Some people study abroad for noble reasons; they go to some underdeveloped hellhole and try to Make a Difference. The ones who aren’t in Africa or South America are in the room across from me, studying Chinese public health, ostensibly with the intent to be able to do something about the miserable state it’s in.

Some want immersion; they live with a host family, try to go native. They’re a few miles away at Beijing University, cramming Chinese down their throats for five or six hours a day.

Still others don’t really care about the “foreign” aspect at all. They go to Western Europe or Australia just for a change of pace, or attend renown universities that excel in a given area of study. The equivalent here is the native Chinese speakers who’ve come along to pick up a few Northwestern credits and have a good time. They don’t face a language barrier at all, generally have already lived in China at some point in their lives, and are the reason I was able to eat breakfast this morning.

I can’t honestly say I’m here for any reasons as understandable as these. This is easily the most ‘foreign’ place I’ve ever been, I’m living in an English-speaking international dorm (only studying mandarin two or three hours daily), and certainly am not attempting to change China. China wouldn’t want what I’d give it. This culture is one of the oldest and highly ingrained on the planet; it’s in many ways as overwhelming as the pollution that fogs your vision and turns your snot black. I’m just along for the ride.

God, I wish this was just fog

The view from our dorm. That's not cloud cover.

So why am I in Beijing right now? Course credit, I guess (i’m majoring in econ and asian/middle eastern studies, and i’m in the “Emerging Legal and Economic Structures” program) but also just to see something entirely different from anything I’ve experienced before. I may not be ‘immersed,’ but i’ll still be studying a bunch of Chinese, and hopefully becoming relatively conversational. If I fail at this, i’m going to have a tough time when august 15th rolls around — that’s when the program ends, and I have two more weeks in china with my roommate. No schedules, no school, no job, no responsibilities at all — just me and a bizarre new country.

I’m more excited for this summer than I’ve been for pretty much any experience in recent memory. I’m with about fifty other kids from Northwestern from all different majors and backgrounds; everyone I’ve met so far seems interesting.

I’ve gotta go change some currency and buy a bike now. Have a pretty funny story about breakfast (we cheated the chinese government after only maybe twenty hours in the country. hell yeah) that i’ll tell in the next post probably.

Tiananmen square and forbidden city tomorrow.