My host family greeted me at the Shanghai airport with excited smiles. Their faces calmed my nerves immensely. However, that first day in Hangzhou was strange and exciting to me. The realization that I was going to spend three weeks as a foreigner in a country unfamiliar to me had finally sunk in. Not a day went by that I didn’t experience something new. My family was always anxious to make feel comfortable. Ana, my host mother, wrote endearing notes for me to wake up to. Leafy, my host sister, always seemed anxious to introduce me to her friends and hobbies. Jay, my host father, eagerly told jokes just to make me laugh.
Everyone in Hangzhou, China was very kind and generous even though I did not speak their language. The language barrier was trying at times, but it could be overcome. I picked up some basic phrases to say; however, I did spend large amounts of time smiling in silence. It was painfully obvious that I was a foreigner. Everywhere I went, strangers would snap pictures of me, or they would attempt speaking English. This behavior made me feel welcome anywhere I went. The hardest part of the trip was definitely having no social-media. Having very few ways to communicate with friends and family in the United States, I was forced to interact with all of my surroundings.
While in Hangzhou, my host-family took me to many local places: various museums, the cinema, Buddhist temples, coffee shops, friends’ homes, the Song Dynasty theme park, a wide variety of restaurants, and the famous Hangzhou West Lake. I thoroughly enjoyed trying all the different kinds of food. My only apprehension about going to China was the food. However, I should never have doubted the culinary excellence in China. Every day I would eat or learn to cook a new dish. My dining experience varied anywhere from a rice cake peddler in an alley to a very upscale private dining room. I also meet numerous warm-hearted people. Mr. Wong invited me into his home for ancient Chinese writing lessons, Katherine was anxious to invite me to her home for the next summer, Ana’s best friend was always gracious enough to prepare a feast for me, etc .
There were many things I learned in and about China. I had the opportunity to see many amazing places and experience them for myself. I wish that I could write all my beautiful memories in a way that people could experience them the way that I had the privilege to. Even though I was able to go to numerous landmarks, my favorite memories are the simple ones. Though, how does one put into words one of the eye-opening experiences of her life? If only I could take my friends on the walks that my host father and I went on around the market at night to purchase fruit. How can I express to my family the comfort I felt when my host mother prepared breakfast for me every morning? How do I tell my host sister who is thousands of miles away that she feels just like an actual sister to me? Call it cliché, but all I can say is this: Hangzhou, China and my host family have taken a piece of my heart.