Follow Me on Facebook!

I recently created an Adventures Around Asia Facebook page! Like me on Facebook to get blog updates straight to your Facebook newsfeed. I’ll also post interesting articles I find and travel photos now and again.

Whooo technology!


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Liebster Award Round 2!

The Liebster Award is a pay it forward blogger nomination given to up and coming bloggers with less than 200 followers. Last summer I was nominated by R, the author of China Elevator Stories. Recently, I was nominated again by Xiananigans (thanks!!).

Every nominee must answer 10 questions, and then write 10 new questions for a few bloggers you have nominated.

Here are the questions Xiananigans has asked me:

1. What made you choose the life of an expat and/or traveler in China?

It all started when I studied abroad in Beijing and Xi’an two years ago. I had never been to Asia before, and was scared to sign up for a full seven months in China. After returning home for my senior year of college, I realized I wasn’t finished with my time in Asia. I knew I wanted to head back to China, and I figured now would be the perfect time since I had nothing holding me back. I was afraid of getting stuck in the routine of life in America, and never being able to leave. I decided to teach English because I’m too young to get a visa doing anything else (yay Chinese visa laws), so I signed up to work through Ameson Year in China. While this year has been difficult and I definitely wasn’t expecting to live in the “countryside”, I’m proud of my decision to return to China and I’m excited to stay another year!

2. What are your top 3 places you want to visit in the future?

This is a really hard question because there are so many places I want to visit! Every time I travel to a new place, I find three more places I want to see! It’s an exponential problem… literally. I decided to pick three places in Asia and three places outside of Asia (I’m a cheater).

I planning on heading to these places in the upcoming year(!!!):

1. Japan (hopefully this summer!)

2. Taiwan (either this year or next year during National Week)

3. Thailand/Cambodia (hopefully next year for the month I have off during Spring Festival)

After I conquer Asia, there are so many other places I want to see!

1. Argentina (I’d love to see more of South America and I think Argentina would be an amazing place to visit)

2. Backpacking through Europe (I’m a huge cheater, but it’s on my bucket list)

3. Morocco (I went on a day tour from Spain but I’d love to stay for longer, especially since my “little” studied abroad there with CLS)

3. What is the greatest travel memory you have?

Early last summer, a woman with stage 4 cancer saw a post on my blog about wanting to visit Tibet. She is Buddhist and has always wanted to visit Tibet, but her health has prevented her from going. This woman sent me a message asking me to write her name on a shrine in Tibet, so that a part of her would always be there. When I was in Tibet, our guide told us that if you write a person’s name on a sting of prayer flags, and hang them in a spiritual place, it acts as a prayer for the person’s health and well-being. After hearing this, I decided to take a strand of prayer flags I bought as a souvenir and hang them for the woman who had contacted me. Standing atop a jagged cliff overlooking one of Tibet’s most holy lakes, I was completely overwhelmed with emotion. It was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in my entire life, and I couldn’t think of a better and more spiritual place to hang the flags for this woman I had never even met.


It was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen in my entire life and I’m so honored to be able to hang those flags for her.

4. If you could give one piece of advice to someone who was thinking about expatriating, what would it be?

You could easily write a book on all the reasons not to go: missing friends and family, familiar foods, dealing with cultural differences and language barriers, possible career stagnation, money, etc. etc. etc. But honestly, if you’re at all considering living abroad for any amount of time, you should definitely go for it! I can’t promise it will be easy and I can’t promise it will always live up to your expectations, but it will help you challenge yourself and grow as a person. There have been a few times this year where I have considered packing it all up and heading home, but living in China this year has made me a much stronger and more self-reliant person. There’s a lot of pressure to follow the status quo: go to college, get a good job, make money, get married, have babies, retire… but it’s your life. If you don’t take this risk now, you may miss out on a lifetime-woth of stories and adventures. My word of advice: “Go for it”.

5. Where do you see yourself in five years?

That’s a really hard question to ask a someone who’s just about to turn 23. I’ll tell you where I don’t see myself: at some boring office job in a middle-of-nowhere city. At this point I’ll be almost 28, so hopefully I’ll be working in a cool city in either America or Europe doing a job I like. Honestly, the best thing about life is that it changes so much. I can’t plan where I’ll be in two years, let alone five! I guess we’ll all just have to wait and see.

