The North Star Project, 2013-2014 Report Number Thirty-Eight, Looking back on China, by Erin Monroe


The North Star Project, 2013-2014 Report Number Thirty-Eight, Looking back on China, by Erin Monroe

It’s my winter break now, and I have a month off from school. An entire semester has passed since I was studying abroad in China, and lately, as the year came to a close and another one began, I’ve feeling particularly reminiscent. I look back on those memories fondly, and there is so much that I miss about China that I could never have predicted.
Although I’ve been studying in the U.S. this past semester, China and Chinese continues to remain a huge part of my life. Out of the four classes I took in the fall, three of them were in the Chinese department. I’m involved in various organizations that revolve around China and I work and spend time with Chinese students and other international students daily. In fact, my parents, who keep an eye on my Facebook page, asked “Do you have any American friends? You realize that almost everyone in your Facebook photos is Chinese except you, right?” In sum, China and all things related has become such a huge part of my life that at this point, I can’t imagine extricating that piece of me from the rest of my life. I’ve been on vacation, at home with my family, for three weeks now. I realized today that this is the longest I haven’t spoken Chinese in a year (since last winter break) and I miss it. China has become strangely, but warmly, familiar to me. It’s not my culture, and as I was born and raised in northern Minnesota, it’s not part of my background, history, or environment. Still, when my dad asked a question this morning, the first thing I thought to respond with was ??? (shenme=what) when I didn’t hear what he said.
At this point, and perhaps it has to do with the age I’m at, but wanderlust has clouded my aspirations. Or perhaps, it clarifies them. My experience in China helped shape and refine my ideas of what I want to do in my future after graduation. I’m happy with where I’m at, in terms of place and opportunities available, but I was exposed to a world so different from my own that now that I’ve experienced a taste of this new culture, I’m itching to go back. Someday, I’ll return to China.

Missing the little things

In China, with the fellow Americans in my study abroad program, we would often discuss what we missed about home when we felt homesick. It comforted us to know that we weren’t alone, to group together and know that we were all thinking and feeling the same feelings of missing home. Homesickness is natural, it’s expected. I awaited the reverse culture shock upon my arrival home, which I had been heavily warned about, but it never came. I adjusted back to living in the U.S. like I had never left to live across the world for three months.

Over the next few months, back in Madison, little things about China crept up into my mind. Why aren’t there any red beans in desserts here? Why doesn’t the McDonald’s in the U.S. have taro pies like they do in China? Why are taxis so expensive and wouldn’t it be nice if we had some sort of subway system in place? Somehow, there were some things that I preferred in China over America—foods that aren’t common here, methods of transportation, aspects of my daily life in Tianjin. I have class with a lot of the same people I studied abroad with, and in the same way that we talked about the U.S. when we were in China, we talked about China now. As it turns out, many others were feeling the same way. We miss China.

Sometimes it’s the food and the substantial measurable things that I miss, while other times it was the simplicity of my stay in Tianjin. I could go into a restaurant that only served dumplings and the only decision I had to make was between vegetable or meat dumplings.  I could hop on the subway and go wherever I wanted in the city of over 12 million people for the equivalent of 16 cents. It’s the small things that you can almost pass by without noticing—those are the things that come floating back into my mind months later. They didn’t seem to matter as much when I was there, but now, without sounding unbearably cliché, those are the things that I miss most of all.

For all of the North Star Project 2013-2014 Reports, see
For all of the North Star Project 2013 Summer Reports, see

The North Star Project 2013-2014 School Year Reports: The Middle Ground Journal’s collaborative outreach program with K-12 classes around the world. We gratefully acknowledge North Star Academy of Duluth, Minnesota as our inaugural partner school, and the flagship of our K-12 outreach program. We also warmly welcome Duluth East High School and Dodge Middle School to the North Star Project.

Under the leadership of our North Star host teachers and student interns, The North Star Project has flourished for two years. For a brief summary, please see a recent article in the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

Having re-tooled and re-designed the collaborative program, we are drawing on the experience of our veteran student interns, ideas from our host teachers, and new projects provided by our incoming student interns. This school year The Middle Ground Journal will share brief dispatches from our North Star Project student interns, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. As of the time of this report we have confirmed student interns who will be reporting from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing presentations on theatrical representations of historical trauma, historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and different perceptions of current events from around the world.  We will post their brief dispatches here, and report on their interactions with the North Star students and teachers throughout the school year.

Hong-Ming Liang, Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA, 2013-2014 School Year

(c) 2014 The Middle Ground Journal, Number 8, Spring, 2014. See Submission Guidelines page for the journal’s not-for-profit educational open-access policy.


Filed under North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

9 responses to “The North Star Project, 2013-2014 Report Number Thirty-Eight, Looking back on China, by Erin Monroe

  1. Gede Prama

    Well written. May peace be with you 🙂

  2. Karen Danielson-Monroe

    I am very impressed with depth of feeling in this writing, very nicely done. The experiences that touch our lives can lead us in directions we did not expect to go and to friends we did not expect to have. It will be interesting to see how this impacts your journey through life. Love the memories.

  3. Austin

    It sounds like you had a really great experience in China that will stay with you for the rest of your life. I think its in these types of travels that makes a person more well rounded and interesting.

    I was wondering if you ever felt overwhelmed with the sheer volume of people in the city of Tianjin? In Minnesota I take for granted the amount of land we have and also how clean the air and water is. One of my friends living in Beijing complains about the air pollution often. I guess that comes with any large city including many in the U.S. Thanks so much for sharing your life experiences with us!

  4. Chris R.

    You may agree or disagree, but to me 3 months isn’t enough. It takes a good month to get your bearings about you and it takes another month to get comfortable. The third month is where you start to flourish in another country and that’s right when you left. I understand you were limited in time due to the school part of this; but speaking to your “reverse culture shock” comment, you probably would have experienced it if you were gone longer. I don’t want to take away from your experience though. It seems like it has changed your life in a positive way and that is good. I believe that any situation where people leave their own levels of comfort and immerses themselves into another culture is a good thing. Continue to do this type of thing for as long as you can. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Ada Moreno

    It’s always fascinating to read about a person’s fondness over countries and cultures very different from their own. One of the best features of diversity is having the possibility of always being able to have various cultures, lifestyles, landscapes etc. relate to you in deep, meaningful ways.

  6. Ruby P.

    I really like this article it is very well written! I can relate to that sense of simplicity of life. It makes sense that when you were in China, you longed for home and once home, longed for China! I suppose it is just something human about us!

  7. I appreciated this article very much because not too often do many people immerse themselves in the cultures of its respective country when they study abroad. In response to some of the little things that you miss, I hope that maybe you find highly Chinese-populated cities that speaks Mandarin or Cantonese in the United States so that Madison, Wisconsin doesn’t seem too far from a home that you come to love.

  8. Megan Hennen

    Having studied abroad as well, I feel a similar way. When I’m asked about what I miss, I too miss little things that may be otherwise insignificant to the people I try to explain to back home. Great piece!

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