Why are we in China?

We’re in Xiamen at the Fulbright Conference, welcoming new spring semester Fulbrighters and reuniting with the other year-long Fulbrighters. In a very, very short time, what is clear is that we are all having very different experinces. And perhaps the major factor in these differences is where we have chosen to live. Fulbrighters have essentially two basic options, live on campus in what most Americans would view as a sub-standard apartment, or request to live off campus usually in a fancy high-rise. Requesting to live off-campus usually means living in a Western-style high rise in a new part of the city that is home to many expats. It seems nearly all the other Fulbrighters now live off-campus, some after moving out of the on-campus apartments. Said one Fulbrighter of their apartment, “It feels just like home.” Our apartment certainly does not…we have no hot water in the kitchen, hard bed and furniture, no dishwasher, no bathtub, etc. This is not a complaint, since our choice allows us many benefits such as living in a Chinese community, speaking Chinese frquently, having Chinese friends (which has allowed us to visit their homes and hometowns), sending the kids to Chinese school, eating traditional Chinese food daily for less than $1, shopping at Chinese markets rather that the large Western import stores, etc. This all makes me realize two things: (1) When you move to a foreign country, there are many ways to conceive of the value of that experience, and (2) we have brought most of our hardships upon ourselves, since these hardships have allowed us to experience China in the way that we thought it would be most worthwhile to us.

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