The last week of break the NSLI-Y group took a trip together to Xi’an. I was very excited for this trip, because Xi’an is the city I lived in when I first travelled to China two summers ago on a NSLI-Y Summer Program. To be returning to this place, with much higher language skills, a deeper appreciation and understanding of Chinese culture, and a new group of NSLI-Y friends, felt incredibly special. This trip was a unique way to better understand my appreciation for China, the origin of my passion, and the way it has influenced my life. Checkout below for pictures of my 2017 time in Xi’an alongside the 2019 trip!
On the way to Xi’an we took a night train. I have never been on one before so this was a fun new experience. There are separate rooms with two bunk beds each, a table, lights, etc. We boarded the train at 8 pm and arrived in Xi’an at 8 am the next morning. Before we went to sleep, we all got together in one of the rooms. How many NSLI kids can you fit in one compartment? Answer.. 16!
Once in Xi’an, we were off filling each day with activities and travels. One of the first things we did was go to the City Wall. Xi’an is famous because it is one of the only cities in China to have a city wall left behind that is so intact. Built in the 14th century by Hongwu Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang, it encloses an area of 14 square kilometers.
Wild Goose Pagoda
This pagoda was built in 652 during the Tang Dynasty. It was later rebuilt in 704 during Empress Wu Zetian’s reign. One of the original functions of the pagoda was to hold figurines of the buddha given to China from India by Buddhist traveler Xuanzang. Today it holds buddha statues by well known artist Yan Liben.
A place every AP World History students studies, returning was once again such an amazing opportunity. Built over two thousand years ago and involving 700,000 workers, the warriors are a form of funerary art. The sculptures depict the armies of Qin She Huang, China’s first emperor. The figures themselves are all different, ranging from warriors, chariots, and horses. The three various pits of the Terra-cotta Warriors are said to contain more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots, and 520 horses. The purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife.
Perhaps my favorite place in Xi’an is the Muslim Quarter. This area is streets lined with food stalls of so many different restaurants, stores, mosques, and interesting goods. The food ranges from fried scorpion or fresh coconut juice or chicken feet or meat on a stick. My personal favorite is the fried potatoes and “Roujiamo,” a Xi’an specialty meat sandwich using pork that has been stewed for hours in soup — kind of like a Chinese hamburger!
Two years ago I spent so much time exploring this area with my friends, we made many trips to spend either a short time or all day there. I remember when I first arrived, I was so overwhelmed. The amount of people, smells, noises, and new stimuli was shocking. Part of this also had to do with traveling there in the Summer, in the peak of tourist seasons. I began to realize this time around though, after living in China for 6 months and getting accustomed to huge cities and huge amounts of people, I wasn’t as shocked by Muslim Quarter. I think my perspective has changed as I have gotten more used to a plethora of people in places I go.
Xi’an Host Family!
Two years ago when I came to China I lived with a host family. Incredibly kind and welcoming people, I spent 6 weeks living in their home, being part of their daily life, and exploring the city with them. Below is a picture from the first meal I shared with them two years ago.
I recall the frustration I felt about not being able to communicate deeply with them and form a bond I had been hoping to. In hind sight, this is not that surprising considering I came to China with zero background in Chinese and then only studied for a month and a half. As expected, I didn’t make enough language gains to have the kinds of conversations I was hoping to have in the target language. We spoke mostly English, but that still didn’t feel quite fulfilling enough to me. So this time around when I visited Xi’an, I was extremely excited to meet up with my old host family.
One night we met and had dinner at the Muslim Quarter (a place we would go together two years ago!) The night with them was nothing short of so incredible, wholesome, and exciting. We spoke entirely in Chinese, about topics ranging from my experience in China, returning to Xi’an, how our lives have ranged since I was their host student, and more. Being able to finally communicate with the people who had given me so much and been so thoughtful my first time in China was so special. They were amazed, truly blown away by the gains in speaking I had made. I began learning things about them that I never knew! This further displayed the idea of the kinds of connections you make when you speak the same language. When it was time to say goodbye I felt a wave of sadness. I realized though I would see them again, ad have the chance to further share fun experiences together.
