When One Door Closes

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.

At 8:00 on a Monday night, I called my parents to discuss the current situation of the coronavirus in China. And by 8:30 that same night, I had booked a flight out of Beijing leaving at around noon the next day.

I left the house not twelve hours after getting on the phone. While throwing all my things into a suitcase, I thought, this isn’t the end. I’m positive that it isn’t. And as I hugged my host sister farewell, I thought, I won’t have to miss the way her singing kept me up at night because last night was not the final night that was going to happen. And as I thanked my host mom, mask on in the middle of the chaotic Beijing airport, for all that she’d done for me in the past five months, I thought, this is not the last time I will see her smile.

I’m less sure that that’s the case now. The situation doesn’t seem to be getting better with the sort of expedience that would allow me to return to Beijing. As as excited as I am to settle into a new way of life in Viterbo, I know that it’ll be, in a word, different. For one, I don’t know a word of Italian. Also, there’s the issue of the AP Chinese Language test, which I’m still signed up to be taking in the spring. And, finally, the most petty concern of mine is that cheese tends to make me vomit, which seems like it might be a little tricky to navigate in Italy.

I’ve been communicating with my Chinese host family. They’re all safe, they say, and despite the chronic boredom that tends to set in when you’re effectively quarantined inside your house for an indeterminate amount of time, things are okay. I sent a picture of a failed attempt at dumplings that I’d made; my host mom sent back tips that I screenshotted with haste, lest I attempt to make them again. (I might not, considering how royally I screwed up the first time trying to make them on my own).

And I know that even though I was pulled away four months too early, there is nothing that can change the impact that SYA China has had on me. I’m now much more proficient in an extremely difficult language. I can navigate the Beijing subway system without a map or my phone to help me. I know the best place to get my favorite pastries, and I’m so use to using yuan that, when reading a book that took place in England, I was genuinely shocked at the prices mentioned.

SYA China has given me experience that cannot be destroyed by any endemic. I know I’ll continue to message my host family whenever I see things that remind me of them, when I attempt to make Chinese food, or simply when I miss them. I know that I’ll be craving foods I never got to properly savor while in the country, and I know I’ll regret not taking more independent travel opportunities in the time I was there. I know I’ll always have a home in Beijing and I know I’ll always be comfortable in that city.

Hopefully I’ll be able to return this year. If not, hopefully I’m able to return as soon as possible. And no matter what, I know I’ll be taking all that I’ve learned to Italy. In a way, this is like getting a second chance. I know what to do and how to do it and what to worry about and what to let go. So whether my next few months are spent in China or in Italy, I’ll be seizing the moment as much as possible and living my life to the absolute fullest.

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