6. If you have some spare time, what do you do?

Travel, write in my blog, edit photos, go out to dinner with friends, read cool travel blogs online,  read Game of Thrones, and of course, watch full seasons of tv shows on my computer.

7. What is the most delicious food you have ever eaten?

Vietnamese Egg Coffee

Vietnamese Egg Coffee

That is probably the hardest question I’ve ever been asked. The most surprisingly delicious thing I’ve had in a while is “egg coffee” in Vietnam (post coming soon). My food cravings depend on what I’ve been missing, so when I’m in China I crave authentic Mexican food, greek salads and Indian food, but while I’m in America I crave Sichuan dishes like mapuo dofu (spicy soft tofu) and hot pot.

8. Why did you start blogging?

I started a blog because I thought it would be the best way to share my study abroad adventures with all of my friends and family back home. Once I started writing, I loved the feeling of publishing content, knowing that others actually enjoyed reading what I had to say (maybe I’m a little self-absorbed). Blogging has given me a great way to organize and express my thoughts about Chinese culture and living in China, as well as a great way to document my adventures for friends, family and myself. It still gets a little awkward talking about my blog in person. It’s much easier to throw my blog into the universe, and whoever sees it sees it.

9. What do you miss most from “home”?

Is it bad to say food? Kidding… except not really. While I miss my friends and family a lot, the great thing about the internet these days is that it’s pretty easy to contact people back home. Food is a pretty big reminder that you’re far from home. I can call up my friends and family on Skype whenever I want, but can’t just run down the street to Roti and get Mediterranean food, or whip up some zesty pasta from Trader Joes. Also I’ve really been starting to miss the social norms and etiquette about noise volume. China is just so loud. Chinese people are loud (especially when they’re on the phone), the factories near my school are loud (even at 3am), my students are extremely loud, horns are constantly honking and people set off fireworks and firecrackers at all hours of the day and night. I also miss mattresses. I’m sitting on my bed typing this and my butt hurts.

10. Which picture is your favourite travel shot? Why? (post the picture with your answer)

Betcha can’t have just one! I made a whole album of My All-Time Favorite Travel Photos! Why? Because I have nothing better to do with my life.

Favorite blogs with less than 200 followers

Many of the other teachers on my program also write blogs. Here are a few of my favorites:

The Wandering Curl – “Curl” writes about her adventures teaching English, first in the Republic of Georgia, then again in Ningbo, China.

No Country for Laowai – Andrew fills us in on his life working and teaching in Nanjing.

Life in China– Chelsea is teaching English at a nursing school just north of Shanghai in Wuxi.

Here are my 11 questions for you bloggers:

  1. What is the craziest thing you have ever done abroad?
  2. What is the most interesting thing you have ever eaten?
  3. Where is your favorite place in the entire world?
  4. Besides blogging and/or photography, what is your favorite hobby?
  5. If you could be on one reality tv show, which one would it be?
  6. In your opinion, what is the best blog post you’ve ever written?
  7. What is the most meaningful experience you’ve had abroad?
  8. If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
  9. Where is one place in the world you want to go, but have never been?
  10. What’s your favorite photo you’ve taken abroad? (feel free to cheat and post an album like me)

I hope you guys have as much fun with this as I did! If anyone else has any good blog recommendations, especially blogs about living and traveling in Asia, please feel free to post them in the comments. I’m always looking for more cool blogs to read.


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Skin Bleaching In Africa and Asia

A while back I posted my academic research Capstone Project called Bai Fu Mei: An In Depth Look at the Chinese Quest for Lighter, Brighter and Whiter Skin. In my paper I discussed the difference between skin whitening and skin bleaching creams, how they actually whiten skin, why many Chinese women feel the need to be whiter, and it’s effects of society. I recently came across the article Lupita Nyong’o is Inspiring African Women to Stop Bleaching their Skin, and I thought it was a great compliment to my previous article.

The article discusses the serious problems of unregulated skin whitening products on the African market, which is also a serious problem in Asia. While I didn’t dive into the black market products much in my essay, I did do a lot of research on these products. Most skin whitening products on the shelves of stores are expensive Western brands like Aveeno and Neutrogena; their products are more or less the same as our anti-aging spot creams, with different packaging. They even out skin tone and reduce the production of melanin which creates spots. These western products are safe to use daily as long as they are accompanied by SPF.

