China is a big, scary place. Moving abroad is a terrifying thing. And yet—I did it. Even though I still doubt myself in every possible way—and have faced some stressful moments while living abroad—I learned that I can survive.
A memory I will never forget
On my second weekend in Beijing, a group of us decided we wanted to see the Great Wall before it got too cold. We also wanted to go to a unique, quiet area. The closest part of the Great Wall to Beijing is Badaling, but this area is known as a prime tourist hotspot which can be extremely overcrowded. So, instead, we organized a visit to Chenjiapu: a spot slightly further away, but worth the view.
It was a frosty Saturday morning when we got on the metro to the furthest area of Beijing—this alone took two hours. The local family we had organized the trip with picked us up and drove us to their house in the remote village located at the base of the Wall. When we arrived, we dumped our stuff and prepared for our journey. The head of the family presented us with a blank sheet of paper and drew a wiggly line—this was our map. We hoped for the best and set off on our trek.
It took two hours alone to hike up the steep mountain before we reached the Wall, but once we arrived, it was magnificent! There was no one around for miles. It was peaceful, quiet, idyllic. As English tourists, we posed and took pictures for nearly an hour, brimming with excitement over one of the world’s greatest landscapes.
We continued our four-hour hike over the unrestored pathways until we noticed we had gone too far on our "map." We were supposed to turn left back to the village after passing the third tower. We had reached the fourth tower. There were no signs or directions; and then, within the space of 10 minutes, it went from broad daylight to pitch black. You couldn't even see your feet in front of you.
In the space of 10 minutes, it went from broad daylight to pitch black. Half of our group were hysterical: crying and shouting we should call a helicopter service.
Half of our group were hysterical—crying and shouting that we should call a helicopter service—whilst the other half were just trying to keep everyone calm. We saw a ladder attached to the side, so we decided our best course of action was to get off of the physical wall and try to make our own way back to the village. There was no path, and we had to sit on our bottoms using our hands to slowly navigate our way down a sharp, rocky, and muddy mountain. The rain was pouring and spirits were low as everyone struggled to see and keep their balance.
After an hour of slow climbing we came to a standstill, and tried to figure out what to do next. Everyone was hungry, exhausted and still in a panic. Then, out of nowhere, we saw a light in the distance. Never have I seen so many people in a group instantly stand up at once, shouting, "Ni hao, ni hao" at the top of their lungs. The light was getting closer and closer, and within the hour an old Chinese man was standing in front of us, looking bemused. He slowly took each of us back down to the village. We were absolutely covered in mud and all of our clothes were ruined, but we finally made it to the bottom!
While it was incredibly stressful at the time, now our trip to the Great Wall is just a funny story. Plus, it reflects my experience as a whole: not everything was perfect in Beijing, but I kept going—even on the bad days.
What I wish I had done differently
While I did my best here in China, there are still areas I could have improved. As a young intern, I was sometimes scared to ask questions and take on more control. I was still worried about what people would think of me. If I could go back in time, I would have tried to have more confidence in myself. I also wish I had done more research into further opportunities, especially around design.
What I will miss the most
While I was so far from home, I missed being in a similar time zone to contact people; I missed being able to eat what I usually eat. But now, I'll miss the incredible sights I saw while in China. As a hobby photographer, I took my camera out with me pretty much every day. I have been fortunate enough to take some incredible pictures of places that some people will never be able to see. It just doesn't compare to England.
While I wish I had a bit more confidence during my internship, I'll take that lesson back home with me. During my time in China, I learned that I am able to persevere and keep going, even when times are hard.
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