Widen your cultural bubble

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Many miss the timeless opportunity to immerse themselves into a foreign culture, language, and life. Junior, Nicole (Nikki) Wilson moved to Shanghai for three years following her father on a new job opportunity. During this time Nikki was tossed into the Chinese culture and developed both a fluency in Mandarin Chinese and an otherwise unattainable perspective.

As a student, the transition was rough in the beginning for Nikki as she entered China’s educational system during eighth grade. Nikki attended the Concordia International School of Shanghai. In the beginning, it was a journey and she began to adjust “It was just a lot easier, and the teachers were a lot more willing to adapt to how you learned rather than just teaching to the class.”

Nikki Wilson never imagined herself as someone who would get to be immersed in a new culture. This proved true with many other aspects of Nikki’s new life, especially her introduction to the social web of her new school.

She started to adjust with her surroundings, even growing to love the setting. Towards the end, she found it was her place. “I had a lot of friends,” began as she expressed how much she missed them and wished to go back to Shanghai. She then said “I was very happy towards the end.” From this it seemed the experience took a change for the better.

Her views on the country as a whole were dramatically different than the beginning. Before she dreaded the move, missing the friends she grew up with at Kurtz Elementary and then at Oak Valley Middle School. Then after leaving it behind, giving it some time, she found the place that holds dear and close to her heart.

“It’s very, very beautiful once you get out of the city. I know in Shanghai, if you go like, I don’t know twenty miles out, it’s like, a bunch of rural houses. They don’t live in the city, yes there’s lots of pollution, yes you should wear masks when it’s that bad. I never did, I never had breathing problems, it never really bothered me,” Nikki went on.

It helped that Nikki and her family lived in Zhangzhou, Shanghai, an expat’s community, or a community composed of people temporarily or permanently residing in a country other than that of the person’s upbringing.

Leaving America felt like the loss of a protective-bubble (in this case, a country-sized bubble) for Nikki. The removal of this bubble she resided within proved to be beneficial, “I’m a completely different person now than I was three or four years ago,” explained Nikki. “It really helped me find who I am. It brought me out of my comfort zone, like America is my comfort-zone. [You can’t just] hang back and follow the crowd, you had to fight for yourself.”

The change from American society to Chinese was a transition that was anything but smooth. Shanghai is one of the most highly populated areas in China, especially where Nikki had temporarily resided. Life closely resembled the commonly-known New York City subways in its crowded, compact nature. This change can be unnerving at first but after three years she’d grown accustomed to it and upon returning to the states, in China the culture and the social norms are so different. When walking across the road, cars would stop to let one cross, however in China they don’t. It’s not out of rudeness or meanspirtedness; over in China the vehicles always have the-right-away. In America there’s so much space compared to Shanghai’s tightly packed communities, so much so that it was unnerving to return. “There’s no personal space, you just have to deal with people being, right up close to you. Coming here, there’s all this space and all these lines, and you just wanna fill it up because you’re so used to being so close and tight.”

In Nikki’s case, her moving and study abroad wasn’t by choice, so why should students willingly take on this adventure? She was given the opportunity to travel and live in different places, meeting new kinds of people and experiencing the world.

“Mine is just one, you can’t base everything off of mine, if you’re given the experience, take it. So when you’re older and you have the chance to move out of like Italy or something. There’s nothing you really have to lose. Take the opportunities, don’t let them linger for too long because someone is going to take it.”

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