Most Western countries only allow very small amounts of the whitening ingredient, hydroquinone, to be used in whitening creams. According to the above article, 2% is the maximum limit for over the counter creams in the US. Many countries in Asia have been experiencing problems with un-regulated black-market creams that have a larger percent of hydroquinone, which is either banned or strictly regulated in most countries. For example, in the US people with hyper pigmentation are prescribed higher-percentage hydroquinone creams to be used in a specific dosage for a short period of time. In China and many other countries in Asia, these black market creams are sold at a much lower cost than their Western equivalent and promise faster effects, but they are very dangerous.

According to the article, hydroquinone is not regulated in many African countries, meaning these dangerous creams run rampant. While in Asia, most women only apply these creams to their face, neck and hands, African women are applying them all over the body, causing serious medical problems. Hydroquinone in excess is toxic to the skin and can lead to a blotchy uneven complexion, permanent darkening of the skin and even brain, gastrointestinal and kidney problems. It can also thin the skin, making it much harder for people to recover from surgery, and may even lead to severe infections or death (You Beauty).

Unfortunately, sweat and friction removes self tanner #ballroomproblems

Unfortunately, sweat and friction removes self tanner #ballroomproblems

While I can’t necessarily relate to the desire to be any whiter than I already am, I try to use these stories and articles as inspiration to love the skin I was born with. Many of us with fair skin in America are constantly trying to make it darker; we bake under the sun or in UV booths or dye it with self tanner that is expensive and stains our clothes. These caucasian notions of beauty are deeply engrained in my culture. Come summertime, no one wants to be “pasty” white. I worry how my white legs will look in shorts, or if I will look fatter in my bikini without a tan. Yes, I am under the firm impression that a tan makes me look thinner. I am also very versed in the art of self tanner. I was a competitive ballroom dancer in college and I often joked that it was time to “dye myself a different race” before my ballroom competitions.

My Peruvian ballroom partner and I at our last competition. After an entire bottle of self tanner, we now have the same complexion.

My Peruvian ballroom partner and I at our last competition. After spraying myself with an entire bottle of self tanner over the course of five days, we now have the same complexion!

Living in China, I get so many compliments on my fair skin, and many women ask what creams I use to make my skin so fair and even. Umm… moisturizer mixed with a  little liquid foundation? Removing myself from caucasian America’s tanning-obsessed culture has made me realize I need to re-evaluate my priorities and love the skin I’m in. Chinese people can’t seem to grasp that I don’t agree with their standards of beauty. Personally, when I see Chinese girls who avoid the sun all summer, I think they look a little sickly and Vitamin D deficient, but in China they’re the epitome of beauty. I’ve come to realize that people are most beautiful when they celebrate their natural skin tone. I’ve now decided that apart from ballroom competitions where a tan is a part of my “costume” (akin to fake eyelashes or a sparkly dress), I need to stop actively making myself tanner. If I get a tan this summer it will be from hiking outdoors or swimming in the ocean (with SPF of course!).

Luckily, I am surrounded by tons of fair-skinned beauty role models like Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Christina Hendricks, Nicole Kidman and Jessica Chastain; but many women of African and Asian descent aren’t so lucky. Hopefully Oscar-winning actress Lupita will be able to act as a positive role model and help many young women love the skin they’re in.

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UK based outdoor retailer Blacks is asking bloggers to submit photos of their ‘epic adventures’ for a chance to win £2000 of travel with Explore UK. The aim is to create a blog post showcasing photos of adventure in the great outdoors. Below are the photos I chose to submit, sorted into the competition categories. Enjoy!


