Exeter, Devon UK • May 27, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home InternationalBeyond Exeter My year abroad experience in Southern China

My year abroad experience in Southern China

Anna Armstrong describes her experience working in Southern China and explores the importance of appreciating the little things during your year abroad
3 mins read
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Image: Manon Boyer via Wikimedia Commons

It’s hard to know where to begin when you’re writing about an experience that has had such a profound impact on your life and yet was so fleeting. Like an otherworldly dream, you had once that you’re not usually lucky enough to remember the next day. 

That being said, it doesn’t always feel like a dream when you’re rushing through the airport to catch your next flight, running late in traffic behind an army of ducks or vomiting over the hostel squat toilet at 3 am with a few friendly critters to keep you company… am I oversharing yet?  

Jokes aside, from the very first moment I arrived in Yangshuo, Guilin I knew it was going to surprise and delight me in ways I could never have imagined. I was going to work abroad and I was excited from the very first moment I stepped foot outside of the plane.

Being driven inside a comfortable, air-conditioned taxi with a few other British girls in the back trying to get ‘Love Story’ on the aux, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d rather catch an Uber. Except one look out the window, and a whole new world stretched out in front of us, filled with karst mountains and a thousand shades of verdant green. An unforgettable experience.

About a week later teaching began, for which we would fuel with some hearty Guilin-style breakfast. It won’t shock anyone to hear that it’s a little different to the English Breakfast. Either spicy noodles or dough sticks were a typical morning, and no, I never got tired of it. But there were also plenty of delicious places to eat or cafes if you needed a little pick-me-up due to the humidity. 

Either spicy noodles or dough sticks was a typical morning, and no, I never got tired of it

Although we were busy, we managed to squeeze in whatever time we could in our weekends to explore. Visiting the famous rice terraces was the perfect antidote to a somewhat hectic Yangshuo. Its breath-taking views of the steeped hills extended as far as the eye can see and its sunsets reflected in the rice paddies. 

And yet, most of my most cherished memories are the simplest. Getting on my bike after rainfall with the overpowering smell of wet earth. Checking out a new remote café using little more than 高德 (think Google Maps and TripAdvisor combined) and some questionable Chinese. An old lady charged me a few yuan to park on her mud patch whilst some kind young woman tried to intervene, only to get scolded for messing with her business. The kids I taught and their infectious laughter. The lady who interrupted her live video just to say hi and offer some kind words. I could go on. I will forever be grateful for the multitude of experiences from my year abroad, working but also absorbing the Chinese culture.

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