Excitement + nervousness = freaking out.
I feel as though I should put forth a confession of sorts before delving into the beef of this entry.
Until yesterday, I never really understood bloggers, and never in a million years could have seen myself becoming one of them. I do not mean to offend anyone by saying this, but I have always felt as though writing about one's life for the entire world to see and judge required a certain degree of courage, too much spare time, and sometimes an inflated sense of self-importance. That is to say that I could not fully understand why an everyday, ordinary, non-famous person would presume to think that his or her life is so interesting and important as to merit its own public website. And I'm not talking about Facebook users; I have used Facebook for years to keep up with friends, communicate, and let others know what I'm up to - not to mention the fact that privacy settings (supposedly) allow for users to share updates with only their "friends." Writing a blog is a different thing entirely. It requires one to sit down and put some thought and effort into telling the world at large what is going on in one's life, like anyone cares - kind of like Twitter, which I still don't quite get, but on a much larger scale.
So here I am, starting my first-ever blog entry by practically condemning writers of blogs as egocentric, and yet about to join those "egocentric" people by telling my friends, family, and the world at large about my thoughts and feelings heading into my first trip outside the continent of North America, which begs the question: What changed?
Yesterday, I had a sort of epiphany. It was nothing dramatic, but I realized that blogging may not be quite as conceited an activity as I had previously thought. Friends and family had been suggesting I write a blog ever since I found out I'd be having the opportunity to go to China for a semester abroad, but my prejudice against blogging had me on the fence. Yes, I knew that close friends and family want to see what I'm up to and keep in touch, but I thought surely the occasional email would suffice to that end. But after meeting with CDR Smith, the USNA faculty member assigned to mentor me throughout the semester, I realized that in order to get the most out of this opportunity, I need to be engaging in active reflection on my experiences. I don't want to just float through the semester just straight chillin' in China, partying, having fun, and relishing my time away from USNA and its rules and regulations. Don't get me wrong; I'm sure there will be plenty of fun to be had (and I will have it), and relish I will, but I have to remember why I am there, on the Navy's dime - and it's not to chill out and enjoy the civilian life. I'm going to Beijing not for my own personal, selfish benefit, but to
- represent the United States, the U.S. Navy, and the U.S. Naval Academy,
- learn everything I can about a different culture, language, people, and way of life than my own, and
- share my learnings with others in the Brigade of Midshipmen so that we might all become more well rounded and thus better equipped to serve as officers in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.
All this is not to bore anyone who has read this far, but to explain the primary reason I have decided to keep this journal: to engage in active reflection on experiences and lessons learned while abroad this semester so that the reasons I have been afforded this amazing opportunity are never out of mind. The fact that it is online allows for a secondary end to be met: enabling friends, family, and shipmates to know what I'm up to while I'm not living the typical midshipman life in Bancroft Hall.
PHEW. Glad that snore of a novel is over with. Now for some of that all-important reflection!
It's Thursday, August 23, 2012, the day before I'm set to leave for "The Land of China," as I like to call it (Forrest Gump reference, anyone?). Words cannot describe how I'm feeling right now, and yet I will boldly attempt that foolhardy mission. I have been waiting for tomorrow since November, when I found out after a long application and interview process that the USNA International Programs Office had given me its approval to spend a semester in China. The IPO has been growing its semester abroad program every year since it began (not sure when that was, but it couldn't have been more than ten years ago) thanks to generous donations from Naval Academy alumni, parents, and friends, and thank God for that, because I think the growing size of the program - and the fact that I'm a Chinese major who's a few credits ahead of schedule - was my saving grace since I did not come out of my interviews feeling very confident I'd get accepted. But I did, and since then, this adventure has been at the forefront of my mind and has been a deciding factor in everything I have done since then.