Gazing out from atop a sand dune in the Gobi Desert- Gansu, China


Sunset on the Atlantic Ocean


Final Few Moments of Sun- Puget Sound, Washington, USA


Orange Evening Sky- Puget Sound, Washington, USA


Land and Water- Tibet


The Foal and His Mother- Tibet


Grazing Sheep in the Mountain Valley- Tibet


Morning Sun- Tibet


Driving Through the Mountains- Tibet


The land of Ice- Tibet


Looking Towards the Mountains- Tibet


Biking Along the River- Guilin, China



Curious Yaks- Tibetan Plateau, Sichuan, China


A Glimpse of the Mountain Jungle- Colombia


Under a Watchful Gaze- Everglades, Florida, USA


Sunbathing on the Bank- Everglades, Florida, USA


An Alien World- Tibet


Honking our way through a herd of cows on the highway- Tibet


Treacherous Mountains- Tibet


A Pensive Monkey– Batu Caves, Malaysia


China: A Clash of Two Worlds- Siberian Tiger Park, Harbin, China


Affection- Siberian Tiger Park, Harbin, China



Horse Trekking on the Tibetan Plateau- Songpan, Sichuan, China


Gazing up at the Mountains- Jiuzhaigou Nature Park, Sichuan, China


Hiking Sand Dunes in the Gobi Desert- Gansu, China


Driving through the Mountains of Xinjiang- Xinjiang, China


Hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge- Yunnan, China


The Epic View of Tiger Leaping Gorge- Yunnan, China


Winding our way through the Tibetan Mountains- Tibet


Green Rocky Mountains and Crystal Blue Lakes- Tibet


Biking in Extreme Altitudes- Tibet


Gazing up at the Glacier- Tibet


Remembering Loved Ones- Tibet


Prayer Flags Wave in the Wind- Tibet


Golden Terrace Farms in Fall- Guilin, China

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Rafting into the Sunset- Guilin, China

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Perception vs. Reality

I love social media. Facebook, Istagram, WordPress; it’s how I keep in touch with everyone back home. I can share my photos and my stories, which not only gives me a sense of purpose, but also the ability to connect with my old friends and acquaintances. When I return home I won’t feel out of the loop because I virtually stalk everyone’s life events via Facebook news feed.

Even though I link my blog posts to Facebook, I always find it awkward when people tell me they read my blog. I get so self-conscious when people I actually know tell me they read what I write. Even though I knowingly display my blog for the world to see, it’s easier to let in strangers and fellow writers and travelers. My life in China isn’t always so glamorous, but there’s an immense pressure on millennials to make it look like we have it all together. I feel like I need to prove to people that I’m actually working towards something, rather than aimlessly teaching English abroad because I have no idea what else to do with the rest of my life. My choices deviate from the status quo, so I need to show others that what I’m doing was a good, smart, calculated choice.

For me, living in China was a hard decision, but one I’m glad I made. I wanted to travel and see the world before I was “sucked into a job and life responsibilities”. I wanted to improve my Chinese, get more cultural life experience all while supporting myself. I feel like there’s a lot of pressure to maintain this image and convince others that the choice I made was a good one. I feel the need to show others that while I may not have a high paying job, I’m successful. I’m supporting myself, traveling the world, experiencing new cultures and gaining valuable experience for my future career.

This whole time I’ve been in China, I keep hearing about how impressed people are with what I’m doing. “You’ve done more in a year than I probably will in my life!”, people say. “Your pictures are so amazing! I can’t believe you’ve been to all those places.”, “Your life sounds so fun and interesting. Grad school is so boring.”. In all honesty, I’m sure Facebook makes my life looks fabulous. If you click through my photos it looks like all I do is travel to exotic locations, eat amazing food and drink cheap cocktails in cool expat bars. It looks like I have a million friends and even more adventures. If you look at my photos my life looks amazing.

If you read my blog, you may get a different perception. “Look at me overcoming so many obstacles while living in a developing country!”. I write about my students trying to plagiarize their exams, my loneliness living in the middle of nowhere and my crazy travel misadventures. It sounds like my life is full of stories, but sometimes it takes a reminder from friends back home to remember that the things that happen in my life are even interesting.

Living in China, I’m constantly surrounded by expats who are much more impressive than me. I have a few friends who spent all last year teaching in Georgia (the country). They lived in villages with home stay families, their classrooms didn’t have windows, they were forced to take ice-cold showers in the winter, and most of the time they didn’t even have heat or electricity! I meet people in hostels who are traveling the globe by themselves for an entire year. I read peoples’ travel blogs that are actually paid to write. I’ve met people who are living, working and traveling in China while barely knowing any Chinese. It’s hard to consider myself special, when I am surrounded by people doing the same exact thing as me.

Most of the time, my life in China feels pretty boring. I teach the same lesson class after class until I literally feel like my brain is going to explode if I talk above conversational volume. I watch full seasons of tv shows in a week. A weekend adventure most likely involves taking my e-bike 30 minutes to the grocery store and trying to make it back with all of my groceries intact. There are full days I don’t even leave my room; I cook my meals and sit in my bed all day watching tv on my computer or writing in my blog.

