1) There is no cheese in China.
2) There is no salad in China.
3) Convenience stores are lifesavers, but still have no cheese or salad.
4) “Iced coffee” means “vaguely coffee-flavored sugar water”
5) You can get mojitos in to-go cups with a straw. This might be the most significant thing I learned.
In all seriousness, though, I have learned many (actually) important things. In America, boarding schools are for rich kids or problem kids. In China, almost everyone goes to boarding school—which are tightly closed off from the outside world. The students at these schools are taught both what to think and how to think, or so it seems, whereas American ones generally just go for the latter. As a product of California’s eroding public school system, I often complained about the quality (or lack thereof) of my education. However, after seeing the rote memorization and rigid thinking taught here, I’m very grateful for what I had. Several of the students I worked with, although highly intelligent, had never learned how to reflect about themselves or write creatively at all. My schools may not have been perfect, but they did a lot more for me in terms of personal development than I’d thought.
By far the best part of the last couple of months has been the people I’ve met. Just as Stanford provided me the opportunity to work with and connect to people that I never would have talked to otherwise, my internship here has allowed me to befriend fellow students from across the country. Being a Californian has always been a part of my identity, but I didn’t realize just how large a role that played in my life until I became friends with Ivy Leaguers—Stanford may be Ivy-level, but it’s certainly not the same at all in terms of mindset or culture. We opt for Google and Apple over Goldman or B of A, eat non-Chipotle Mexican food on a regular basis, and have a functioning football team (beat U$C).
I’ve spent the last three or four days in Shanghai. Wandering around Shanghai is very different from doing the same in Chengdu, Guangzhou, or even Beijing. No one asks me for photos, let alone takes sniper selfies of me. The variety of global food here is as close to American as it gets here—I’ve even had knockoff In-N-Out in the true spirit of China.
As much as I’ve enjoyed my time here, I’m ecstatic to return to the land of avocados and intellectual freedom. Everything there may be more expensive, yes, but, to me, the independence is completely worth it. Despite the shitshow known as the Republican Primary Debate (still proud of that drinking game), despite the dry California heat, despite my eternal mental health war with Stanford, I’ve never loved my homeland more. See ya soon, California!