Chilly toes and cultural lows

The current state of my room...

Let me preface this: It’s not winter. It’s not even really cold yet. Yet, as the amount of daylight shrinks with each day and the leaves start to change, I’m feeling a strange mix of reactions. Going to school in California for two years certainly changes your perception on weather. I’ve always appreciated winter, but I would not be surprised if someone classified me as having a little seasonal affective disorder. The months of warm sun and west coast living have made my disposition towards winter a bit delicate. I do enjoy winter weather when it fits the context, however; in the last two winter breaks, large snowstorms have hit within days of my arrival in D.C. But here, I can tell already that this is going to be different.

Culturally, I’ve been hitting a bit of a low-point in the last few weeks. I quantify this with a bit because, well, I certainly do not hate Chinese culture. In fact, I would probably argue that I have been embracing myself in the environment more than ever. In the past week, I’ve interviewed a migrant worker, visited a school for migrant children and, of course, spent time studying mandarin. But in all of this, I’ve felt some need to be around English-speakers, eat western food, and, essentially, lead some sort of cultural double life.

The Pitzer in China program is also highly academic, especially when compared to what I’ve heard about other study abroad programs. I spend a fair amount of time studying and worrying about grades, trying to fall into a solid routine. Most of my cultural exploration occurs in a quite structured manner, whether that is on program research trips (which have a written component) or through my formal independent study project.  This makes the next month or so fairly intense: we don’t have any full breaks or extensive trips.

So this brings me back to my feelings on the weather: with the days getting shorter and the work becoming routine, I am acutely aware of the differences between here, Pitzer, and my home in Maryland. Being in cold weather without all of the east-coast trappings of fall is difficult for me to accept.

The weather also makes it difficult to wake up and get going in the morning. This past week, I started a class on Tai Chi. It’s from 7 am to 9 am every Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. The teacher very much has the qualities of a stereotypical Zen master character, offering many pieces of sage advice as he instructs us in the calculated movements. A lot of the time, the courses just remind me of dance rehearsal for the winter musical back in high school, but it can be a little therapeutic. Mostly, it’s just nice to get some movement.

Calligraphy has been a mostly positive experience, especially considering my atrocious handwriting. The teacher is very patient, and has excellent English. I’m hoping that by the end of the class, I’ll have a few pieces of my own work. It helps with characters immensely as well….

So as I enter the middle-end of October in Beijing, I’m trying to stay optimistic through immersion in my study abroad project (first interview going up tonight!), and having a healthy balance of work/play.

Time for a core lecture on Traditional Chinese Medicine…naturally, I’m pretty skeptical of such notions, but hey, when in China…


About Jonathan Rice

Fulbright Fellow, Pitzer College alum, and communicator passionate about telling stories that make an impact.

Posted on 10/18/2011, in College, Pitzer in China - Fall 2011 and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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