In America, if I managed to do my laundry, cook dinner and do some readings for class I felt like it was a successful day. Here in China there’s so much pressure to be out doing things. For example, on Wednesday I found out that I don’t have class on this Monday and Tuesday because my students have exams. They obviously have known this for a while now, but they never think to tell me until a few days before. Now in America I’d think “yay! A 3 day weekend!”. I’d go out to a bar, catch up on sleep and watch some tv. In China, I feel like I should be traveling. I need to make the most of my time here!!! So instead of lazing around and watching tv, I’m taking a trip to Wuxi to stay with another girl from the AYC program. Why am I going? Because I’ll feel guilty if I don’t DO something. Besides, it’ll probably be fun to have some human interaction.

While it may seem like my life is so exciting to those back in America, remember that I am stalking your Facebook page with jealousy in return. I see photos of my friends at happy hour or celebrating holidays with their families and I feel so bored and lonely in comparison. One of my friends is attending grad school in Australia and literally all of her photos are of beach adventures, outdoor concerts and parties. She looks like she’s having so much fun. But I only see the fun stuff. Maybe she looks at my photos and is jealous of how cheap it is to travel in China and SE Asia. Maybe she goes to the beach because it’s too expensive to go anywhere else in Australia.

You only see what people want you to see. No one broadcasts their flaws all over social media. You don’t want people to know you’re having a bad time, and no one wants to hear it. We all hate those people who complain about their lives on social media. “Get it together!”, we think. “Save your drama for your real friends. Why are you making yourself look bad in front of a bunch of people who don’t actually really care about you??”. It sounds mean, but it’s true.

There’s a lot of pressure to seem successful. “Hey look at me! Look what I’m doing! I’m traveling the world. Aren’t you bored with your 9-5 job in America? I’m having a lifetime-worth of adventures!”. In reality, I’m torn between a desire to give it all up and travel the world, and to pack it all in and begin a meaningful career. Sometimes I’m proud of the choice I made to come and teach here for a year, other times I think “what am I doing with my life right now?”. But nobody sees that. Not unless I tell them. But even when I open up, my life seems so interesting and colorful to the people back home that they can’t fathom that most of the time I’m bored. It’s always easier to talk about my feelings with other people in China who are in the same place as me. We all have a strong desire to travel, but we’re under a lot of pressure to start a career, finish our education and settle down.

I’ve found I’m happiest when I’m traveling. If I could throw everything in a backpack and travel the world for a year, I probably would. I’ve barely seen any of South America and I’d love to visit Europe again as an adult. The only problem? How the hell would I afford to go to Europe? I need a job to make money, but I have a fear of setting down, getting stuck in a career and never being able to leave. I think it’s important to remind myself that no jobs are permanent. If the time comes when I’m ready to move onto a new job, maybe I’ll quit and travel for a few months before moving onto the next job. I can apply for jobs from anywhere. I think I’ve interviewed more over Skype than I have in person.

Overall I’ve decided that my blog is a place to be honest. To fill people in on what my life is really like living and traveling in Asia. My life isn’t always filled with exotic trips or large cultural obstacles, and a lot of the time I have to force myself to get out of bed and do something interesting with my time. People see what you want them to see, so take a step back and think about how people see you.



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10 Japanese Travel Tips for Visiting America

A few weeks ago I came across this article listing travel tips for Japanese people visiting America. I’ve always enjoyed guide books and articles on travel in America because it’s so interesting to see how my own culture is viewed through foreign eyes. Tips about how we appreciate a firm handshake and eye contact, value personal space and apparently, have weird rules about when it is acceptable to eat with our hands. However, out of anything I’ve ever read, this article takes the cake. Note to self: When I go to Japan, watch out for my “horse laugh”.

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Women’s Day

Last Thursday I received a text from Lynn:

“(101) 7:55-8:35, (109) 9:40-10:20, (103) 10:30-11:10. The time for class has been changed tomorrow because of the celebrating activity.”

“Celebrating activity?” I replied.

“Will you meet us at the front gate of the school after class about 11:15 so that we can go to the buffet together.”

“There’s a buffet?”, I responded. “What for?”

“For celebrating the women’s day 3.8”.

Women’s Day? There’s a Women’s Day? Why don’t we celebrate that in America? (We should.)

