The North Star Project, 2013 Summer Report Number Twenty-Three, Tianjin, China -- Homesickness
By Erin Monroe
Update 8: Homesickness
If I said I didn’t get homesick while in China, I’d be lying. Of course, it’s natural to miss home when immersed in a culture so different from my own. I should preface by saying I love China, but sometimes I want to be sitting in my kitchen at home with my family eating some homemade food. When I consider why I miss what I miss, I open my eyes to the differences, from monumental to minute, between Tianjin, China and Midwest America. Here are a few things I miss about home.
First of all, I miss the weather. As expected, I’m simply not accustomed to blistering heat. It’s July now and there are days when I walk outside and immediately begin sweating before I start walking. Besides the heat, the smog is restraining to daily life. In the U.S., I usually ran four or five days a week. Running was my stress-reliever and it helped me to stay healthy and happy. With the smog and my asthma, there’s no way I can run outside. Also, here in the city, people don’t run outside.
I knew before I arrived in China that I would miss American food. Our bodies often crave what we need, and I’m not surprised that I always long for milk. Typically, Chinese people don’t eat dairy products on a daily basis and the milk available here is usually heavier and closer to cream than skim milk. I don’t have a fridge in my hotel room, which limits what kind of food I can keep. I notice some minor effects of calcium deficiency on my body--my fingernails grow at a much slower rate and are more fragile. I realized I need to take action and I bought some powdered milk to mix into water. It’s not nearly as bad as I expected it to be, but of course not the same as fresh cold milk. Yogurt in particular feels like such a special treat here. In China, yogurt is a thick liquid and meant to be consumed through a straw. Oddly enough, I think I’m starting to prefer yogurt this way.
I’m a Caucasian girl with blonde-brown hair and green eyes, so naturally I stick out like a sore thumb in China. By now, I’m used to the stares and usually I don’t mind them anymore. However, there are times when the unfailing stares are curious glances become slightly irritating. For example, when I grocery shop, I don’t want someone to be following me around and looking at everything I put in my shopping basket. When I sit and read on a park bench I don’t want to be watched. Many people don’t know I can speak some Chinese, and they feel free to talk about me when I’m standing right next to them. Honestly though, I can’t fault people for being curious, though I do wish I was given a little more space in public especially when I’m doing something as mundane as grocery shopping or reading.
I can’t truthfully say that some things are better or worse in America—I’m just not accustomed to some aspects of Chinese culture. For instance, the way people naturally approach each other here is more direct. In a restaurant, it’s perfectly acceptable to yell for the waitress across the restaurant and for the waitresses to yell to each other or the kitchen. In a grocery store, if someone has a question about where something is, they’ll walk up to a worker and start asking the question—without saying “Excuse me” or “Hello” and occasionally interrupting a conversation between the worker and another customer. Space and privacy isn’t always priority.
Happily, there are ways to combat homesickness. While there is truly no place like home, I have a few techniques and strategies that act as temporary solutions. When I first came to China, I was frustrated that I couldn’t run outside because of the pollution, and I didn’t want to buy a gym membership. I went to the store and bought a cheap jump rope and now, before school, I go to the park and listen to music while I jump rope, do jumping jacks, stretch, etc. It’s not taxing enough to affect my breathing in the smog and the early morning exercise wakes me up and makes for a great start to the day. I Skype my parents and other family members to see how they’re doing and it’s a great comfort to know people on the other side of the world care about me. Facebook and email are also great communication tools, especially when I need a break from studying Chinese and want to reconnect with friends and family back home. Writing these articles causes me to be more aware of my surroundings and the differences and similarities between Chinese and American culture. I am not trying to compliment or insult China, but I think the old saying “the grass is always greener on the other side” comes into play here. While I prefer how some things are done in America, I am coming to realize that I also prefer how some things are done in China. For example, there is no tipping here for servers in restaurants, cab drivers, bell boys, etc. In the U.S., servers at restaurants are paid a low wage, usually below minimum wage, because they are expected to receive tips. Whether the restaurant is bustling or has a slow night directly affects the server’s income while servers in China can experience a more consistent stream of income that is not controlled quite so heavily by the customers’ generosity. When I think about why people behave the way they do as a product of their environment, I’m more willing to understand and accept the differences between cultures.
For all of the North Star Project Summer Reports, see HERE
The North Star Project: Collaboration between The Middle Ground Journal Student Interns, The College of St. Scholastica, and North Star Academy 8th Grade Global Studies Classes, 2013-2014 School Year Summer Reports.
Under the leadership of our North Star host teachers and student interns, The North Star Project has flourished for two years. For a brief summary, please see a recent article in the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:
This summer we will re-tool and re-design the collaborative program, drawing on the experience of our veteran student interns, ideas from our host teachers, and new projects provided by our incoming student interns. This summer The Middle Ground Journal will share brief dispatches from our North Star Project student interns, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. As of the time of this report we have confirmed student interns who will be reporting from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing presentations on theatrical representations of historical trauma, historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and different perceptions of current events from around the world. We will post their brief dispatches here throughout the summer, and report on their interactions with the North Star students and teachers throughout the school year.
Hong-Ming Liang, Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA, June, 2013
(c) 2013 The Middle Ground Journal, Number 6, Spring, 2013. See Submission Guidelines page for the journal's not-for-profit educational open-access policy.