A Year Later: A Throwback Post on Leaving for China

A year ago, I left for Shanghai, China for a two-month internship and study program. As I fondly remember my time and wish to be back exploring China’s beautiful countryside, here are my old thoughts before I left.

Ready or Not: Reflections Before I Journey to China

In all honesty, it hasn’t hit me that I’ll be on a transpacific flight in well under 48 hours. Though I have memorized both the time difference between Shanghai and the West Coast and the number of hours until the first leg of my international journey, the impending reality of what is to come has yet to sink in. I have two suitcases worth of clothes strewn all over my bed, a to-do list of last minute things to purchase, and countless errands to run that I know will not be completed before I depart on Sunday morning. Yet, here I sit, typing away at a blog post and reading news articles in order to avoid focusing on everything I should be doing before the start of my journey.

I am beyond excited to go to China though I do not feel ready. The cuisine, the high-speed public transportation, the foreign university, the Chinese lessons, the history and tradition, interacting with the locals, and exploring Shanghai and other parts of China all delight me to no extent. I really cannot wait. As a defense mechanism, however, my body refuses to let me indulge in all the tastes, smells, and sounds soon to be awaiting me until I deem myself “prepared.” It is only once I have my bags packed (and tested around the block), re-read through all of the preparation material, ensured that I have the essential travel items, and brushed up on my knowledge of Chinese political affairs will I feel prepared to venture into the unknown and fully experience China.

Regardless, I know I am going to come back a different person. A better person. A person even more enthusiastic about changing the world than I was before. I look forward to adopting a broader more refined and more nuanced world view. Thinking through my personal goals for Shanghai, I came up with this quirky list thus far: visit all the water towns on the edge of Shanghai, explore all the sections of Shanghai (bonus points if I use every metro stop), pick up basic calligraphy, befriend a local, become a regular somewhere, convert to the metric system, spontaneously join a children’s street game, and set my palate on fire with the sheer number of mind-blowing flavors and dishes I try. I also want to challenge myself. Be brave. Force myself out of my comfort zone enough times to where I am finally comfortable only to do it again with something else. Embrace the culture shock and spend as little time in my room as possible.

Professionally, I hope to do meaningful work during my internship and make valuable networking connections. I will be working for the China Energy Fund Committee, a think tank devoted to exploring Chinese energy issues and working to find cleaner alternative solutions. I am intrigued by how the Chinese handle this pressing topic and am excited to be working with my Chinese counterparts and understanding how they approach their assignments and these issues. Energy use, consumption, and security are topics that sparked that really sparked my interest this past year and is a field I can see myself working in the future. These are topics that need to be addressed in the 21st century as our world deals with rising demand and increasing pressure on limited resources. The opportunities in the energy sector are limitless.

Moreover, this internship will expose me to a different area of policy-making and issue advocacy. I have worked on various issue campaigns and done direct organizing to pressure governments and different systems to enact change. However, this experience will be vastly different. Instead, I will be working for a UN-affiliated organization that works on the diplomatic and business side of affairs, giving me a more holistic sense of the various limitations and opportunities present with each approach to change-making. Since I have not worked directly on energy issues before I look forward to getting my hands wet.

When I spend more time thinking about my various goals I know my list will expand. I want so many things out of my limited time in China. I am not foolish enough to think I can achieve all of these objectives in my seven weeks in China but am still idealistic enough to try. It is both exhilarating and daunting to know that everything is going to turn out in ways I could have previously never imagined. However,  I am mentally ready for the journey. I cannot wait for the ride. My body will catch up soon enough.

Just know that I’ll be back in some form. I may look the same but dig deeper. I promise I’ll have changed. I can’t guarantee I won’t leave pieces of my heart in China either.
Perhaps I’ll return wiser, cultured, and worldly — I suppose only time will tell.

On that note, I need to pack. China’s awaiting and the clock is ticking.

See you on the other side of the world internet,
-Avantika

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