Apparently the school had rearranged all of Friday’s classes so that the female teachers could all go to a buffet together. I have no idea where my school is getting the money for all these buffets, banquets and special gifts, but I’m not complaining.

After a tiring morning of teaching, I headed to the gate for the banquet. We drove for about 15 minutes to a fancy hotel in the “New City”. The banquet wasn’t quite as good as the previous one for the English teachers, but the sashimi was amazing.. and ice cream is always good.

I sat at a table with all the young female English teachers who I normally hang out with: Lynn, Lora, Catherine and Vivian. As much as the group of us has become friends, I’ve been a bit bothered by the amount that they speak Ningbohua (Ningbo’s dialect) in front of me. Whenever Catherine is in the mix, they at least make an effort to speak in Mandarin since she is from Northern China, but they still speak so quickly it is impossible for me to keep up with their accent. I either have to try to squeeze my way into the conversation, or sit there like I don’t exist. Every week these teachers will sit next to me during lunch and then completely ignore me. I’ve also completely stopped getting invites to hang out or have dinner. It’s starting to feel like my novelty has worn off and I’m now an inconvenience.

I’ve put up with these feeling for a while now, but at Women’s Day I couldn’t ignore it anymore. After lunch another teacher came to join our table who doesn’t speak English (very well). The conversation switched to Chinese, as expected, and I sat there in my own thoughts sipping on my coffee. Eventually they started playing a game on their phones. Through watching and asking questions I eventually discerned that every person received a text with a word. Everyone had the same word except one person, whose word was slightly different. None of the players knew whose word was different except the “judge” who acted as moderator. In turn, each player would have to say a hint to their word in an attempt to figure out whose word was different. The aim is to work together to beat the “judge” by discovering who has the different word.

After a solid half hour of watching the game, I realized that a lot of the words were really easy, like primary school vs. high school or Hunan province vs. Henan province, so I asked if I could play.

“Oh, but you can’t read Chinese characters!”, exclaimed Lora.

“I think I understand enough to play” I countered.

“Do you know these??”, she showed me the characters on her phone.

“No.. I guess not”, I admitted, looking at the obscure characters.

After about 45 minutes of complete boredom, I realized that I could easily ask the “judge” to translate any characters I didn’t know. I know enough about things like Hunan vs. Henan to play the game, and I could even say the clues in Chinese. All I would need was the judge to translate characters I didn’t know, and the other teachers to help translate clues I didn’t understand.

When I brought the idea up to the teachers they basically laughed in my face.

“But this one is a famous Chinese author. You wouldn’t know!”, Lora explained.

“She must be so bored”, the new teacher laughed in Chinese.

I was furious. I made it pretty obvious that I wanted to be included and I was basically laughed at. It would have been so incredibly easy to include me; it would have taken a little bit of translation and maybe skipping some of the categories I didn’t know. I don’t know famous Chinese authors? Let’s just skip that one and move onto the next one. But instead, I was laughed at and excluded for almost an hour. Women’s day? More like lunch with a bunch of catty, insensitive teenagers. The whole experience was just so incredibly rude, I couldn’t even wrap my head around it.

When I knew they either weren’t getting the hint or didn’t care, I finally asked:

“When are you guys heading back to school?”

“Oh, not until 2! We have another 45 minutes.”

Of course. They wanted to play up the lunch break as long as possible so they wouldn’t have to go back to work.

“Well.. do you know if there’s a bus I can take home?”

“No. No bus.”, they kept laughing and playing, ignoring me and my obvious frustration with their rudeness.

I couldn’t take it anymore. “Okay, well I’m not going to sit here for another 45 minutes while you play this game without me, so I’m going to take a cab home”, I said in an ice-cold voice.

I grabbed my purse but hesitated in my seat for a second, waiting for them to feel bad and offer to include me.

“Okay, see you later.”

Really?! I threw my purse over my shoulder and stormed out of the room. I was so angry I started crying in the elevator. How could they treat me like that? They know how hard it is for me to live here in the middle of nowhere. I’ve told them about how I expected to live in the city, and that I was upset by how isolated the school is. They know I’m lonely and bored and they don’t care.

The entire cab ride home I just wanted to revel in my anger but unfortunately my cab driver had other plans. He told my I was beautiful probably 18 times, asked me if I had a boyfriend more than once, told me I looked Russian because Russians are beautiful, and then asked me if I wanted a Chinese boyfriend, and told me that if I married a Chinese guy I could live in China forever. Yes, because that’s exactly what I want right now.

