A Foot in Each Continent

Eden P. is currently a junior at SYA China and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. She comes to SYA from The Brearley School in New York.

“American politics are insane,” I groaned, barging through a classroom door with much too much energy for someone who’d just biked a half-hour to get to school at 7:40 in the morning.
    My friends had heard this all before, and they paid me little mind. “You and your podcasts,” they’d say.
    Me and my podcasts. I listen to the news religiously every morning, and I’m sure to get it from at least two sources. I commute with my headphones in, and I spend the latter half of lunch half-laughing and half-crying over the mess that is the USA slowly trying to untangle itself and winding up much more knotted in the process.
    I miss being a part of it.
    In all honesty, that’s what I miss most. Arguably, it’s the only thing I miss. I can call my parents and my brother and my friends. Beijing and New York City are two sides of the same coin—I don’t miss my city nearly as much as I thought I would when I started the year. But being able to involve myself in politics, in government and policy that could impact my life for years to come, is much harder in China. For one thing, I’ve only been here for two months. For another, there’s a sort of cognitive dissonance that goes along with the word democracy, and it makes it very tricky to be an involved citizen in my own life.
    That day, I was talking about something trivial—someone involved in the Mueller trial referencing a threat towards his emotional support dog, or something equally laughable. But most of the time, it’s an obsessive following of the Democratic primaries, or trying to learn everything I can about the withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords.
    I know that I’m probably one of the only people here who keep up on the day-to-day news cycles of a country seven thousand miles across the sea. I know that even when I lived in that country, I was one of the only people in my grade who did. I don’t have any sort of complex about this; I think it’s important to be informed, but I throw myself into politics with a fervor that is slowly starting to be seen more and more in a population that can’t yet vote. But I don’t think that keeping up with the news prevents me from connecting in China.
    For the most part, I’ve tried to distance myself from America. My parents aren’t fond of the infrequency with which I call, and I think I only regularly (see: less than once a week) communicate with my friends. But this is something that I can’t let go of, because this is something that’s important to me. It’s something that ties into my experience this year beyond just a trade war—how do I balance a new life without forgetting about what drove me in my old life? It’s a tricky question, and one that, having spent two months here, I’m starting to think I have more of a handle on.
    I love American politics, as much as it’s possible for anyone to love American politics. I love living in China. I don’t have to reconcile the two of them—they can function in congruence with each other. My ear might be pressed to the ground of a country miles and miles away, but my heart and body are here, and the two fuel each other. I can’t let myself lose sight of what will be my future in a measly seven months. I can’t let myself get pulled out of my present. I can travel the streets of Beijing with a bike rented on Alipay listening to a recap of an American ambassador’s testimony, and I can eat jianbing while searching up who’s still in the Democratic primary race, and wonder why on earth they’re all sticking around. I operate with the politics and culture of two worlds inside of me, and I love every second of it.

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