded areas and forests, rivers running through the center of a city, and mountain ranges not too far off in the distance were all things I was used to seeing on a daily basis, and those were things I was seeing in China too. Of course I knew that similar landscapes and geological features exist in many different places all over the world, but I was still expecting everything to be new.

Then, when I finally got to Suzhou and arrived at the home of my host family, I began to realize how cultures mix and match and adopt things from other cultures while still retaining some fundamental differences from each other. The apartment my host family lived in looked just like any apartment in the U.S., but what made it different was the culture of the people that lived in it. That was true for most of the things I saw and places I visited. Stripped down, they weren’t too different from the things I was used to, but then when you add in the factor of a completely different culture, things started to come alive and the new images were fascinating and exciting. I wanted to see as many things as possible and learn as much as I could about how things in China were different or similar to how they are in the U.S.

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