Much the same as a 50-year-old man might have a midlife crisis, I am having a mid-gap-year crisis. Now, I’m not buying any boats or acquiring strange, new hobbies, but I am becoming acutely aware of the fact that I have already spent nearly 5 of my 9 months in China — I’ve passed the halfway point. Lately, the dry and cold Beijing weather has been making my body feel like it’s going to fall apart, but even when my nose started bleeding during dinner and the pollution gave me a headache so bad I couldn’t get out of bed, all I could think was I am really going to miss this place when I leave.
Of course, I’m terribly melodramatic, so I’m making a big deal out of nothing. I still have four months left, and in those four months, I still have time to complete my goals, which were pretty straightforward, and, in hindsight, way too simple. I’ll be honest, they all need revising.
My first goal was to achieve a certain range on the ACTFL scale. This one can really easily be revised, because now I have a new scale to work from — the HSK test. Before I leave, I will be taking the HSK 4 test (for those who aren’t familiar, which is, assumedly, most of the people reading this, the HSK is a benchmark test for Mandarin Chinese. There are 6 levels — 1 being beginner, 6 being completely fluent. Successfully passing the HSK 5 is considered mandatory for being an international student in a Chinese university). I obviously hope to receive a passing score, and it would really be great to receive an above-average score. All I can do to ensure this is to study, which, trust me, I have been doing a lot of lately!
My second goal was to provide a balanced work/play experience for my little sister. This has been a remarkably frustrating goal to achieve. In order to protect the privacy and dignity of my host family, I will not delve too deeply into the problems I have witnessed, but let me just say that family harmony is a Confucian ideal that is not always realized here in China. So, as the outside agent, I’m doing my best to provide an exciting learning environment, because no 10-year-old is really going to want to sit at her desk while I read from a history anthology — it has to be approachable and fun. While frustrating, this goal only has to be tweaked a little bit. After all, when the first method doesn’t work, you have to adapt.
My third goal was simply to learn more about Chinese art and culture, which, admittedly, is a very easy goal, and one I manage to achieve nearly every day. However, I’ve also found that I’ve been learning so much about Chinese popular culture that it wouldn’t make sense for me to not tack that onto the end of this third goal. For example, the art and science of 撒娇 (sā jiāo), which means to act like a spoiled child in order to get what one wants. In my opinion, it’s annoying when used in a serious or bratty context, but admittedly, it’s kind of fun and cute when used jocularly. Just flip your hair and say “难道你不爱我吗?” in a jokingly childish way and suddenly you’ll feel like a very overgrown 4-year-old. It’s knowledge like this that piques my interest and makes me feel more comfortable in my home-away-from-home.
As we swing into 2018, I’ve been keeping my new goals in mind and trying my best to achieve them. This gap year experience is all about growth, and when I come back home in May, I hope to feel like a better, more accomplished version of the girl who first boarded that plane in August.