Sleepless in Seattle: 3 days till lift off

I’ve been in Seattle for over a month now and time is going slower than GW bannerweb on the day you have to register for classes- aka painfully slow. From New Years day on, it seemed like I would never leave. I was so used to having school and work and sorority stuff and friends to hang out with that it was weird not having anything to do. That isn’t actually true; I SHOULD have been studying Chinese. It seemed like the day would never come when I actually had to start packing. Sure I spent a lot of time reading books, articles and blogs about China, obsessively re-reading the Alliance website, planning a detailed trip itinerary, getting various vaccinations etc etc etc but it never felt like I was actually LEAVING.

Now that I leave in 3 days I’m a little scared. I should be prepared for this. I go to school on a different coast and I showed up at GW knowing absolutely no one. I’ve been to 21 different countries and principalities and I went to Australia by myself to stay with a friend for a month last year… but that was Australia, not China. Time was going so slow… then I blinked and suddenly I have three days left! Now that the time has finally come for me to start packing my things, a lot of the confidence that I’ve had over the past few months has dissolved. It was so easy for me to sound confident when it felt like I was never going to leave. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still VERY excited about China, but I’m also a little nervous.

So I decided to make a list of my rational and irrational fears:

#1: In my textbook for Chinese 3 at GW, Li Dawei (David Leigh) shows up at the Beijing airport and no matter how hard he looks he can not seem to find his study abroad group because the terminal extremely crowded and loud. For the rest of the semester we had homework, dictations and tests that all had sentences and stories about not being able to find your study abroad group at the Beijing airport SO I’m irrationally afraid that I will not be able to find MY study abroad group at the Beijing airport. Thank you GW Chinese department for giving me irrational fears about my study abroad experience.

The Beijing airport

#2 I will be by myself most of the time in Korea because Monica has LSAT classes in the morning and evening. Hopefully I will make friends with someone in my hostel? I’ve never gone sight-seeing by myself in a foreign country (or even in the US) before so that should be a new lesson in independence. However, I don’t speak or read any Korean so that could be an issue.

#3 My 9 credit Chinese class. No need to elaborate.

#4 How am I supposed to survive 6.5 months without any of my comfort foods?? How can I live with no cheese, hamburgers, bread or ice cream? Answer: probably lose 5 lbs. But in all honesty, while I am very excited for Chinese food I know it is very different from the food I normally eat. Last night I had authentic Korean food for dinner and while the flavors were great, I wasn’t used to the interesting combinations (tofu and beef soup?) and my stomach wasn’t quite used to it either.

#5 How do I find everything I need (especially toiletries) in China? I’m planning on bringing enough to get me started, but I’ll have to find things that work while I’m in China. For those of you that know me well, you know that I have to coat my extremely curly hair in hair gel after I shower to make my hair not look like I stuck my finger in a socket, ran around in the rain and then let it dry. Now I’m going to go ahead and assume not many Chinese people have hair like mine so I might have some problems with the hair situation later in my trip.

my ridiculously curly hair

#6 Not only is Beijing roughly 33x the size of Seattle and DC, the culture is also very different compared to the United States (something I hope to document in this blog). I think of myself as a very culturally open-minded person (international affairs major, anthropology minor. pretty much sums it up) but I know there will definitely be a lot of culture shock when I arrive in China and it’s scary to think that not only will I not have any friends or family with me, I will also not leave China for almost 7 months. Going to school in DC, I’m not used to being able to run home to Seattle every time I’m homesick; but being in a country where I can barely speak and read the language and I have to boil water to drink it- is a little different type of culture shock than the East Coast.

#7 My giant packing dilemma. This is less of a fear and more of a predicament. Luggage options: 2 smaller carry on- sized suitcases, a carry on-sized travel backpack, and a huge suitcase. Now I’m having a major issue deciding which combination of luggage to take. I am allowed to check 2 pieces of luggage and carry on another but I’m unsure of which combination I should bring. I definitely don’t want to take too much stuff with me- especially since between my programs I will be a homeless vagabond for 3 weeks wandering the country, staying in hostels. If any of you have ever heard about the mad rush to get on Chinese trains you know that I do not want to be stuck with two suitcases and backpack battling the crowd to get to my seat. Besides, is there even anywhere to put multiple pieces of luggage on one of those trains? wo bu zhidao. Now my main problem is that I will be in China for almost 7 months- that’s a temperature range of 5 degrees at night in the winter in Beijing to over a hundred degrees in the summer in the desert. Great. I also want to leave room so that I can bring back all the stuff I plan on buying (which will be a lot.)

So I googled Chinese train station and this is the first picture.

happy Chinese New Year everyone?

“millions struggle for train tickets during Chinese New Year”-at least I’m not traveling now!

Overall I am still very excited for my adventures around Asia! I think today it just finally dawned on me that this trip of a lifetime that I have planned for the past 3 years is finally about to happen. Wish me luck on my packing situation and my next post will be in Korea!

ps: Any advice about China (or my packing situation) is greatly appreciated! I have actually started a spread sheet listing all the places I would like to visit and activities, restaurants and hostels to look into that I’ve gotten off of reading other people’s blogs and advice from friends. I really have no idea what I’m doing so please feel free to share your wisdom. If you don’t feel comfortable commenting on my blog feel free to email me at

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About Richelle

Expat, traveler, and spicy food lover, I currently live in China where I'm studying for my master's degree!
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2 Responses to Sleepless in Seattle: 3 days till lift off

  1. Just enjoy it and don’t be scared to try new things. Soak up as much as you can. One thing you should watch out for is ‘culture shock’ which you are almost guaranteed to experience, the only question is to what degree?
    Here is a link to an article I wrote for my university magazine where I talk about the four stages of culture shock (NB turn to page 22):


  2. fun hunting says:

    Thanks so much for this info.


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