Lesson 1: Never be Afraid to Ask

I like to consider myself a planner, but I guess I’m not a very good one. Prior to coming to China, I emailed myself subway directions to the most important places I would travel while abroad. However, five minutes after arriving at the Beijing airport, I realized all the Google maps/directions I emailed myself in the U.S. did not work in China. In fact, not only did the maps not work, but the glorious Wi-Fi I thought would await me at the airport wasn't as glorious as I had hoped. Now, this is not my first time in China and this is certainly not my first time abroad. However, this trip posed a very different challenge for me: traveling alone. Unlike my other abroad experiences, there was no one waiting for me with a sign, no emergency numbers to call, and no former Cub Scout friends to help interpret maps. After taking a moment to self-scold, I quickly moved to plan B: Remember as much as I could and ask for help when I couldn't.

To give some background, I started learning Chinese my freshman year of college. Seven years later, I continue to watch shows, listen to music, and take courses here and there to maintain my language skills. However, even after learning for so long, I admit I still get nervous when speaking to others. To be honest, it's been two years since I've held a full Chinese conversation (making my plan B even more nerve-wrecking). After jumping on the Airport Express, I hesitated to ask someone for directions to my hotel. I was overcome with "what if they don't understand me?"; "if they tell me, will I even understand them?"; "Man, they probably think I'm just another stupid foreigner." However, FDR's "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself" still reigns true.

At several stages during my travel, I encountered Beijingers ready and willing to help. While waiting for the metro, I asked a pair of teenagers if they had heard of my hotel. As I had feared, they did not completely understand my intention (I wanted them to try and search for the hotel on their phones--- a bit much really), but they did take me under their wing. For 15 minutes, every passing metro was filled to the brim with passengers, but somehow these small girls fit me and my two oversized suitcases into a packed subway car. (I am certain that had I not spoken to these two girls, it would have taken me hours to get aboard that train.) After exiting Majiapu station, I still had no idea where my hotel was. The only thing I could remember was the name and street number. After several efforts to connect my phone, I began asking around and met a young woman who was not only willing to help but also spoke English. While helping me hail a taxi, she told me about her studies in Australia and her travel mishaps there. It is truly amazing what you learn when you’re forced to speak to someone. In the end, my mishap at the airport was quickly forgotten when I made it to my hotel just before dark. The funny thing is—all I had to do was ask.

During Sunday service at Beijing International Christian Fellowship, the pastor spoke about the idol of certainty. He explained that sometimes it’s good for us to doubt because uncertainty reminds us that we don’t know everything and that we still have much to learn. It is uncertainty that keeps us humble. Even though he was speaking from a spiritual perspective, it reminded me of my travel mishap while arriving here in Beijing. I was so confident in my knowledge of China that I didn’t prepare as thoroughly as I should have. Applying the pastor’s words, I will start this internship on Tuesday with a worker’s heart and a learner’s mind. One year of law school is not enough to teach me everything and though I will be confident in myself and my abilities, I will remind myself to never be afraid to ask.

High of the Week: I’m in Beijing!

Delta of the Week: Let’s do a better job at planning in the future.