The more I thought about that moment at the banquet, the angrier I was. A part of me wants to hope that it’s a cultural thing, but I have other Chinese friends who have never treated me like that. The thing that really frustrates me is that I know how easy it is to include international friends. Senior year I was an exchange student orientation leader, and I became friends with a lot of the exchange students in the process. While a lot of the exchange students’ English was perfect, many of them struggled so it was necessary for me to slow my speaking and use a basic vocabulary. While it was a bit more of an effort to communicate, I never minded because I enjoyed hanging out with the international students and learning about their lives and world views. Sometimes I’d get carried away and speak too quickly, but all it took was a reminder to slow down or a confused expression and I’d rephrase.

The other exchange student orientation leaders and I also used to play a card game called Cards Against Humanity (adult Apples to Apples) with some of the exchange students. It was a game full of pop culture and phrases international students may not know, but we helped explain any cards they didn’t understand and let them re-draw. This way they got to hang out with us and play a really fun game, while learning about American pop culture at the same time. If I could play Cards Against Humanity with students from Italy, Argentina and Egypt, the Chinese teachers could definitely play a simple word game with me.

What frustrates me most is that I actually considered two of the teachers, Lynn and Catherine, to be my friends, and now I’m not so sure. Is my friendship too much of an effort for them? Has the novelty worn off? I understand that they’re married and that most of them have babies, but the least they can do is make an effort to talk to me the few times we hang out. I already feel like a social pariah as it is. I eat almost all of my meals by myself, I watch tv on my computer every night, I do all of my errands by myself.. I do everything by myself. I normally only hang out with people one night per weekend… if that.

One of the main silver linings of living in the middle of nowhere is that it forces you to make Chinese friends and practice Chinese. But whenever I hang out with the teachers at my school they either ignore me or only speak to me in English. How am I supposed to have Chinese friends when they all reject me as an annoyance? How am I supposed to get off the computer when there’s nothing to do and no one to see? Just when I thought I was making a home for myself, I feel more isolated than ever.

It’s been exactly a week and I haven’t talked to any of them except Lora who texted me about work stuff. I feel awkward reaching out to any of them after the way they treated me, and I’m not sure where to go from here. Many of the teachers have helped me out when needed; they helped me set up a bank account, buy train tickets online and order stuff off Taobao, but then treat me like I don’t exist when we’re all in a group. Do I confront them or let it blow over? Do I pretend like it never happened, or proceed with caution? I still haven’t figured it out yet. For now, I just plan on being awkwardly lonely and disappointed… at least I have House of Cards to keep me company.

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Help Me Win a Free Trip to Hong Kong!

Hi everyone! I created a photo essay and a video for a contest with the company that sent me to China, AYC. I’m hoping you can all take a few minutes out of your busy lives to vote for my submission and help me win a trip to Hong Kong or Yunnan! All you have to do is click the “vote” button next to my submission. Also, feel free to look at the other submissions. There’s a few pretty good ones in there.

Thank you so much in advance for your support, and I’ll be sure to let you all know if I win (and write about my trip afterwards!).

Vote Here:

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Adventure Awaits

AYC is having its first annual photo essay and video competitions. Naturally, I entered both, because let’s face it, what else am I going to do with my time? My last post, This is Home, was my photo essay contribution, and the video below is my submission for the video contest. The prizes are a trip to Hong Kong (1st), a trip to Yunnan (2nd) or a 500 kuai train ticket (3rd). I’ll be sure to let you all know if voting is open to the public. Otherwise, here is the video I may or may not have stayed up till 4am last night making:

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This is Home: A Photo Essay of My Ningbo Experience

I thought I was immune to culture shock. I studied abroad in China for seven months and I speak Chinese almost fluently. I’ve been jostled in China’s largest cities, and stranded in some of China’s smallest towns. I’ve traveled to Tibet and Xinjiang and I’ve eaten fried scorpions in Beijing. One time I accidentally signed up to run a 6k in the jungles of Hainan while wearing a dress. I thought there was nothing left in China that could possibly “shock” me. I’d seen it all. That was until a driver dropped me off at a complex on a highway in the middle of nowhere and said “This is home!”.