Me and my host sister Summer 2017 in front of the Xi’an drum tower!
Me and my host family 2019! Same place!
My First Chinese Teacher!
When I studied in Xi’an two years ago, I was a student at North Western University. Everyday we had four hours of Chinese class in the morning, and then various culture classes or field trips in the afternoon. My Chinese teacher was named Tian Laoshi, who coincidentally enough studied linguistics at the University of Pittsburgh! (Such a small world) This trip Stacy (friend who did NSLI summer and is on the NSLI year program with me) and I met up with Tian Laoshi. It was a surreal experience, to reunite with the first Chinese teacher we ever had, and this time, be able to have conversations in Chinese. Once again, these types of moments were so exciting and motivating, to see how far I’ve come. We were able to share our favorite things about China, memories about our summer in Xi’an, and compare the cities of Beijing and Xi’an. Meeting up was a super fun outing, and being able to share it with Stacy made it all the more special.
Without a doubt, this trip was every bit as meaningful and memorable as I imagined it to be. Between exploring new areas of the city while remembering my old experiences, I felt so happy to be back. Xi’an has a special place in my heart – the first Chinese city I ever visited and the first place I began learning the language. Having the chance to meet up with the people who allowed me to have such an impactful first visit to China was pretty amazing. I am grateful for how those six weeks shaped my life, aka … being the reason I am where I am now!
My NSLI Story
I remember three years ago, in the fall of my junior year, I received an email from my mom with a link to NSLI-Y and the caption “Not sure I wanted to send this to Gigi… so far away.” I never would have guessed how that email would alter my life path. After researching NSLI-Y, I knew I had to apply. My interest in sustainability coupled with passion for Chinese history and culture immediately drew my attention to the Mandarin programs. Upon being accepted I prepared for my first trip to China.
Six weeks in Xi’an, flew by, with nothing but amazing exposure that left me wanting more. Coming home still on the NSLI-Y high, I applied to the academic year program. The idea of spending 9 months in the country that I had fallen in love with, and getting to the chance to accelerate my Chinese to new levels, was truly exciting.
After completing the application, NSLI-Y was put on the back burner a bit, as I focused my time and attention on finishing college apps and senior year classes. I remember always feeling a bit of stress as people discussed post high school plans. Not only did I not know where I would be going to school, but let alone if I would be starting college. Part of me was scared, scared of the idea of picking up my life, putting everything on pause, and moving to China for 9 months. Another part of me was thrilled at the idea of being able to take spend a year focusing on learning Chinese, and have a drastic change of pace from the past four years of a non stop grind at high school. (Little did I know, my life here would still be a grind.) The other part of me wanted to start college right away!
In the Spring of senior year I remember vividly the day I received the email that I had been accepted to NSLI-Y on a fully funded scholarship to spend 9 months in China. I recall a mixture of emotions, happiness of course, but also, a bit of nerves. A few months later I had consildated all my belongings into two bags, say bye to my friends, house, neighborhood, city, and finally family. It was surreal to say bye to my life for 9 months.
Now here I am, a year later, reflecting on my entire NSLI-Y process and feelings about living in China. And i’ve already begun planning on when I will return to this country to continue studying.
Without a doubt, traveling to Xi’an this year was a way to reconnect with my first experience in China. I was able to re-experience the things that made me want to truly devote my time and energy to Chinese. It was reassuring to be back, remembering how and why I ended up here. Being back in Xi’an felt like I was coming full circle … so I have many thanks to NSLI-Y, for making this experience happen. To my Xi’an host family, my first Chinese teacher, and all the friends I’ve made on NSLI-Y who have been there with me, supporting me, encouraging me, and going through it with me. Thanks to my mom, for three years ago, against her initial thought of not wanting me to be so far away, sending me that email about NSLI-Y. Neither of us could have guessed how much one email would impact my life and the person I’ve become.
More Xi’an Memories! (2017)