To Be a Traveler in Your Own Home

Story by Nina Rossiter

When we think of study abroad, we often think of going to a place that we’ve never been to before, diving into new experiences and exposing ourselves to new cultures. I, too, had that imagination, but after picking up a Chinese minor, I was led back to China, where I had grown up.

I was raised in Hong Kong, which is very different than most Chinese cities.  Although Hong Kong reunited with China in the late 1990’s as part of Handover deal, Hong Kong functions as its own, independent and unique territory, and is known as a special administration region.

While growing up in Hong Kong, I visited Lijiang, Shenzhen, Shanghai, Beijing and many of China’s other well-known cities.  These travels, many of which were part of school-led excursions, exposed me to life outside of Hong Kong, and throughout the enormous country of China. Because of this, the idea of returning to China, as part of the East to West Dialogue of Civilizations program, was both exciting and comforting.  This comfort did not prepare me for the endless experiences and challenges I would soon be encountering, even though I was simply traveling back home.

This experience was unlike anything I could have imagined.  I soon learned that it’s not necessarily where you travel to that determines your study abroad experience, but who you travel with, what energy you bring along with you, and how you go about exploring.

The group of students I traveled with were eager to dive into Chinese culture, engage with the various communities, experience new food, and, of course, practice Mandarin.  Their eagerness excited me, as it gave me the opportunity to be a tourist within my own home. Having the knowledge of a local gave me the chance to show my new friends a country that is so close to my heart, which allowed them to explore as a local would.  Our group had a dynamic energy, full of excitement, and a willingness to explore endlessly.  This energy was crucial to our time abroad, as it propelled us through various obstacles and challenges.

Much to my surprise, we visited many areas in which I had never traveled to before.  This gave me the chance to see my country in a way I had never before been able, too.  I tried new food and wandered the streets of towns I had only heard of during my childhood, and hiked coastal mountains I had only seen pictures of.

Although the location in which we chose to study abroad determines a bit of our experience, as we found in our travels throughout both Hong Kong and Kunming, what truly defines the experience is our approach.  Going into this Dialogue, I was focused on fulfilling my academic requirements, and hadn’t truly acknowledged that this travel back home would be unlike any other.  I returned to Boston with a group of friends that I would have otherwise never known, and with memories that I can now add to my list of Chinese adventures.

As an international student, living in Boston is studying abroad for me.  The opportunity to travel home, as both a local and a tourist, was a comfortable one for me, as I am constantly “abroad”.  Although it can be quite natural for us all to get preoccupied with our studies, and the routine of our day-to-day life, studying abroad forces us out of that comfort zone, and reminds us to remain as open-minded as possible.  If we can apply this “study abroad mindset” into our routines back home, we would welcome new adventure and opportunity, in a way that our current preoccupations don’t allow.

As I left China, and traveled back to Boston, I promised myself that I would treat this next semester as a study abroad: to explore, experience and enjoy the city in ways that often go unacknowledged.