Ningbo Wuxiang High School

Ningbo Wuxiang High School

I thought I was prepared for anything, but I was not ready for the loneliness that accompanies living by yourself on a highway surrounded by factories. There was nowhere to go to make friends; I couldn’t even use Chinese to communicate with the locals who only speak the Ningbo dialect. I was half-bored, half-miserable, and I knew I needed to change.

My highway home

My highway home

While getting placed by myself in the middle of nowhere was hard, a lack of foreigners in my area encouraged me to form close connections with many of the teachers at my school. While most of the teachers are married and live in the city, they always take time to introduce me to Chinese culture and show me around Ningbo.

Christmas Eve trip to Dongqian lake

Christmas Eve trip to Dongqian lake

Since most of the English teachers have small children, this has made me “auntie” to a bunch of babies and toddlers. On school nights, sometimes I’ll go home with a teacher and play with her baby while she and her family cook us a traditional Ningbo dinner. It’s been amazing to meet everyone’s families and become a fixture in some of the kids’ lives. A few of them now cry every time I leave.


Since I teach in a rural area, most of my students have never had a foreign teacher before, and are extremely excited to have me. Some of my classes even cheer when I walk into the classroom. It’s great to have students that are excited for my lessons and want to take part in my activities. I always try to make my class fun and engaging, and I’m not above doing crazy things to keep their attention. For example, this Halloween I wore a different costume to class each day of the week.

Home-made black cat costume for Halloween

Homemade black cat costume for Halloween

Living on campus has given me the opportunity to really get to know my students and everyday life for them outside of my class. The students live on campus and have strictly regimented lives. They are up by 6am and in bed by 9pm. They have a half-hour for lunch and an hour for dinner and a shower. They’re not allowed to bring phones or computers to school, and outside of a dance team and a few varsity sports, there are no clubs or extracurricular activities.


Many of my students are under immense pressure to do well on the Gaokao, China’s college admissions test. A few students in my elective class discussed this pressure in a recent written assignment to compare the American and Chinese high school experience.

“Chinese students have only one chance ‘Gaokao’ to get into college. Students who perform poorly on the exam are left feeling that it’s all over. The low test score will make it impossible for we to get into a good college. And without a degree from a prestigious university, they fear that many of life’s doors will remain forever closed.”- Jane

“One year ago, I went to the high school with curiosity. Everything was so new as if I were in a new world. So I was enthusiastic about new classmates and teachers. After a long time I begin tired because of so many homework. I was buried in the ocean of task everyday. I think everyone was considered as the machine to study and then become the winner in Gaokao. I think I lose freedom.”- Julia

Hard at work

My students hard at work

While many students study hard for the Gaokao, living and working at a Chinese high school has taught me that most of the stereotypes of Chinese students are not true. Many Americans believe that Chinese high school students are extremely studious, diligent, quiet and focused, they are good at memorization but lack creativity and have poor analytical skills.

The longer I teach in China, the more I realize that this is a product of the Chinese education system, rather than the students themselves. Most of my students are just like American teenagers; they have big dreams and hate doing homework, they love playing basketball and listening to Justin Bieber. I have smart students, shy students, class clowns and slackers. I have students that go out of their way to practice English with me after class, and students that cower in fear when asked to read a sentence aloud.

Chinese students are just like we were a few years ago, with the same fears and worries that I had when I was sixteen; something I may not have noticed if I didn’t live on campus and interact with the students every day.

A much more accurate depiction of my crazy students

A much more accurate depiction of my crazy students

Finally, living at school has given me the opportunity to get involved in my school’s community. I participated in “Sports Day” where I helped bring the English teachers to a 2nd place finish and single-handedly won the Tug of War competition. Because of my dance experience, I was asked to judge a school-wide dance competition. I also witnessed my school’s version of a fire drill, where they set off red smoke bombs all over campus and let students put out a fire with fire extinguishers. Finally, I was coerced into singing and dancing in front of the entire school for the New Years talent show.

School Dance Competition

School Dance Competition

Living on campus makes it easy to be involved, and my school really tries to include me in all of the school events and activities. I feel like I’m a real teacher at the school rather than a guest teacher for the year. While living in the middle of nowhere will always be a challenge for me, at least I’ve made a home for myself in Wuxiang.

View of Wuxiang from the Teachers Dorm

View of Wuxiang from the Teachers Dorm

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