282 Days in Asia: I Open at the Close

During my short but incredible year living abroad in China, I visited seven different places within the People's Republic (Changsha, Xiangtan, Jishou, Cili/Wulingyuan, Beijing, Xi'an, and Shanghai). I also visited three other countries: Nepal, Thailand, and Cambodia. While there, I trekked to Mt. Everest Base Camp, relaxed on the most beautiful beaches I've seen to date, and temple hopped through ancient Eastern architecture, respectively.

I've also frolicked in and around rivers, gulfs, and seas; made incredible friends whom I never want to forget; and had the unique and unforgettable opportunity to teach some of China's most generous, kind, welcoming, and brilliant youth at Jishou University here in Zhangjiajie, Hunan. I miss them already.

When I first arrived, Jerrily and Nikki took me to two different police stations, three different banks, and two different phone stores, to help me get my residence permit, set up my bank account, and watch me slowly come to accept that I had to buy a new phone. These are the same students who taught me how to use chopsticks and correctly identified the marks on my left shoulder/arm as the work of the sinister Rove Beetle, Melter of Flesh.

Sunny and her friends came to my apartment before they even knew what I'd be teaching to act as 20-year-old bat exterminators.

Jeremy took it upon himself to teach me local dialect Chinese.

Harry, CC, Yan, Vanessa, and Fairy took me to the campus market to buy Sex God™ Insect Repellant after I said the mosquitoes and gnats might be the death of me. I must say, that sh*t works.

I have students who set up my A/V equipment before class each day and I have students who tell me where I can buy the spiciest cold noodles.

There's no doubt about it - my students have been the best part of living and working in China from day one to today, my last day in this wonderful country.

Of course, it hasn't all been shao kao, friendly stray cats, and travel. The visa process to get here almost convinced me it wasn't worth it to come, the lack of organization and communication has sometimes made me look like I've been stricken dumb, deaf, and blind before asking people to "run that by me one more time," and the culture shock has been real. Being stared at constantly (foreigner life), and the subtle racism (African American life), has been a hurdle; however, it's all been worth it.

(Almost) everything that was a liability in the beginning is now something I love. I'm going to miss my squat toilet, my most unmotivated students, my most frustrating colleagues, the humidity and wild wildlife, and the carefree attitude that comes with knowing almost everything is out of my hands.

I won't miss the shower just being a shower head over the bathroom floor/toilet, and I won't miss the smells or the lack of diversity in cuisine and people, but those things are somewhat minor in the grand scheme of a year in a foreign country. I already miss being able to get a two hour massage for less than $30. I already miss being able to eat out for lunch, dinner, and snacks/candy/alcohol every single day for less than $10. I'm going to miss exploring the country, visiting the cities, hanging out with Ellis and Rosie, and teaching English to my eager students.

However, I know my time in China has reached its natural end. I definitely want to come back to Asia one day - I still have so much to visit! I want to see Japan, South Korea, India, and Bali, most notably, and I also want to come back and visit my now beloved Zhangjiajie.

It's been a year of ups, downs, middles, highs, lows, elation and frustration, and I wouldn't have wanted it any other way. I travelled completely around the world to mourn, adventure, teach, learn, and find myself, and I think I've accomplished most of that.

I'm so glad I was able to do this this year and I'm excited for what the future holds, but for now,