Let me tell you about what a hookup this is. Now, I know that it's all legit and has been approved by countless "higher-ups," but even so, I must admit that I'm a bit nervous to talk about how awesome it is for fear that someone with a lot of power will be like, "Nuh-uh, there's no way this is legit," and we'll all be sent back - just kidding...but really. However, in the interest of accurately examining and reflecting upon my thoughts and emotions at this point in time, I feel I must share all the reasons for which I am so pumped for this and rest comfortably assured in my knowledge that nothing gets approved at USNA without the say-so of numerous very important people. IPO is sending me and thirteen other midshipmen (the most it's ever sent to one place) to Beijing, where most of us will be enrolled in an intensive Chinese language program through a study abroad company called CET at the Beijing Institute of Education. Our airfare, room and board, and tuition are all covered, and we will each be receiving a sizable stipend to cover other expenses - in addition to our normal monthly pay, which in actuality will be more than our normal pay since certain expenses the Academy takes out of our pay (laundry, food, the darn cobbler shop, etc.) will not be taken out. I will not publicly post any specifics on how much we're being paid, but let it suffice to say that we will not be going hungry. So, not only do I not have to pay for this, but it's almost like I'm being paid to spend a semester away from the Academy. Um, yeah, I'll take it.
As I already alluded, I will not be in China in any sort of military capacity beyond the fact that I am still technically a midshipman in the Navy. I am going there in part to develop the "Midshipman Attributes," and in order to become more adaptable, it is important that I examine thoughtfully cultural norms of my surroundings and adapt to them. Naturally, it wouldn't do to have me walking around in the uniform of United States Navy or to limit me to the U.S. Navy's standards of grooming and what-have-you, if I should find that in China that cultural norms dictate something different, right? For instance, perhaps I will find that most males have long hair. In the interest of being more personable and adaptable, then if that is the case, maybe I should grow my hair out! I have no intentions of doing that, but it is nice to know that if I find it necessary and proper, I am not bound to "four in length, two in bulk." And let's not forget how sick it's going to be to be able to wear whatever I want to class. I'm thinking "winter working sweatpants."
Of course, I will not forget that even outside of uniform, I still represent the U.S.A., its government, its navy, and USNA, and will not do anything to discredit any of those, but still, it's pretty sweet that I'm going to be spending a semester living the civilian college life. That's right, I will be spending one eighth of my time at the academy, not at the academy, being paid more than I would be normally, and practically as a civilian.
Class, that is what we call gaming the system at its finest.
By now, there should be no question as to whether I am excited, or why I am excited, but let's talk about how nervous I am.
I'm pretty freaking nervous. The program I will be enrolled in is a very strict total-immersion type deal. Every participant is required to sign a "full-time Chinese language pledge." This means that we will commit to speaking Chinese all the time, with very few exceptions (such as writing home, blogging, "skypeing" with people from home and the like). We will be expected to think and dream in Chinese. I chose this program, so it's obviously something I'm excited about, but I'm not going to lie, it makes me very nervous. I'm pretty rusty on my Chinese after a summer full of training - and yes, I had about a month of leave, but my brain seems to have an automatic off-switch when I go on leave; my mother will attest to as much. So, clearly, it is not my fault that I haven't studied.
But I've talked to some of the other mids, and I'm somewhat comforted by the fact that I'm not alone in my lack of studying, and we are all planning on studying on the fourteen-hour plane ride (hooyah '14) and in the couple of days between when we get to Beijing and when the program begins. Still, though, I'm very nervous about being honor-bound to speak Chinese, even in difficult or stressful situations in which I feel it would be easier to resort to English. Thank God hand gestures are not prohibited.
With all this excitement and nervousness, one could say I am sort of freaking out - but in a good way.
And yes, I am very excited to be going away from the Yard, Mother B, and classes in Rickover, but there are a lot of things I will definitely miss while I'm in Beijing. As I write this entry, I am sitting in my favorite seat at one of my favorite places in my favorite city in the world (the cushy seat on the ground level of the Annapolis Bookstore on Maryland Ave.). Living downtown the past few days and walking around town in civilian clothes has made me feel more a part of this city, and I will miss it.
More than the place, though, I will miss the people. My shipmates in Third Company, my fellow clubbers in the men's club of glee, my classmates with whom I just celebrated our commitment of the next seven years of our lives to the Navy, and friends I've made outside of the Academy will all be sorely missed. I will also miss out on welcoming my parents to see a glimpse of my everyday life during Second Class Parents' Weekend, cheering on Navy, the Florida Gators, and the Buffalo Bills during football season, the shenanigans and music-making of Glee Club tours, and the first semester of being able to go out into DTA with my classmates on Friday nights. As much as I have looked forward to all these things, however, I know that I have been afforded the opportunity of a lifetime and with great resolve, I bid America "zaijian," say to China "ni hao," and go forward with no regrets, ready to venture out to broaden my horizons and live the dream in...The Land of China.