Once you give someone the taste for adventure, they will eat the world up. My name is Matt and I was born in Colombia, adopted by an Italian, German/ Irish American family, and raised in New York City. Oh, and I studied in Nanjing, China for four months in the Spring of 2010. This is the common description the president of my college, Dr. Tomás D. Morales, will give of me when he talks about study abroad to aspiring students. It’s humbling, but so is the fact that we first met at the top of a Shanghai skyscraper, and then proceeded to walk the promenade of the busiest river in the world.
The most common question I was asked when I chose to study abroad was: Why China? The answer is simple, and always has been: “It’s the farthest away from here I could possibly get.” Before studying abroad reinvigorated my life, I was slacking in school, partying all the time, and losing track of my goals. I had no idea that I could undergo such a complete reversal and stimulation of knowledge until I defeated the concept of fear and got out of my comfort zone in a way I never thought possible. Study abroad provided me with a gateway to a new world, and now I’m living in one… even after being home for almost two years!
China is a very misunderstood place from people who view it afar compared to those who actually go there. For all you will hear about it and study it, by the time you arrive, the state of things could have changed dramatically. Sometimes even the citizens of that country admit their assumptions about the nation are adapted daily. Imagine all of America’s advances in the past 3 centuries being solved and debated in as much time as the Internet has existed, and you get the kind of confusion and grandeur that Chinese people deal with regularly.
New York City is the greatest city in the world for many different reasons, but I can agree on that and also say I might just enjoy living in Nanjing more. The two cities are similar in many ways – they are about the same size, have a huge river flowing by them, have massive pollution, a giant park, skyscrapers, subways, and lots of history. What most people don’t understand about China is that crime isn’t much of a problem there, and that’s not from a lack of government intervention! The two cities also share elements of racism, apathy, poverty, and religious idealism. What I believe sets the cities (and countries) apart is the kindness and generosity of people to one another, the sense of togetherness and respect.
In Nanjing, you can walk down a city alleyway at night in the dark, (although it is discouraged by study abroad advisors) feel completely safe and at home. That’s not to discount the miraculous work of New York’s police department and public service, which do incredible things to keep society safe, civil, prosperous, clean and fair. Nanjing has police; they just don’t generally need them. Nanjing has poverty, but those people are fine and content with what they are doing, and manage to survive. The city is a magical place where wealth is overflowing from foreign and local investment and population growth. Everyone gets by somehow and manages to give even more to people they don’t know. New York is a different place, where it’s large enough so that diversity and morality fuel philanthropy, individuality and originality which are driving factors, and justice is needed to keep people in their place when they feel discontent towards one another.
Basically, what I’m saying is that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, especially in my situation. Some may consider study abroad beyond their level of comfort, taste, knowledge, or predisposition, but it’s really not. Study abroad can be for everyone because it’s pure discovery. That’s what life is all about, discovery and adventure and though some people lose their way, it’s most important to find them and put them through these trials of recovery. Through education, the world can be yours, and it’s not such a chore as people may think.